Halsey: From Couch Hopper to Chart Topper


Practically every American millennial knows the song “Closer” by the Chainsmokers featuring Halsey. Love it or hate it, “Closer” just made #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for the eighth week in a row. The song is blasted on every top hit radio station, and the lyrics have probably been stuck in your head at least once. “So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your rove” is going to be a 2016 classic, but how well do you know the featured artist in the song?

Halsey, born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, is a 22-year-old American singer songwriter from New Jersey. She chose the stage name ‘Halsey’ because it is an anagram of Ashley, as well as a street in Brooklyn she frequented in her teenage years.

“I think the difference is about more than spelling,” Halsey told Popjustice magazine. “So I think if you rearrange me a little bit you get Halsey. It’s not quite an alter-ego as much as it’s just an amplified version of myself.”

After dropping out of art school, then community college, the singer became homeless to “live the bohemian dream,” according to Rolling Stone writer Alexis Morris. Halsey was living as a nomad, sleeping on friends’ couches and attending hotel parties just to have a bed. She explained that she would split a $1 pizza slice with friends and did not have a working cell phone.

“I’m just this fucked-up stoner kid who made it. I was buying my clothes at T.J. Maxx, then woke up one day and was going to L.A. to film music videos,” Halsey told Morris.

Halsey began her career by posting videos to her YouTube Channel in 2012, and was discovered by her label when she posted her first single, “Ghost” to SoundCloud.  “Ghost” was a literal overnight success, receiving over three million views in 24 hours and kickstarting Halsey’s path to fame. Her music is now considered electropop and she signed with Astralwerks record label in 2014 when she released her first EP, Room 93.

Her first album, Badlands, was released in 2015 by Astralwerks record label. Halsey explains in an interview with Popjustice that Badlands, “follows an actual story because the songs are reflective of what part of my life I was in at the time, what kind of mental state I was in. The album is autobiographical, but in a surrealistic fashion.” She wrote the album while on her first tour. Badlands is a conceptual album about a futuristic dystopian society.  She explained that while writing the album she felt, “Neurotic. The interesting thing about Badlands is that here I am in this imaginary world and my life is changing in the US and I’m 3000 miles away from my house, I’m flying somewhere new every day and I’m busy and all of a sudden people fucking care about me.”

In 2015 she was awarded “Artist on the Rise” by MTV Europe Music Awards, and in 2016 she was awarded “Favorite Breakout Artist” by People’s Choice Awards and “Best New Artist” by NME Awards. Halsey completed her first headlining tour this year, titled, Badlands. The artist sold out Madison Square Garden and explained that she is working on writing new songs for a new album.

Halsey is an icon that represents everything the millennial generation stands for: independence, honesty and equality. She is biracial, bisexual and bipolar and talks openly about her personal life. She is upfront about her liberal stance on equality, and included a rainbow flag with the words, “Send Love” in her Badlands tour.

Halsey is real. She’s human, and not afraid to show people her flaws. The pop star told Morris of her past lover’s experiences with heroin, her miscarriage, and her personal family drama.

“I’m genuinely myself and I think I’d attribute that to a lack of fear. I’m not worried about something catching up with me, I’m not worried about staying on brand, I’m not worried about fucking saying something that is brand appropriate. I like talking to people,” she told Popjustice.

Halsey often addresses social justice issues, such as: feminism, gender roles, sexuality, mental health stigma, and colorism. She wants to be an icon for women like her to identify with. “Growing up there weren’t a lot of mixed people in the media who were as pale as I was,” Halsey explained in an interview with Elle Magazine. “I always felt like I was too light to identify with anyone else. I now have girls reach out to me all the time and say, ‘I’m mixed race like you and I’m just as white as you are. Thank you for being that for me.’ Or, you know, someone reaches out with a mental illness or someone reaches out who is, you know, a feminist. I just like to be the in-between role model—the one I didn’t have growing up.” 

Caitlin O’Brien can be reached at caitlin.obrien@spartans.ut.edu

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