Last year GRAMMY® Award-nominated, multi-platinum alternative pop maverick HALSEY was hailed by Billboard Magazine, Forbes and MTV as “the voice of her generation.” Say that to her face, though, and she’d probably roll her eyes and tell you to f*** right off, for it was just a couple of years ago that Halsey was still Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, a New Jersey teen who’d escaped her chaotic family life and suburban existence for New York, writing poetry, and scrounging money for concerts and her next slice of pizza.
Halsey went from putting songs on SoundCloud to having her first full length album, BADLANDS, certified platinum by the RIAA within one year of its release, with five Gold singles and more than 100 billion streams. She went from couch surfing to witnessing her first tour sell out in minutes to touring globally with sold out dates on five continents (including a sold-out Madison Square Garden performance) and performing for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway.
But playing arenas was a far cry from the life Halsey was used to as an artsy, misunderstood high schooler, which is what makes her subsequent ascent to pop stardom all the more insane. But if anyone can handle it, it’s Halsey. She hums with creative energy and has an intelligent opinion on just about everything making it clear that she will not be controlled by anyone but herself.
Quickly the world took notice. Skrillex handpicked her to duet with Justin Bieber on “The Feeling,” one of the Purpose songs he produced; the two later performed it live on The Today Show. She was raved about by outlets from Elle to Noisey to The New York Times. She won the 2016 Breakthrough Artist Award at Music Biz, spoke up for disenfranchised teens at the United Nations, attended the Met Ball, trended worldwide on twitter fourteen times (including when she trended on twitter for going off twitter) and hugged tens of thousands of fans.
Halsey closed out an unbelievable 2016 by delivering an emotional and provocative performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Accompanied by an orchestra, she enchanted viewers everywhere, while utilizing the platform to make a statement with her leather jacket emblazoned with 20:1—representing the ratio of male-to-female Nobel Prize recipients. MTV wrote, “The jacket was a fitting look for “Castle,” her latest single that’s all about tackling the patriarchy.” She began her 2017 as the cover star of Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 issue alongside Michael Phelps.
And it all started from one night when she recorded a song called “Ghost” about her junkie ex-boyfriend, put it up on SoundCloud, and changed the course of her life forever. Ever since the 22-year-old dropped a bomb on the music world with that single song uploaded in 2014, she’s been bucking convention, speaking her mind, and connecting with millions of devoted fans in the process, who live for her realness as much as her gorgeous dark, powerful pop.
“I was like, ‘Maybe my friends’ll like this,” she says of the sad, sexy song that launched her music career as Halsey, an anagram of her given name as well a nod to a subway stop in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood.
The song blew up online and record labels came calling, literally overnight. It wasn’t long before she signed to Astralwerks, zeroed in on her songwriting and recording, and began opening on major tours for the likes of The Weeknd. “Walk onstage in front of 20,000 people in an arena when you’d just been doing club shows, and you think to yourself, There’s a possibility that I can’t do this. That I go out there and I fucking choke. But ‘no’ is not an option,” she says. “Rolling with the punches has become my mantra.”
After giving clamoring fans a taste of what would come with the five-song EP Room 93, Halsey released her first full-length album, BADLANDS, stunning the industry with its debut at no. 2 on the Billboard charts in August 2015. But her devoted fans knew the score: In fact, she was the most tweeted artist at both SXSW and Coachella. Her haunting vocals, intimate, vulnerable lyrics and high-brow concept paired with synth-pop beats and catchy-as-hell melodies are what made BADLANDS the most memorable album of the year, and Halsey pop’s most refreshing star.
“I’m open about talking about certain things that others may keep quiet,” she says. “I want my music to be really authentic, candid, honest. And I really take no prisoners in the way that I write.”
There is no nutshell big enough to hold the multitudes of this girl. It’s why she talks openly about mental illness, race, queerness, and sexuality. And she doesn’t just talk about it. Halsey puts her platform into action. She hosted a Halloween party that raised money and awareness for LGBT ally organizations and a holiday event for My Friend’s Place, an L.A.-based homeless youth organization, where she donated backpacks, clothing, food, and other necessities. Offering up a personal lunch for a GLSEN charity auction, she raised thousands of dollars for the organization that champions positive changes for LGBT kids in school. Still recovering from surgery to alleviate her endometriosis, in January Halsey descended on D.C. to participate in the Women’s March and then donated $100,000 to Planned Parenthood thanks to her fans RT support on Twitter. These are just a few of the reasons why she’s as much of a badass offstage as on. Why she needs her fans as much as they need her. And it’s why her 3.8M Instagram followers and 3.9M Twitter followers hang on her every word, why her 21st birthday became a trending topic and why a single photo of her newly purple-dyed hair gets a mention on vogue.com as a harbinger of trending style.
But she has something to say about that too. “All people want to talk about is the math, the ticket sales and the Twitter followers and the favorites and the views and the album sales,” she says. “We can talk metrics if you want, I know all about them. But underneath all of that is something really genuine and authentic. Something you can’t explain with math.”