Halsey exists in extremes. The 20-year-old singer/songwriter, born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, contorts the space around her with a quick wit and a quicker tongue. She's a presence, always has been, successful both online and in person. The reason is almost positively her personality—she might go by a moniker, but she's never been anything but herself.
Her stage title is both an anagram of her first name and a stop deep in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, where the young starlet spent much of her adolescence. There's an attractive grit to the place, where, if you're lucky, creativity and crime exist side by side. It's there, instead of in a traditional college experience, where she learned to hone her craft.
All of that sounds like the oldest story in the book: Young artist moves to Brooklyn, somehow finds success. Halsey makes her story feel inventive, and that, in and of itself, is inventive. When she told Fuse in March of this year that she didn't have a choice when it came to music, she "fell in love with it," her artistic submission to the medium bled with authenticity. It's language you've heard before in life, and she knows that, and she clearly doesn't give a f*ck. It's a level of openness, a bohemian pressure to satiate herself creatively that makes her exponentially popular to legions of young women everywhere. And there's nothing more powerful than the admiration of girls.
Most of the writing surrounding Halsey shows a fascination with the depth of her surface. The New York Times calls it a secret language, from her 14,000 friends on MySpace as a tween to 16,000 subscribers on YouTube at 18 and her 550,000 Twitter followers at 20. The loyalty of those who obsess with every progressive 140-character message, every version of herself, can't be faked. So how has Halsey amassed this army? What's her secret? She'll tell you hard work, but it goes much deeper.
“[Halsey exudes] a bohemian spirit to satiate herself creatively, one that makes her exponentially popular to legions of young women everywhere.”
The true power of Halsey is individualistic. She is unapologetic and would probably cringe at the often gendered qualifier. She is, loves, breathes, eats, f*cks Halsey. She is self-described tri-bi (bi-sexual, bi-racial, bi-polar.) Even those experiences within her are nuanced: She's white passing, so she has to deal with the regular criticism of not being "black enough," another incredible form of othering unique to the Snapchat generation. To be Halsey, you have to be tough as hell. It's a new form of role model—she's vulgar, she's sexy, she's actualized.
It's also a form mirrored in one of her singles, "New Americana," a chorus of "High on legal marijuana / Raised on Biggie and Nirvana / We are the new Americana." The song acts as her manifesto (it's no wonder there's a drum progression cadence that recalls marching off to some antiquated war) and explores ideas once taboo, now commonplace. It's one of equality, where equality is born: In pop culture. In media. In front of our very faces.
Is this too congratulatory to a 20-year-old from New Jersey with blue hair and piercing acumen? Perhaps. What she is doing is opening dialogue of self with ideas that extend beyond self-confidence. Telling young women to believe in themselves can only go so far. You have to show them, too.