Amy Dawson charts the rise of Halsey – the brightest breakout star of 2015
“Over and over again, people are looking at me going: “We’ve never even heard of this girl, what the f*** is going on?”’ electro pop songstress Halsey is aware she’s probably the biggest new name you have never heard of – yet. Unless, of course, you’re a social media- marauding post-Millennial, in which case you’re probably already listening to her recent debut album, Badlands, on repeat.
With no structured media campaign and almost no press coverage, the 20-year-old, born Ashley Frangipane in New Jersey, has ridden a wave of internet hype – and the support of an army of ‘galvanised’ fans – to hit No.1 on the iTunes chart in 30 countries. She’s been a worldwide trending topic on Twitter multiple times, sold out two recent shows in London within five minutes and caused a ‘riot’ outside radio 1 HQ.
With elfin cropped hair dyed pink and blue, Halsey certainly looks the part when we meet – part Ruby Rose, part Miley Cyrus, part 1990s-obsessed Tumblr star with the eyes of a Disney deer. Yet it quickly transpires she’s also a polite, friendly soul, operating on an intelligence level about five rungs above that of the average pop star.
The dark, confessional but still ultra-catchy tracks on Badlands recall Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Banks. It’s also a concept album set in a dystopian city, which became a metaphor for Halsey’s mental state while she was making the record.
A precociously worldly individual who seems to have chalked up enough life experience for someone twice her age, Halsey is also happy to embrace her inexperience. ‘My confidence at 20 stems from the fact that I feel successful and fulfilled, which is a lot more than I could say for a lot of kids my age,’ she says. ‘But I still don’t have a clue what the f*** I’m doing! I can’t even buy a beer in my home country.’ I ask her why she thinks so many in Generation Z connect with her.
‘I think they believe me,’ she says. ‘I’ve always been an over-sharer. And it kind of worked against me in high school because kids thought I was weird and I said too much. But as soon as I started making music, it brought me back out of my shell.’ Indeed, while her overnight sensation story is PR catnip, Halsey seems refreshingly uncontrived. ‘I don’t know how to be an artist, and that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, that I have no idea how to do this,’ she says. ‘I didn’t go to a f****** artist boot camp, you know? From day one I never accepted any of that mind control s***, so no one has bothered me since.’
Calling herself ‘tri-bi,’ Halsey is bisexual, biracial and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in high school. While she encourages total honesty, she seems wary of accumulating any tags. ‘I initially never wanted to talk about health conditions because I’ve seen it damage other artists,’ she says. ￼￼￼’Demi Lovato spoke out about going to rehab and having mental health issues and then every single article on her became about that. They wouldn’t let her talk about her music.’ But she’s pleased to have got people talking openly about mental health.
Halsey is a hard artist to define in terms of genre – too dark for Katy Perry fans, too pop for the indie kids. And she feels people are too keen to pin her down in other senses, whether it be her sexuality or race. ‘I’ve found myself more often than not incredibly alienated,’ she says. ‘At first that sucked but I’ve turned it into a victory and carved out my own lane. And as long as I can take the heat, I think that lane will keep widening. I wouldn’t even call myself an artist for the misfits – I’m not that person. I’m pretty sure of myself, I’m OK! I think I’m just an artist for people who… feel a lot.’
And with that, she gives me a hug and lopes off to find somewhere quiet to smoke.
Halsey’s next single, Hurricane, is out on Oct 2. iamhalsey.com