Recently I was listening to a curated playlist of the most requested alternative and indie music on Amazon Prime. The song “Castle” by Halsey was on this list, and immediately stood out to me. It reminded me of another artist I enjoy (Melanie Martinez) stylistically, but with differences in tone and approach.
The first segment of the song is slow and melancholy, followed by a refrain (“Agnus dei”) with a very church feel. Immediately the song becomes much harder, with a strong beat and shifting timing. While it slows again to the earlier memory, the drums remain through the rest of the song. The inability to predict the musical flow of line to line on a first listen added a lot of texture and intrigue to the music.
Lyrically, “Castle” plays around with some interesting symbology, flipping certain images on their heads. It speaks strongly of women’s liberation and movement towards power, while pointing to Christian tradition as a fount of patriarchy attempting to restrain women from the pursuit of independence and personal power.
The opening lines, “Sick of all these people talking, sick of all this noise / Tired of all these cameras flashing, sick of being poised,” speaks to the fatigue women feel. Think of all the advice, advertisements, and everything else in our culture telling women how to look (clothes, makeup, figure, hair, posture, etc.). We are always expected to be prepared to have our picture taken for the cover of Vogue or Vanity Fair.
“I’m headed straight for the castle
They wanna make me their queen
And there’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying that I probably shouldn’t be so mean
I’m headed straight for the castle
They’ve got the kingdom locked up
And there’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut”
There is so much to say about the chorus of this song! Let’s start with “castle,” the namesake of the song, destination of the narrator, and home of the antagonist. Traditionally, a castle contains a seat of power and provides protection for subjects. God is our king (on a throne), and Heaven the kingdom. The throne here is occupied by an “old man” facing deposition. He has locked up the kingdom in an attempt to keep the narrator from taking her rightful position on the throne.
Based on my own interactions with fundamentalist Christianity, I have been on the receiving end of statements very similar to these. Nothing frightens a conservative Christian more than a woman taking control of her own life and choosing to speak out against the abuses of the church. Any woman who attempts to speak up and take control of herself is told she is “mean” (translate: un-Christian), and to “keep [her] pretty mouth shut” (I Cor. 14:34 – Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak).
Is this song suggesting God is an impotent chauvinist, solely existing to oppress women?