Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
It’s been almost five years, but Hailee Steinfeld’s second studio release is finally here. The actress turned pop star, who first displayed musical aspirations with her role as Emily Junk in Pitch Perfect 2, has been a bit busy since the release of her debut EP Haiz in 2015. In addition to releasing the standalone singles “Starving,” “Most Girls,” and “Let Me Go” (among others), Steinfeld also appeared in the lead roles of the feature films The Edge of Seventeen and Bumblebee, as well as reprising her role in Pitch Perfect 3 and starring as Emily Dickinson on the Apple TV+ series Dickinson. Now, Steinfeld is ready to take music off the backburner and finish what she started. Half Written Story, her new extended play, is the first of two new EPs expected for release this year.
Half Written Story sees somewhat of a departure from the dance-pop Hailee Steinfeld of years past while also still delivering on strong lyrics and production. Steinfeld perhaps made it clear that melancholy would be at the forefront of her upcoming project when she chose to release “Wrong Direction” as the lead single on New Year’s Day. A heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballad, the song chronicles the end of a relationship and one lover’s perspective on wanting to believe the best in someone, even when they hurt you. “I don’t hate you / No, I couldn’t if I wanted to / I just hate all the hurt that you put me through,” she sings in the track’s opening lines. “Couldn’t even see through the smoke / Lookin’ back, I probably should have known / But I just wanted to believe that you were out sleepin’ alone.” While Steinfeld has thus far made most of her name as a musician through singles from the soundtracks of her acting projects, “Wrong Direction” proves that she’s no one-trick pony: she can make us sing and dance while also ripping our hearts from our chests. While her music career is still rather underdeveloped and has room for improvement, Steinfeld has already shown that both vocal ability and versatility have entered the chat.
With the release of the EP’s second single “I Love You’s”—an ode to the Annie Lennox classic “No More I Love You’s”—Steinfeld blended her newfound taste for melancholy with her penchant for entertaining, melodic dance-pop. “I Love You’s,” a breakup earworm rumored to be about Steinfeld’s broken relationship with former One Direction member Niall Horan, makes use of irresistible hooks and memorable lyrics. “Diamonds won’t fool me ‘cause I’m too far gone / Wish I could get back the air in my lungs / I’ve been so fucked up it’s bad for my heart,” she sings over upbeat production. “I blamed it on the time zones / I blamed it on my eyes closed / I blamed it on the world like it owes me / So stop me before it’s too late / No more I love you’s / Until I’m okay.” While a common complaint against Steinfeld’s previous releases was that she lacked personality, “I Love You’s” solidifies what her fans already knew to be true: she knows what she’s doing.
Half Written Story’s remaining tracks leave something to be desired, and don’t necessarily stand out as much as the album tracks did on Haiz. (Justice for “You’re Such A” and “Hell No’s and Headphones,” please.) The EP takes its name from the song “Your Love Hurts,” which contains more confessional lyrics about a breakup that left the speaker shattered to pieces. “We’re a half-written story without any ending / You left me to figure it out,” she sings. “Filled me with ecstasy, left with the best of me / But where’s the rest of me now?” On “End This (L.O.V.E.),” she is almost grateful for the misery her lover has caused her: “No one’s ever messed me up like you did / Thanks to you, babe, now I know what love is.” And “Man Up,” practically destined to become the next single, finds Steinfeld trying her hand at rapping her troubles away, which at first feels sassy and empowering but is ultimately a little awkward and displeasing to the ears. However, Steinfeld does leave us on a clever cliffhanger for what’s to come next: “I don’t even wanna keep talking about this, so I’ll just stop / Sike, thought I was done, but I’m not.”
Although Half Written Story is only the first part of Steinfeld’s next chapter—the title quite literally says the story’s not done yet—she has already captivated her audience. Her vast number of singles over the last few years as well as her acting projects have kept her in the public eye, but it takes real talent and versatility to last in the long run. As it stands now, Steinfeld’s music career is also a half written story, and it’s about time we get to read the entire novel.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Half Written Story: “I Love You’s” and “Wrong Direction”