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If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Music Film)

If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is the name of Halsey’s fourth studio album, but also the name of the music-film she wrote and starred in which serves as a visual companion to the album, produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The film is 53 minutes and can be described as a period fantasy horror. It was released in the US on August 25th, 2021 and later hit streaming on October 7th through HBO Max. It’s available to buy/rent elsewhere. As of October 2021, the film grossed over one million dollars in limited cinema release worldwide.

Halsey plays dual roles: Lila, a pregnant commoner-turned-queen, whose abusive royal husband dies under suspicious circumstances; and Lilith, a darker alter ego. Business Insider described the characters as Lila who gives life, and Lilith who takes it away. Sasha Lane played The Witch, Vuk Celebic as The King, Brian Caspe as The Aristocrat, and Marie Kaderabkova as The Matriarch.

IICHLIWP was directed by Colin Tilley, who directed Halsey’s music videos for “Without Me,” “You Should Be Sad,” and “11 Minutes” (Yungblud featuring Halsey and Travis Barker). Shot in IMAX, the cinematography was by Elias Talbot and it was produced by Jamee Ranta and edited by Vinnie Hobbs. Capitol Records served as the production company and it was distributed by Universal Music Group and HBO Max.

In December 2020, Halsey, pregnant at the time, approached Tilley about a horror film inspired by impending motherhood, drawing from visual influencers like “Marie Antoinette” (2006), the play “Queen Anne” and 17th century folktales. He helped Halsey with the storyline as she was writing the film’s script and music. IICHLIWP explores themes of being in the spotlight, being pregnant, motherhood, and societal perceptions. Tilley said, “She basically took that concept about what’s currently happening to her and flipped it to back in the day in the 1300s or 1400s, were it was a whole different ordeal. But still nothing has really changed. It was just more extreme.” He added that it’s “like a modern-day horror story in that sense. Being pregnant at that time was horrifying, for so many reasons, and that’s what we were leaning into telling here.”

Producer Ranta researched shooting locations and came up on an 11th century castle in Prague that she’d always wanted to go to. They usually wouldn’t allow filming, but as the country was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they gave the go-ahead and “were able to really maximize on that opportunity.” The film was shot over 16 days in March 2021.

As Halsey was five-to-six-months pregnant at the time, they used a lot of movie magic to make her look less or more pregnant. Ranta says, “It was a mix of camera angles, lenses and VFX enhancements,” as well as paying attention to the big gowns and how they were cut and angled for each period, and pregnancy stuffings.

Ranta described IICHLIWP as being like “a fashion horror film that has music-video elements to it.” Costume design was by Law Roche, featuring custom-designed Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano pieces, whose work contains nods to classical reference points, while Halsey did her own make-up using her about-face beauty line. Roach said, “At first, there were only supposed to be six looks, but it became so much bigger.” He added, “This is a woman who feels powerful, but she’s also in a desperate [situation]. I wanted to build out her life through clothes that could reflect that.” Roach wasn’t limited to replicating looks of a specific historical era. “The exciting thing was we didn’t adhere to one reference point; we were able to bounce all over history. There were pieces that felt very 1800s, others that were more baroque, some that seem like they’re from the 1600s. We had the freedom to create. Halsey gave me so much trust, and it was empowering.” Roach said they didn’t want to go to a costume house or rental place, and spent time researching “modern clothes that were made to look vintage,” stating it was “more interesting to seek out these pieces, and when we couldn’t find the originals, we worked with designers to create new versions.” Roach added: “As a stylist, opportunities to tell a story with this magnitude of clothing and all these archival pieces are rare. It’s incredible just to touch and play with them because they’re a part of history.”

That vibrant green Vivienne Westwood dress Halsey wears during a playful scene with her ladies in waiting came straight from the brand’s spring/summer 1996 catwalk, where it was first worn by Linda Evangelista. The coordinating hot pink number used for a dream sequence was a custom creation whipped up by the Westwood team. Eagle-eyed fashion lovers will spy treasures like a black velvet gown from Christian Lacroix’s fall/winter 1998 runway and the spiky couture jewelry Shaun Leane created for Alexander McQueen’s landmark shows in the early aughts. Roach adds to the surreal vibe that Halsey and director Tiley sought by combining the designs to make editorial-worthy outfits. – Vogue

“We didn’t want to be handcuffed by a specific time period,” Tilley explained. “So we were taking references from the 1300s and 1400s — for the aesthetic and location and wardrobe — but then adding modern influences into it. That’s why it’s such a unique world when you watch it.” One of the first specifications that Halsey made, Tilley said, was to keep their tattoos uncovered. “That’s what it was all about: Let’s take pieces of the modern world that we love and let’s infuse it,” he said. “We really wanted to make sure it was a very diverse atmosphere, a diverse castle, a diverse world, and kind of flip the period piece on its head. And then with this music as the backdrop, it really takes it all the way.”

Plot Summary
Lila, a young queen, returns to her castle and finds that the king is dead. She then stares into a mirror and finds that her reflection is a separate entity, Lilith, and dashes out to the balcony after Lilith unsettles the court members. The court members discuss what to do with Lila while revisiting a family tree. The film then cuts to Lila being to take the king’s duties as she sits on her throne; she abandons this and walks out to the balcony again and witnesses a strange fiery light. The kingdom then gathers to mourn the king’s death, while Lila felt contented about it. She then shows a bruise to the Matriarch and the Aristocrat, revealing that he physically assaulted her, in order to explain her contentment.

That night, Lilith comes forth from the mirror and stabs a sleeping Lila in the stomach. Awakening from a nightmare, Lila rushes to pull out seeds from a drawer and urinate on them to test if she is pregnant. She looks in the mirror, seeing Lilith’s hands rubbing her stomach, and grows unsettled. She then decides to go to a bathhouse to relax, but she flees in terror as her reflection continues to show Lilith creepily rubbing her stomach.

To celebrate the king’s death, Lila gathers her friends for a day out, becomes drunk and causes mayhem in the villages. She then tries to ride back to the castle before falling off her horse, and it runs away. A drunk Lila lonely wanders into the forest, and stumbles upon a witch’s cabin. The witch feels her stomach and begins teaching Lila a Lamaze technique causing her to become frightened and ran away, eventually finding her way to the castle. Upon stumbling back to the bedroom, she found that the seeds she urinated on earlier had sprouted, upsetting her.

The Aristocrat claims that giving Lila is not of royal blood, she is a common widow and should not retain her title as Queen, especially considering what happened while she was drunk. Lila is sentenced to be executed after her child is born; if the child is a boy, it will be raised in the court, but if it is a girl, it will also be killed. An enraged Lila walks out to the lake to drown herself and her child, but as she felt it kicking her stomach, she changes her mind and swims through the lake to flee from the castle, trying to find the Witch’s cabin to give birth in a more safe area, as her water breaks. A maid then tells the Aristocrat that she witnessed Lila running away.

Lila flashes back to the night the king died, revealing that she had poisoned his wine and he raped and impregnated her, and the king collapsed to death just after that incident; the rape resulted in Lila’s pregnancy. The Aristocrat find Lila after she gives birth with the help of the witch. They burn down the cabin, presumably killing the witch, and throw Lila and her child onto a wagon back to the castle. She then wakes in a cell, which has been unlocked by an unknown person and finds out that all the guards are dead. She then makes her way to the nursery and the maids are frightened when she finds her baby. She carries the baby with her to the guillotine and gives it to the maid. She then thinks what would have been if she had been more loving and imagines a peaceful life with her child. Smiling at the thought of it, she is abruptly beheaded.

Lilith escapes from the mirror again. She wanders around the castle and looks over the dead bodies of the guards and Aristocrat, which she presumably killed. She picks up the crown that formerly belonged to Lila and observes it, before leaving the palace. (Source: Wikipedia)

IICHLIWP was nominated for Best Music Film at the 2022 NME Awards, but it lost to “The Sparks Brothers,” a 2021 British-American documentary film.

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about-face is Halsey's cleanly-formulated, vegan, and cruelty-free beauty brand that promotes powerful self-expression with make-up.
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