Whether you’re scrolling through your Twitter feed, Instagram or even The New York Times, you can find the name Halsey. This mesmerizing artist seems to have emerged out of nowhere, attaining one of the largest first-week sales for a female singer last year. But does that mean her music is good? In just three years, Halsey has gone from one of my favorite artists to one that is producing boring top-40 pop music and fighting with the world on Twitter.
I first discovered Halsey after hearing her song “Trouble” on a random sad Spotify playlist in 2014. This ballad is so powerful that I immediately felt overwhelmed and had to pause the song in order to not break down in public. That night, I listened to her entire discography, which consisted of a five-song EP called “Room 93.” Halsey’s work seemed special, diverging from the norms of alternative pop music with her unique, raspy voice and intimate lyrics.
“And I’ve got my mind made up this time / Go on and light a cigarette / Set a fire in my head / Set a fire in my head tonight” are the closing lines to “Trouble,” which also closes the EP. The track is purposefully stripped down, featuring only vocals and a piano, which evokes a strong emotional response from the listener as Halsey describes an emotionally abusive relationship.
My favorite song on the EP and my third favorite song by Halsey as an artist has to be “Is There Somewhere.” It’s the opening track of the work and it details the narrator’s willingness to go to the ends of the earth to be with someone despite not being their first choice in love.
“White sheets, bright lights, crooked teeth and the nightlife / You told me this is right where it begins. But your lips hang heavy underneath me / And I promised myself I wouldn’t let you complete me.” “Is There Somewhere” is also extremely intimate live, the one track where Halsey goes into the crowd, standing among them during the final chorus. “Is There Somewhere” is the reason that I fell in love with Halsey.
This infatuation ended quickly. Halsey went from being a small artist that I saw opening for “Imagine Dragons” and playing small New York venues like Rough Trade and Webster Hall to selling out arenas. This newfound fame resulted in a huge following of young teenage girls in addition to plenty of haters on social media. Most artists are unaffected, but Halsey fought back daily, which I think is profoundly toxic. Acknowledging Twitter hate only results in more hate.
Now, I can understand getting excited about being famous, but this newfound fame resulted in a complete change in her personality and music style. Her debut album “Badlands” is caught in the middle between the interesting style of “Room 93” and conventional pop music. It’s definitely not a terrible album, but it does not evoke as strong of a connection between artist and listener as many people felt with her first work.
I’m not going to talk about “New Americana” or “Colors,” her two biggest singles from the “Badlands” era. They’re what helped catapult Halsey into mainstream pop success, and I think they’re mediocre. Also, the “Colors” music video features Halsey lusting after a close friend’s much-older father, which is extremely creepy. It’s a no from me.
The entire album is not terrible, as the songs “Drive,” “Control” and “Haunting” are actually quite good. In fact, the track “Young God” completely stands out for me, as it is truly brilliant. I think that in popular culture today there’s a glorification of relationships, with a feeling of invincibility arising out of particularly strong ones. Thus, these “Young Gods,” the teens of today who feel unstoppable, are who Halsey is speaking to.
“Do you feel like a young god? You know the two of us are just young gods / And we’ll be flying through the streets with the people underneath / And they’re running, running, running again.” The song is spectacular, and it’s one I still feel myself being drawn back to today.
“Young God” was enough to get me to go to the last show of her “Badlands” tour at Madison Square Garden last year, and after “Colors” was performed for the encore, I felt terrible. She didn’t perform the one song I genuinely loved. But once the intro to “Young God” came on and she came out for a second encore, I lost it and forgot the multitude of reasons that drove me not to like Halsey anymore. The show was really good, and I was back to being a fan.
Now, can I talk about Halsey without bringing up “Closer?” I can try, but this song was huge, staying at the number one spot on iTunes for longer than most people can fathom. Is it good? No. Are The Chainsmokers actual artists? No, not at all. Your mediocre tune and weak vocals will not in fact stop you from getting older. That’s all I have to say.
This brings us to 2017, the year that Halsey released her second album, “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.” I didn’t like its promotional singles “Now or Never,” “Eyes Closed” or “Strangers,” so I had profoundly low expectations that were met. The album isn’t good. 15 out of 16 of the songs don’t resemble anything that made me like Halsey to begin with. The track “Bad at Love” is decent but still subpar when considered outside of the context of the album.
Now, you may notice that I said 15 out of 16 songs are bad. Well, the only exception is the last song on “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom,” “Hopeless,” featuring Cashmere Cat. It reminds me of “Trouble” but with an electronically induced melodramatic tone. It’s my absolute favorite song by Halsey, and it details constricting hopelessness to a state of mind in order to overcome the overwhelming feeling.
“’Cause you know the truth hurts, but secrets kill / Can’t help thinkin’ that I love it still / Still here, there must be something real. ’Cause you know the good die young / But so did this, and so it must be better than I think it is / Gimme those eyes, it’s easy to forgive.” If you are going to listen to any song by Halsey, it should be “Hopeless.”
Halsey is a victim of an industry that praises generic top-40 hits and social acclaim. By drawing attention to oneself, one can thus sell more music, and the cycle continues to repeat itself. The music industry should pride itself on those that diverge from the easy path and reward them through musical acclaim. There is a dire need for change.
There is no legitimate reason that artists like The Chainsmokers should be winning Grammys. The industry needs to do better, or talented artists such as Halsey will continue to be sucked into this cycle of hit, commercial success, monetary gain and repeat. Taylor, I’m looking at you.