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"Halo" is a song recorded by American singer Beyoncé for her third studio album, I Am... Sasha Fierce (2008). Included on the I Am... disc, it was intended to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Beyoncé's life, stripped of her make-up and celebrity trappings. Columbia Records released the song, the album's fourth single, to mainstream radio in the United States on January 20, 2009, and to international markets from February 20. Inspired by Ray LaMontagne's 2004 song "Shelter," "Halo" was written and composed by Ryan Tedder, Evan Bogart, Eric Nealante' Phillips. It was conceived by Tedder and Nealante specifically for Beyoncé, although there was media speculation that it had been intended for Leona Lewis.
Philip Andelman directed the ballad's accompanying music video, which features American actor Michael Ealy. It portrays a romantic relationship between Beyoncé's and Ealy's characters. Critics complimented Beyoncé's looks in the clip. An alternative music video, which shows Ealy's character being chased by police through a forest at night, was posted on the Internet in May 2010. The lyrics to "Halo" were changed for two of Beyoncé's special live performances: in a tribute to Michael Jackson following his death, and in a tribute to the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The song has been covered by many artists, including Florence and the Machine, Harper Blynn, and Westlife. It was performed on the television show Glee, and was added to the international soundtrack of the Brazilian soap operaCaminho das Índias.
Writing and production
Beyoncé, Bogart, and Tedder (pictured) composed "Halo" in Tedder's music studio in California.
"Halo" was composed by Ryan Tedder, lead vocalist of OneRepublic, together with Evan "Kidd" Bogart and Beyoncé. In an interview for HitQuarters, Kidd narrated the events that led to writing the song. OneRepublic canceled their tour after Tedder had broken his Achilles tendon and had undergone surgery. The following day, the band sent Tedder to Los Angeles. There, he and Kidd were socializing when Tedder expressed his desire to write a song. Kidd was initially opposed to the idea because Tedder was supposed to be recuperating, but the pair went to Tedder's studio. During the writing sessions, singer Ray LaMontagne was the primary inspiration for "Halo". Kidd suggested they create a song in the style of LaMontagne's "Shelter" for Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z, and proposed the title "Halo" after hearing Tedder play "angelic" chords. They wrote the song in three hours.
According to Simon Cowell, owner of the music production company Syco Entertainment, Bogart and Tedder intended "Halo" for his client, singer Leona Lewis, who could not record the song because of her tight schedule. Cowell was upset that Beyoncé chose to record the song. David Balls, editor of the British media website Digital Spy, asked Tedder during an interview whether "Halo" had initially been written for Lewis. Tedder answered that he had only tentatively offered the track to Lewis, after Beyoncé waited a long time before recording it. He commented:
There was this huge scandal that originally "Halo" was meant to go to Leona. That was never the case ... That song was written for Beyoncé. What happened was that Beyoncé waited long enough to record that song ... I thought this would be a brilliant first single for Leona, which it would have ... What I did was foolishly say to Leona's camp, "I have it on hold for another A-list artist and I'm pretty sure they'll take it, but if they don't, I just want to know if you like it enough to consider it". I sent it to them and they flipped on it. They loved it and instantly said they wanted to do it. I was like, "Wait, wait, wait, no, it's not free yet!"
Tedder and Beyoncé produced "Halo" in 2008 at Los Angeles' Manfield Studios, and at New York City's Germano and Roc The Mic Studios. Tedder did the musical arrangements and played the instruments, while Christian Baker assisted in recording the music. Mark "Spike" Stentmixed the track with assistance from Matt Green, and Jim Caruana recorded Beyoncé's vocals; both these tasks were done at Roc the Mic Studios. "Halo" is present on the I Am... disc of the double albumI Am... Sasha Fierce, as it is a ballad that shows Beyoncé's insecurities about love, and the person she is "underneath all the makeup, underneath the lights and underneath all the exciting star drama". Beyoncé has said that she loves singing ballads because, "... the music and the emotion in the story is told [sic] so much better. It's a better connection because you can hear it and it's not all these other distractions. I really wanted people to hear my voice and hear what I had to say."
In "Halo", Beyoncé professes her all-encompassing love to her heavenly lover with open-hearted emotion. She said, "['Halo'] is angelic ... like you see [angels'] faces instantly when you hear it. [Its lyrics] are basically saying that I had these walls built up about love; you completely tore them down and when I look at you I see your halo, it's really beautiful." Backed by a piano, claps and step stomps that set a spiritualized atmosphere, Beyoncé opens the song
with the lines: "Remember those walls I built? Well, baby, they're tumbling down". She sings the introduction in a low register, and the power of her voice gradually increases as the song progresses. In the pre-chorus, she chants, "Everywhere I'm looking now, I'm surrounded by your embrace, baby I can see your halo, you know you're my saving grace, you're everything I need and more, it's written all over your face". Beyoncé then echoes the word "halo" in the chorus; the third and final one is preceded by a 1980s drum breakdown, and is complemented by sweeping strings and percussion.
On February 20, 2009, "Halo" was released as a two-track digital download, including a remix of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada--where the song was also made available on a digital EP, as a maxi single and a vinyl single on April 14, 2009. In France, it was released as a stand-alone digital download on March 20, 2009. On the same date, "Halo" was serviced digitally alongside the album version of "Diva" in mainland Europe, including Germany, where it was also made available as a CD single on April 3 and a vinyl single on April 12, 2009. In the United Kingdom, a digital EP containing the album version and three remixes of "Halo" was released on April 13, 2009.
Kelly Clarkson accusations against Ryan Tedder
Soon after composing "Halo", Tedder worked with Kelly Clarkson on her fourth studio album, All I Ever Wanted (2009), for which they wrote "Already Gone" together. When the song came out, critics noted a resemblance to Beyoncé's "Halo". Clarkson, however, initially stated that she was unaware of any similarities between the two songs. She eventually realized their resemblance when she listened to both recordings closely; the similarities are most notable in the backing tracks, which in both cases feature a melancholy piano, loud drums, and handclaps. Clarkson tried to prevent "Already Gone" from being included on All I Ever Wanted, but it was impossible to make last minute changes, as her album was already being printed when I Am... Sasha Fierce was released. She accused Tedder of using the same arrangement on both "Already Gone" and "Halo", and complained that people would, incorrectly, assume she was stealing it from Beyoncé.
Clarkson was furious, and confronted Tedder on the phone. In response, Tedder commented that he would never give two artists the same musical arrangement, and that her criticism was "hurtful and absurd". He asserted that the concept, melodies, and lyrics of "Already Gone" and "Halo" are completely different. Calling "Already Gone" one of the best songs he had ever composed, Tedder challenged people to "listen [to the two ballads] and form their own opinions". Clarkson also tried to stop her label, RCA, from releasing "Already Gone" as a single because she respected Beyoncé, but they went against her will and released it. She said, "It's one of those things I have no control over. I already made my album. At this point, the record company can do whatever they want with it." Clarkson later told James Montgomery of MTV News that it was unfortunate "Already Gone" and "Halo" sound so similar, but noted that at least they have different vocal melodies.
Christian Williams of Billboard magazine wrote that the pop sound of "Halo" should take it to the top of the charts. He added that comparisons could be made to Lewis' "Bleeding Love" (2007), but concluded that "Halo" "hangs high on its own merits". Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly described "Halo" as "an absolutely glorious and perfectly produced track", which had the potential to be as commercially successful as "Crazy in Love" (2003) and "Irreplaceable" (2007). Joey Guerra of the Houston Chronicle wrote that it was an immediate standout on I Am... Sasha Fierce. Praising the "big and wide" melodies of "Halo", Matos Michaelangelo of The A.V. Club commented that Beyoncé has "a real flair for grandeur". Jennifer Cady of E! Online wrote that the song could be included on a romantic mixtape, and James Montgomery of MTV News noted that the "tear-jerking power" of "Halo" reveals "sides of Beyoncé we never knew existed". Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork wrote that Beyoncé's vocal delivery was "strident and exposed", reminiscent of Céline Dion's style.
In spite of what he called the "garden-variety lyrics" of the ballad, James Reed of The Boston Globe wrote that "Halo" was "the most evocative power ballad" recorded by Beyoncé, comparing it to the work done by American record producer and songwriter Phil Spector on his Wall of Sound mixing board. Critics have highlighted the similarities of "Halo" to Rihanna's "Umbrella" (2007); Alexis Petridis of The Guardian noted that "Halo" has the same "icy synths, drivetime rock dynamic, and a similar repetitive chorus". This view was echoed by Jennifer Vineyard of MTV News and Brent DiCrescenzo of Timeout, who viewed "Halo" as a "Bette Midler-level hymn from ['Umbrella'], lift[ing its] savior theme". Nick Levine of Digital Spy described "Halo" as a "muscular hybrid" of "Umbrella" and Lewis' "Bleeding Love". David Balls of the same website wrote, "Halo' is a contemporary power ballad in the 'Bleeding Love' mould ... Could Lewis have pulled this off better? Well, that's a matter of opinion of course, but Mrs. Jay-Z doesn't leave much room for improvement."
"Halo" entered the UK Singles Chart at number 98 for the week ending February 21, 2009; over a period of seven weeks, it climbed to number 4 on March 29, 2009 (for the week ending April 4, 2009). It spent almost one year in the top 100 of UK Singles Chart; 44 non-consecutive weeks after its debut, it was at number 94 on March 4, 2012, before dropping out the following week. As of July 2013, it had sold 650,000 copies in the UK and was her fourth biggest selling single there. In May 2018, the song was certified double-platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) denoting 1,200,000 units in the U.K., making it Beyoncé's biggest song in the country. It debuted on the Irish Singles Chart at number 32 on January 22, 2009, and peaked at number 4 for three consecutive weeks. "Halo" topped the Brasil BillboardHot 100 chart for more than 20 consecutive weeks in 2009. It emerged as the most listened to song on radio in Brazil during the same period as it registered 24,734 plays on radio stations throughout the country. "Halo" was also the most downloaded song in Brazil from November 2009 to November 2010, as highlighted by the first edition of the Brazilian Digital Music Awards.
The accompanying music videos for "Halo" and "Diva" premiered simultaneously on the US iTunes Store on December 23, 2008. Shot in late November 2008 in a SoHo townhouse owned by Beyoncé, the video was directed by Philip Andelman and features actor Michael Ealy as Beyoncé's love interest. Ealy was happy to work with Beyoncé, as he had loved the song immediately after hearing it. This was the second time he was asked to star in a video for a song by Beyoncé; the first was "Irreplaceable", which he had refused because he did not appreciate its theme and concept. He had advised Beyoncé: "Call me when you have a hero role."
The video, which Beyoncé has considered intimate and romantic, begins as she stands against a wall, illuminated by light that passes through a window. In one scene, Beyoncé's character, dressed in a skin-tight leotard, performs a dance sequence while her love interest looks down at her from a balcony. According to Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly, the dance routines pay homage to the 1983 romanticdrama filmFlashdance. Beyoncé and Ealy later stare adoringly at each other as they snuggle on a sofa. During the climax of the video, Beyoncé is shown underwater, dressed in white, moving slowly upwards. As the chorus begins, she opens her eyes; after Ealy kisses the back of her neck, the pair come face to face in the final scene, in which Beyoncé lies in bed, with Ealy above her. Jennifer Cady of E! Online wrote that the bright shiny lights in the video "make [Beyoncé] look like an angel". Alison Maloney of The Sun praised Beyoncé's "amazing figure". The video was ranked at number 74 on BET's Notarized: Top 100 Videos of 2009 countdown.
An alternative video surfaced online in late May 2010, explaining why Beyoncé's character was remembering her love interest in the original version. It begins with a view of the night sky and many trees, as Beyoncé drives a car and Ealy's character is chased by the police through a forest. As the video progresses, she parks her car on the side of the road and scenes from the original version are shown. Police dogs eventually catch Ealy's character and attack him savagely. An open bag reveals stolen money, which is dispersed by the wind. At the end of the video, in the forest, Beyoncé finds Ealy lying lifelessly on the ground.
Beyoncé performing "Halo" at the O2 Arena, in London, England
On February 11, 2012, American recording artist Whitney Houston died. After her death, Beyoncé performed a tribute for Houston during her revue Revel Presents: Beyoncé Live in May 2012, at the Revel resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Wearing a red dress, Beyoncé began the performance of "Halo" singing the first verse of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You". Maura Johnston of The Village Voice praised the performance noting that the song was "given an explosive coda" which showed how "the most basically structured song by one of pop's most template-hewing songwriters... could be turned into something glorious with the right singer." While reviewing the revue, Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "the most attention-grabbing moments of the night... came when she dipped into other artists' catalogs". Ben Ratliff of The New York Times mentioned the song in the "almost continuous high point" of the concert. On February 3, 2013, Beyoncé performed the song during the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show. "Halo" was added to the setlist of her The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. The song was also performed as part of the On The Run Tour with Jay Z and The Formation World Tour in 2016.
"Halo" has been covered by other musicians, including Ailee, ceo (Eric Berglund) and Harper Blynn. Marc Hogan of Pitchfork Media has written that no cover has been "quite as inspired or as perversely logical" as the one by ceo. Built essentially on bumpy beats, this version makes use of an acoustic guitar, 1980s-era stylized electric guitar, strings, and horns, and ends with a rapped outro. A dancehall cover of "Halo" by Major Lazer, with lead vocals by Elephant Man, was posted on the former's Twitter account the night after Beyoncé won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 2011 Grammy Awards. Simon Vozick-Levinson of Entertainment Weekly commented that their version "stays fairly close to the original, except with Elephant Man growling instead of Beyoncé belting the verses". In 2012, Swedish singer Robin Stjernberg, member of the boy band What's Up!, covered the song and included it on his solo debut album My Versions. A cover by singer-songwriter LP, also in 2012, was described by MTV as "[finding] the perfect balance between making it her own and preserving the integrity of the original melody". In 2013, "Halo" was covered by the Icelandic band Hjaltalín, with their version of "Halo" appearing as the B-side of their single "Crack in a Stone". A gospel-style version of the song was recorded by Jahméne Douglas and was released on his album Love Never Fails (2013). Indian singer Sunidhi Chauhan covered "Halo" during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in late September 2013. A writer of The Times of India included the performance of the song as one of the highlights of the concert.
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