Halsey established herself as a prominent and lasting fixture in the worlds of both pop and electronic music at breakneck speed, and by no means is this hyperbole. One needs to look no further than Halsey’s collaboration with The Chainsmokers, 2016’s “Closer” for proof of this statement. Since its release just over a year ago, “Closer” has racked up well over 3 and a half billion plays across platforms. For context, that’s nearly half the world’s total population. If that isn’t stardom, then I’m really not sure what qualifies. And while this remains the artist’s most-listened-to single to date, Halsey before and after “Closer” was and is a pop star very much in her own right.
Halsey is a Grammy Award-nominated artist whose unique stylings of dark electro-pop earned her debut album, BADLANDS, hundreds of millions of plays before she reached a near-universal level of recognition with her feature on “Closer.” Yet, what preceded BADLANDS? What started Halsey on the path to exponentially-growing levels of stardom? Well, before BADLANDS, we here at Ones To Watch found ourselves enamored with the potential surrounding a rising artist who seemed like she really could make a lasting impact on the music world. So, in honor of that once rising artist who went on to prove us right, this is the story of Halsey.
The way things ultimately turn out in the end often appears almost comical in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to young Ashley Frangipane’s seemingly destined path to becoming one of today’s biggest pop stars, this grand sense of irony plays out during the very beginning stages. It was never Frangipane’s original intention to be a pop star. Instead, she originally started pursuing music as a vehicle for her poetry to reach a wider audience, playing acoustic shows around various cities. And as the fates would have it, music would indeed become a vehicle for her poetry, albeit given sonic form, as 2013 would see Frangipane self-release the single “Ghost” under the moniker of Halsey.
“Ghost” was arguably where it all started for Halsey. The haunting and powerful number about an ex-boyfriend blew up in a matter of hours on Soundcloud and the budding artist found herself on the receiving end of multiple record label offers. Halsey would sign to prominent dance and electronic label Astralwerks, which hosts such infamous artists as The Avalanches, Fatboy Slim, Cut Copy, and Empire of the Sun–an early indicator of the artist’s future foothold in both the worlds of electronic and pop music.
Then came Room 93, Halsey’s debut EP. Halsey gained a devoted and organic fanbase quickly following Room 93, including yours truly here at Ones To Watch where we praised the cinematic visual escapades in her music video for “Ghost.” With it’s gritty, dark electro-pop numbers, Room 93 provided the first bits of physical existence that this was a talent bound to be something massive.
Now, I don’t know everything in the world there is to know about the music industry, but I would say it’s a safe guess to make that most artists don’t open for acts like The Kooks and Imagine Dragons solely off the strength off their debut EP. Yet, that was and always has been the thing about Halsey–she’s an artist who creates a palpable shift in the air through her songs and live performances. So, it’s no surprise either then that Halsey was the most tweeted about artist at 2015’s SXSW, coming out on top over the other two-thousand-plus acts that were also trending during SXSW’s nine-day run in Austin, Texas. This buzzing star, who had only a single EP under her belt, was constantly turning heads and raising the questions of who exactly this new phenomenal voice was, but perhaps the biggest question on everyone’s mind at the time was when would we finally be to get our hands on that proper full-length release we were all clamoring for?
Halsey’s debut album BADLANDS, a concept album about a dystopian album and her current mental state, debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and is now certified platinum. With BADLANDS, Halsey had succeeded in doing what so few artists manage to do, channeling nebulous buzz and murmurs into tangible breakthrough success over the course of a single album.
It all arguably started with “New Americana,” a Lana Del Rey-esque pop power ballad abounding with imagery and references targeting the millennial generation. Halsey’s talent for crafting songs with moving lyricism and powerful hooks meant “New Americana” was on heavy rotation on radio stations for some time to come, giving the world it’s first formal introduction to Halsey as a proper pop star. The BADLANDS’ single was certainly not a one-hit phenomenon either, with the effervescently charming “Colors” and the slow-burning “Castle” showcasing Halsey’s talent for writing electronic-tinged pop hits in every form imaginable.
Halsey became pop music’s next big thing following BADLANDS and rightfully so. The young budding artist, who originally began pursuing music for her poetry, now had the world’s attention fixed on what lyrical acrobatics she would pull off next. Well, as a brief synopsis of what this now pop star pulled off in the year following the release of her debut album, there were two Grammy-nominations, the aforementioned astronomical success of “Closer,” and an opening spot for one of the world’s largest pop giants, The Weeknd. Without giving us a moment’s notice to catch our breath tracking the near-constant accolades and achievements she was regularly accumulating, Halsey followed-up BADLANDS with 2017’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. The album earned Halsey’s first spot at the very top of the Billboard 200 and fully cemented Halsey as a lasting voice in pop music, impervious to any notions of the dreaded sophomore slump.
Halsey reached a level of stardom so few artists do and in the short timeframe of two years. Throughout it all, she has remained a poet to her very core. The masterful lyricism present throughout every one of the artist’s tracks and the way in which she is now using her voice to fight for women’s rights is a constant reminder of the power contained with words. Yes, Halsey is a pop star like no other, but it’s not because she has an innate talent for creating pop hits. She’s a pop star like no other because she recognizes the innate power that her words hold, a power that is strengthened all the more when she puts those words to music.
So, as we continue to watch our Ones To Watch alumni do great things in the world of music and beyond, you can find us reminiscing while we over-analyze every lyric so beautifully and articulately crafted throughout Room 93 to Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.