The Halsey origin story follows a narrative that’s starting to feel almost standard in modern pop. YouTube covers lead to SoundCloud originals, which spur a massive online following, a record deal and the promise of lasting IRL success. Still, this 20-year-old New Jersey–reared songwriter, born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, is clearly a singular voice. The admittedly “self-aware” artist and social-media star writes scathingly honest songs about “sex and about being sad,” 11 of which can be found on her debut album, Badlands, issued on August 28th via heavyweight pop and electronica label Astralwerks.
Halsey, which is an anagram of “Ashley,” is both a project and an alter ego that encompasses Frangipane’s personal complexities. “I don’t want to be Halsey: America’s Sweetheart, or Halsey: Bad Girl,” she tells Rolling Stone. “If you can sum up my career in a clickbait headline, I’ve done something wrong.” Over the phone, Halsey is quick-witted and curious; it’s clear that her drive stems from a desire to contextualize the complex world she sees into song. Take Badlands, for instance. This ambitious concept album about an alternate universe challenges the paradigms of pop music itself — in Frangipane’s own words, “none of the songs are hits.” Naturally, that’s her favorite thing about it.
You’ve mentioned that a lot of what you write is autobiographical. What kind of headspace were you in when writing Badlands?
It was an interesting thing going through a concept record. I sat down, and came up with the phrase “Badlands” before I even started writing. [The Badlands] is this society I came up with, this booming metropolis full of commercialism. There’s a battle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and it’s surrounded by a desert wasteland. It seems to pop up out of nowhere, and it keeps the people of Badlands trapped inside the Badlands, and keeps anyone else out. There’s a sense of unity, a sense of privacy.
I was obsessed with this society, so I sat down and thought, “What do the people look like? What do the buildings look like? What are they advertising? What’s the music like? What’s underground?” I went off into this imaginary world. So much was going on at the time. I had just sold out my co-headliner in five minutes… things were just starting to build, out of nowhere, and I had no idea what was going on, to be honest. It’s like this imaginary playland, at home in the studio, talking about these people, this place, writing these songs.