September 16, 2015


Halsey On Mental Illness: What We Can Learn From Her

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Pop music in 2015 feels more democratic than it has in years prior. To find fame, you have to build and sustain it yourself, almost exclusively via the internet and social media. To get the industry's attention, you have to convince the world to believe in you first. Your personality and authenticity has to be transparent enough for fans to invest their time and energy in it. If you're lucky, those who love you most will veer young and female...because nothing comes close to the power of teen girls. 

Halsey's gospel exists firmly in that camp: She was birthed from the 'net, found a home on YouTube and grew her empire on Tumblr. When discussing the latest and greatest in popular culture, her name not only comes up, it dominates the conversation.

The reason for that is, again, who she is—loud, unapologetic, sexy, cool. She weaponizes her vulnerability in a way that ensures she's in control, always. The concept manifests itself in many ways, but most impressively in her openness about mental difference. Halsey has bipolar disorder, a manic-depressive mood disorder common in adults. When it comes up in conversation, she makes it a point to explain her individual experience without pontificating some unnamed universal thing. That's what makes her universal: She's not trying to explain mental difference, she's just trying to tell her own story.

Lorne Thomson/Redferns
Lorne Thomson/Redferns

In a recent interview with Nylon magazine, Halsey describes her illness the way most people would: She immediately considered the limitations of what "being bipolar" means and signifies:

"You wonder things like, ‘Am I ever going to be able to be a mom?’ I never wanted to be a cop, but now that’s something I can never be. I can’t carry a weapon.... Knowing that I couldn’t do something because of this, even though it wasn’t directly crippling me, was horrifying.”

It's a humanizing quote; it's totally natural. As a young biracial woman, she's faced with hearing "no" more than people of other demographics, and now she's been dealt another card. She won't let it define her. Like all the other facets of her personality, she won't ignore it, either.

Obsession, talent and passion sit dangerously close to depression and anxiety. It's commonplace in young people, and even more common in smart, creative young people. The key is to refrain from glorifying it. In the mid-2000s, bands like My Chemical Romance and their ilk would discuss the darkest corners of their brains, but they rarely ruminated on the positive. It's only partially their fault: Conversation surrounding them and the mall-emo of the aughts were dependent on notions of self-seriousness, and being bummed is way more serious than the light. What Halsey is doing is directing the dialogue there with her music, her debut album, Badlands, her stories. She tells Nylon, “My brain feels like a fucking buzzing fluorescent light in a gas station bathroom...all the time. I’m sure I’ll be back to the Badlands. Still, this whole journey has taught me that it is possible to leave.”

She tells Nylon she can leave. She tells them there's hope, there's light, she is not her disease. We can only hope her fans follow her out of the darkness.