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Halsey on miscarriage, the media & being treated like a meme

The pop sensation tells us why the press gets it wrong, how she turned her breakup into art and what it’s like being the first female artist to release a number one album this year

Ashley Frangipane just bought her first home. It’s in LA, 2,500 miles from the suburban New Jersey town she grew up in. Later this year, Frangipane – better known by her stage name, Halsey – will embark on a headline tour in support of her second album hopeless fountain kingdom at the monstrous Brooklyn stadium Barclays Center, a far cry from her first New York City performance in the basement of Webster Hall. But to say that Halsey’s rise to fame is hard to believe would be a lie: the plethora of fans (who she always has and has always will credit for her success) have been with her since she was posting Blink-182 and One Direction covers on Tumblr at 16. It’s her commanding confidence and unapologetically honest attitude that makes her an inimitable force in the pop game. 

From her dark, dystopian debut BADLANDS to the tragic romance hopeless fountain kingdom, Halsey’s found maturity in haunting melodies and glimmering pop. And over the past three years, she’s pivoted further into the mainstream, collaborating with hitmakers like Justin Bieber and The Chainsmokers. For people who were less familiar with Halsey’s artistic identity, it was easier to box her in as the “backseat of the Rover” girl.

But Halsey’s no stranger to backlash, and that will never stop her for using her platform to make a difference with her music. “I had this week where I was meeting hundreds of fans a day,” she explains, “and there were kids coming up to me, the same way that they always have, saying, ‘Hey, your music helped me because I have a mental illness. This song helped me because I’m coming to terms with my bisexuality, and you used multiple pronouns on this album.’ For me as an artist, that’s the most validating thing that I could hear.”

When we spoke to Halsey in 2015, she was concerned with being a ‘spokesperson’ for mental illness and not actually being recognised for her craft. And while she does use her platform for activism, in 2017, the tides have changed. With hopeless fountain kingdom, she’s become defined by her heartfelt music and intense creativity. This week, Halsey became the first female artist to have a number one album on the Billboard charts in 2017. It seems like new and old fans have seen beyond the radio plays and into the emotional intimacy Halsey puts into each poetic lyric. But success aside, Halsey will always be Ashley Frangipane: the same bold, blue-haired young woman who posted poems on the internet and never backed down on letting the world hear her voice.

A few days after the release of hopeless fountain kingdom, and ahead of her appearance at UK festivals Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds, we caught up with Halsey about the toxic relationship that became the album, how being called Rachel Dolezal affected her, and regrets.

It’s so cool to see someone who grew up right next to my hometown in New Jersey really break out. And it’s just been incredible to see you grow. 

Halsey: Thank you. Yeah, it’s crazy. I must have interviewed with you maybe three times, and I think (the first time) was probably before BADLANDS. It feels like ten years ago, but at the same time, it also feels like it just happened, which is really a bizarre feeling. And then when you find out the actual numbers and timelines of things, it’s crazy. Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of the ‘Ghost’ video.

That’s nuts. So, you’re the first female artist in 2017 to have the number one album on Billboard. Congratulations! 

Halsey: Yeah, it’s fucking nuts. It’s exciting, but it also enrages me. I love what I do, and I’m so proud of my album, but it brings some really self-deprecating, self-aware thoughts like, ‘You mean to tell me that there are all these artists that put out music that I consider to be far better than my own, and I’m the one that broke that record?’ I went and looked because I didn’t believe the statistics, and it’s been Kendrick, The Chainsmokers, et cetera. The reason for (a lack of female artists) is that a lot of these male artists have (released) really dominating albums that have charted number one for weeks. It’s not like there’s a constant upcycle of new male artists that are dethroning female artists. It’s more about the ‘best of the best’ male artists who have put out albums this year. And I think that the past two years was a fairly female-dominated chart moment, especially with Taylor Swift.

What I really admire about you is how much love and credit you give to your fans.

Halsey: My fans are really dedicated, and it was a really rough year for them because I was a pretty serious media target, but they stuck it out anyway and shared my music with their friends in a way where I get to have a number one album. All that is because they believed in me and saw past my defensive nature. They see that, they recognise that, and I love them for that.

Yeah, you said your fans were under attack by other people. Why, and how so?

Halsey: I think because I’m not a very well-behaved artist. It’s kinda like when your kid has a temper tantrum in public and you’re a parent. You gotta do one of two things: you can either just kinda deal with it, or you can be really embarrassed and panic about it. I had worked from obscurity to having this song ‘Closer’ be absolutely massive, and there was a moment where I think it was very uncool to be a Halsey fan.

Do you think it was because of The Chainsmokers?

Halsey: No, I don’t think it’s directly related to them. It was related to having immediate success on a song that I don’t think necessarily best-reflected my artistic personality. I think if a song of my own had gotten that big, there would at least be more of my identity and more of my character in it, and it would maybe be easier to understand my actions, my attitude, and my personality. I think for people like my fans, who have access to my other content and have access to my poems that are about mental health, personal relationships, or self-evaluation, they’re like, ‘No, she’s justified in her social role and in her artistic role as well,’ whereas there are another five million people going, ‘She’s the fucking ‘backseat of the Rover’ girl.’ I think the fans who know me and who have a personal relationship with me had to defend that very often.

One thing I remember coming up a lot in interviews was, ‘Oh, Halsey’s bisexual, biracial, and bipolar. Let’s call her tri-bi.’ It seemed trivialising.

Halsey: I think arguably the most offensive thing to me about that situation was that the headline chose to say that ‘Halsey Identifies As Bipolar, Biracial, Bisexual’. My mental illness and my race aren’t something that I had a choice in! A lot of our culture is based around the concept of authenticity. I think that a lot of people in marginalised positions have seen themselves get very, very defensive when an outsider falsely claims to be a part of their oppression or part of their minority. With everyone calling me ‘Rachel Dolezal’, that fucking sucked. I post pictures of myself as a kid and people are like, ‘Wow, you look black here.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, well, ‘cause I am.’ I don’t ‘identify’ – I just am.

“I don’t ‘identify’ – I just am” – Halsey

It was frustrating for me to hear that, because it’d be like me going up to someone and being like, ‘I’m Ilana, and I’m my anxiety. That’s it. That’s all there is.’

Halsey: I can speak for being a 22-year-old girl from New Jersey who got diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 17. That’s who I can speak for. I do want to bring more attention to mental illness and the idea that people with mental illness won’t always be ‘well-behaved’. I want to be involved in that. But I can’t say that I speak for everyone. ‘Cause the media was being like, ‘Halsey is just this voice of everyone.’ And there was dark-skinned black girls, or even dark-skinned mixed girls, being like, ‘Fuck her! She doesn’t speak for me. She’s not the fucking biracial spokesperson. She’s not the mixed-kid spokesperson.’ And there were people with schizophrenia, anxiety or on the autism spectrum that were being like, ‘Fuck her! That’s cool that she’s speaking about her experiences not being able-minded, but that doesn’t mean that she fucking speaks for me, because her experience is entirely different from mine.’ A hard thing for me was hearing, ‘Halsey is the millennial spokesperson.’

But I had this week where I was meeting hundreds of fans a day, and there were kids coming up to me, the same way that they always have, saying, ‘Hey, your music helped me because I have a mental illness. This song helped me because I’m coming to terms with my bisexuality, and you used multiple pronouns on this album.’ For me as an artist, that’s the most validating thing that I could hear, ‘cause it means I’m putting my money where my mouth is. It means that my art is affecting people. And before this album came out, and the weird media attack thing happened last year, I started seeing a lot of articles that were pretty much trying to decide if I’m a person or if I’m a hashtag. I remember being really upset about that for a couple of days, being like, ‘Damn. Do people care more about me as a fucking meme than they care about me as a musician?’

You said that the hardest song for you to write was your song with Quavo, ‘Lie’, which you wrote with your ex-boyfriend Lido. What was that experience like?

Halsey: Well, both of our albums (are) kind of a chronicle of our breakup. He put out an album called Everything last year, and I put out hopeless fountain kingdom. We were both really heavily involved in these albums. In the first song on his album, my voice is in it. And on the first song on my album, his voice is in it. Were there moments when we were in the studio where we absolutely fucking hated each other? For sure. But also, working together kind of reminds you that from a human perspective, you care about this person more than what your romantic relationship indicated.

There were times when (Lido and I) really fucking hated each other, and we’d still be working on music. Everyone we knew was laughing at us, like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ And there were definitely some nights where we’d be in the studio and we’d go in hating each other and leave rekindled with some sort of closure. But I think for both of us, it was therapeutic. You remove yourself because you remember that a song isn’t indicative of an infinite feeling. It’s like how someone’s feeling in a moment. ‘Lie’ was definitely a hard song to write, but it felt good to get off my chest. And then we kinda laughed about it afterwards. He was like, ‘Wow, you really felt that way about me?’

“The pain that I experienced from being so honest is far more manageable than the pain I would be experiencing lying to myself and lying to the world for the rest of my life” – Halsey

As we discussed before, something that’s translated throughout your music is mental health. With this record, what tracks do we see this surface?

Halsey: I think it’s kind of everywhere. I think that it’s kind of indicative of: ‘My relationship failed because my relationship with myself wasn’t in a good place.’ ‘Devil in Me’ is obviously one, but (it’s) actually more triumphant than people think it is. That song is like me waking up ‘the devil in me’, but what it’s really about is me going back and rediscovering the parts of myself that I might have stifled because my boyfriend didn’t like it – like being too loud, too obnoxious, or how correcting a fucking racist in public embarrassed him. I needed to go back and pull all these parts out of me and stop being ashamed of who I am.

A lot of that’s a mental health perspective as well, because you start to be ashamed of your disease when you’re living so closely with somebody else and you don’t get the opportunity to be alone and self-reflect. There’s someone constantly watching you. And you don’t want to burden them, you don’t wanna waste their time and you don’t want to bother them with your episodes.

I think ‘100 Letters’ is this post-trauma song, from being in a relationship that was emotionally abusive at points. I make a lot of references to some of my episodes in that song as well, when I talk about being on the floor of the bathroom with the door shut. It’s really subtle, but ‘Good Mourning’ is one as well, because it’s kind of mourning the death of night, because night is a time when I feel very comfortable, ‘cause as the result of mania, sometimes you can be up early up in the morning, and then when the morning dawns on you.

Are there any specific things that you regret talking about?

Halsey: I think that changes every day. When I’m with a bunch of like-minded women and men talking about wanting to change the world and wanting to make women’s healthcare a less shameful thing, do I regret telling the world about my miscarriage? No, of course not. I’m proud of myself. But when I’m alone at night and I’m laying in my bed checking Twitter and people are tweeting me like, ‘Your baby’s dead. Fuck you,’ and bloody pictures that’s a moment where I was like, ‘I probably should’ve kept that one to myself.’

How did you move forward from talking about your miscarriage?

Halsey: I reminded myself that I wasn’t alone, and the lesson that I learned was that if I want to continue to be honest, I can – but I have to give myself time to mourn the loss of things before I give them to the world. That’s why I came out with an album about a breakup that happened a year ago, because I needed time to process, and I had to make sure it was actually fuckin’ over this time before I put out in the world about how I was over it. I need to take time to learn from a situation so that I when I do give it to the world, I can do it in a way where I can hopefully better help people that have been through similar circumstances. 

Do you have any concerns about sharing your personal life or struggles over the years, looking back now since you started your career?

Halsey: I do, every day. It hurts, to be honest. I think that the pain that I experienced from being so honest is far more manageable than the pain I would be experiencing lying to myself and lying to the world for the rest of my life. A lot of people don’t talk about the idea of authenticity. Before I had a publicist to write my bio, ‘I will never be anything but honest’ was on my website. My Twitter bio was: ‘My name’s Halsey, I write songs about sex and being sad, and I will never be anything but honest.’ That was when I was 18 or 19 years old, and I think that that’s still a fair biography of me.

Halsey’s hopeless fountain kingdom is out now