Is there anyone with as much buzz as burgeoning 20-year-old pop singer Halsey these days? If Friday’s secret record release show in downtown LA’s Arts District is any indication, probably not.
A pop-up shop was setup Wednesday on Melrose in the afternoon called BADLANDS AIR, where hundreds of kids showed up to claim free tickets to the show in shape of boarding passes. It was quite a unique thing.
It feels as though I’ve been reading features on Halsey from major music outlets on an almost daily basis for the past several weeks with an overwhelming amount of positive feedback in regards to her just-released debut full-length album Badlands. It left only one question: could the singer match the level of hype generated by her marketing team with her live performance?
Hundreds of people (overwhelmingly teenaged and female) piled into the Imperial Arts Studio around 7 pm. In the main room of the art studio, the walls were lined with film posters that each represented a different song off the album. It was an extraordinary setup, with a couple other stations like a photobooth also set up. Outdoors, a Taco Bell truck put free Doritos Locos tacos in the hands of everyone that was so inclined.
The stage was also setup outdoors. With quite a lot put into the production, you knew this wasn’t going to be a four or five song set. Close to 8 p.m., Halsey appeared on stage and my ears are still ringing from the decibel levels these teenage girls reached with their shrieks of excitement.
What astounded me most is how almost everyone there knew all the words to every song despite the album just now being released. A sea of girls with blue locks that matched Halsey’s hair color were sprinkled throughout the crowd. As she launched into “Gasoline,” few of the girls in the crowd could contain their excitement.
Despite her youth, Halsey performed like she is a veteran of the stage. Her charisma while performing is incredible. A few songs into her set, she was joined on stage by Lido, who then performed “Drive” and “Slow” with the young pop star. The latter was an addition to the set that wasn’t marked on the setlist — Halsey only performed it when the crowd chanted for it in unison.
Halsey mentioned that she was happy to be performing her album release show where it was taking place rather than “a snobby LA club with bottles of champagne.” Considering 90% of her attending fan base wouldn’t have been able to get into an event like that, it was probably a good call.
Halsey has previously said in interviews that Panic! At the Disco was one of her influences and favorite bands growing up. Earlier in the day, Panic! lead singer Brendon Urie shouted out her album on Twitter, to which the young singer understandably fan-girled over. You could hear the Panic! influence in a couple of songs, most notably “Control” and “Colors.” In those songs, Halsey’s sing-songy conversational verses build into catchy hook-filled choruses that Brendon Urie was known for at peak Panic! success.
Halsey closed out her regular set with “Hurricane” and the radio hit “New Americana,” but not before sharing many words of inspiration with the crowd. Though the lyrical content of some of these songs may be a bit too adult for teenage girls (references to drugs and sex), the overall message behind Halsey’s music of being comfortable with who you are and not trying to fit into what other people think you should be is empowering, especially to the large portion of young people who idolize the rising singer.
“New Americana” is an interesting song to me because of the chorus. “Raised on Biggie and Nirvana” is one of the lines, and it doesn’t really apply to the teenaged crowd into attendance, who were moreso “raised on Yeezy and…something more current that rhymes with Nirvana.”
Earlier in the week, Halsey shared a cryptic tweet that more or less says she posed in Playboy. One wonders how that might affect her popularity with a fan base that is mostly too young to legally purchase this magazine. It might create some pause for parents, but Halsey’s gotten to where she has with a “zero f*cks given” attitude and there’s no sign of that slowing down just because she’s gaining mainstream appeal.
— HALSEY (@halsey) August 26, 2015
At one point, Halsey took a drink from a bottle of water, and at this point, a crowd of girls rushed to the front of the crowd … so they could be spit on by Halsey? I didn’t understand it, but that’s the kind of power she wields over these girls. It was a sight to behold.
Halsey left the stage, returning for an encore to perform “Young Gun.” The performance came to a close with Halsey leading the crowd in a chant of the final chorus, letting the crowd finish it on their own.
It was an interesting thing to see a young singer try and live up to the hype she’s generated right at the point in her career where she’s crossed into the mainstream consciousness. As a performer, Halsey has definitely cemented that she’s the real deal. The critical acclaim Badlands has received goes hand-in-hand with the level of buzz. She’s on the Lorde/Lana del Rey incline to superstardom that few people enjoy. The maturity she’s shown in interviews make me believe she’s better equipped to handle that success than most young twentysomethings would be.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
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