The Rise from Street Outcast to Anti-Popstar
Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, from her blue-raspberry locks to her gravelly lyrics, was never your typical popstar. Frangipane and her brothers were raised in New Jersey by her two parents. They both dropped out of college when her mother found out she was pregant with Ashley. Working odd-end jobs, Frangipane reflected that her home life was always chaotic. Years down the line, after a suicide attempt, Frangipane discovered that she was bipolar and so was her mother. Halsey is also bisexual and biracial.
Her artsy talent granted her acceptance to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) before she realized finances would get in the way. She was a community college dropout, following her then-boyfriend’s degenerate friends that embodied the Breakfast–Club-“Basket-Case” label of high school America. Her parents kicked her out after she dropped out of school. At age 19, Frangipane couch-surfed between friends homes in her home state of Jersey to Brooklyn and the Lower East Side.
She was broke, drifting from place to place. During this time, she was invited to a party at the Holiday Inn in Newark. The party began the start of Halsey. An anogram of “Ashley” and a subway stop in Brooklyn, Halsey’s popstar career was born. She met a few music guys at the party and was invited to record in one of their basements. It was during that first recording session that she wrote “Ghost” about her drugged-up ex.
Five hours after she uploaded the song to SoundCloud, five labels had contacted her. Halsey’s rise to fame had begun. She signed to Astralwerks, a subsidiary of Capitol Records.
Her debut EP Room 93 dropped in 2014. In support of the EP, Halsey toured with The Kooks. It was during this time that she began her long on/off relationship with Norweigan producer Lido. Room 93 included five main tracks: “Is There Somewhere,” “Ghost,” “Hurricane,” “Empty Gold,” and “Trouble (Stripped)” in addition to an alternative remix of “Ghost” when it was re-released. “Ghost” and “Hurricane” found their way onto her debut album Badlands. “Ghost,” due to its early origins in her career, is a major representational marker for Halsey. The song’s meaning and longevity in her career make it a special addition to Room 93 and Badlands.
In 2015, her performance at South By Southwest garnered her the most tweets about any performer that night. Her promotion of the debut album was in the works, and her opening slot with Imagine Dragons for their “Smoke + Mirrors Tour” began.
In her 2016 Rolling Stone cover story, Halsey unveiled one of the most pivotal times in her life. In 2015 before Badlands was released, she was set to perform for Vevo LIFT. She miscarried in a Chicago hotel room before the show. She was secretly pregnant. After strapping on an adult diaper and taking two Percocet, she went out onstage. “It’s the angriest performance that I’ve ever done in my life,” Halsey said.
Though she willingly went onstage, that moment was career-defining and life-defining. Halsey’s career had yet to fully develop, and the performance was an imminent step to promoting her debut album Badlands. Badlands dropped later that year.
She further promoted the album by opening for The Weeknd on “The Madness Fall Tour” in 2015. In addition to her own album, Halsey featured on Justin Bieber’s image-altering Purpose that dropped in 2015 (“The Feeling”).
“Castle” and “Hurricane”
Badlands is a concept album about a dystopian society relative to her mental and emotional state during that time of her life. This became a theme for Halsey: to create a work within her album that metaphorically represents her actual life struggles, romantic or otherwise. Hits such as “Castle” and “Hold Me Down” challenge authority or the patriarchy in business. “Castle” is an extended metaphor. The metaphor represents breaking into the music industry and the male dominance at the top spots in record labels and so on. Eerie, dark, intense, “Castle” is underratedly one of the most polished and profound tracks on the album.
Halsey is known for her candid, raw lyricism. “Hurricane,” from Room 93 is her harshest example of this. It is about her own hurricane of a personality related to a romantic relationship. The chorus declares, “I’m a wandress / I’m a one night stand / Don’t belong to no city / Don’t belong to no man / I’m the violence in the pouring rain / I’m a hurricane.” Her verses explore trips throughout New York City where Halsey would go with her ex. In this song, listeners get the full potential of her dangerous yet captivating charm.
“Roman Holiday” and “Colors”
However, Badlands is not merely an album that creates walls around Hurricane Halsey. “Roman Holiday” reflects on the good moments of a relationship and how different life would be if those moments didn’t happen. The second verse begins with “Could you imagine the taste of your lips / If we never tried to kiss on the drive to Queens? / ‘Cause I remember the weight of your ribs / As you lied between my hips in the backseat.” Those special moments in a relationship are precisely why people fight to work them out so often. Halsey opens up her emotional cavity, the less aggressive and more sensitive side of herself, in songs such as these. The balance is important to fully understand her range of personality traits.
“Colors” is another important song on the album that also sheds light on relationship reflections. The chorus lingers, “Everything is blue / His pills, his hands, his jeans / And now I’ve covered in the colors / Pulling apart at the seams / And it’s blue.” Halsey’s website bio consistently states, “I write songs about sex and being sad.” This is true; her honesty towards sexuality and emotional progression are both very relevant in Badlands.
hopeless fountain kingdom
hopeless fountain kingdom dropped two years after Badlands in 2017. Leading up to the release, Halsey excelled on mainstream charts with her feature on The Chainsmokers’ hit “Closer.” “Closer” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. In addition, she released “Not Afraid Anymore” for the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack. This trend towards charting is throughout her album, as well.
hopeless fountain kingdom caters towards more radio-friendly music. The lead single “Now or Never” became a staple on mainstream radio. hopeless fountain kingdom dropped in June 2017. The album also follows an alternative world and begins with an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet. The ending of her long-term relationship with Lido inspired the album.
“Strangers” and “Bad At Love”
Features include hip-hop star Quavo, Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui, and more. Jauregui features on one of the most pivotal tracks of 2017 titled “Strangers.” “Strangers” is about a relationship between two women, something rarely heard on mainstream radio. “Strangers” incorporates a forward-moving beat, almost similar to the feeling of highway driving.
Halsey begins the song with lyrics that demonstrate a broken down state of the relationship. “She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore / ‘Cause it’s more intimate than she thinks we should get.” The chorus admits, “We’re not lovers, we’re just strangers / With the same damn hunger / To be touched, to be loved, to feel anything at all.” The lyrics in this song are arguably the strongest on the album. This is because it attacks the struggles of loneliness in a hyper-connected millennial generation. In addition, “Strangers” doesn’t shy away from acknowledging their decision to have unhealthy company over time alone. This is a decision that many people make. It’s exciting to hear from two bisexual female popstars regarding a homosexual relationship.
“Bad At Love” leans into Halsey’s bipolar personality and her ability to allow people to fall for her before she decides it’s not going to work long term. The verses list people she’s been in love with or had a serious connection with, men and women. In the chorus, Halsey admits, “Look, I don’t mean to frustrate / But I always make the same mistakes ’cause / I’m bad at love / …You know I’d be lying sayin’ / You were the one / That could finally fix me.” Therefore, she admits that her partners seek to repair her darker sides and estrangement issues. However, no one ever can fulfill her. It’s a self-acknowledgement of her romantic faults.
“Hopeless” and “Alone”
“Hopeless” is the closer track of the album featuring Cashmere Cat. Its EDM-inspired notes certainly shine through. However, instead of a club banger, Cashmere Cat adds Bon-Iver-inspired synth sounds in order to make a melancholy, reflective tune. It’s about the end of a relationship and the disappoint one finds when they discover the truth about their once-happy love. “‘Cause you know the good die young / But so did this / So it might be better than I think it is.” With the extended “Ooohs,” Halsey finishes the song with a repeated “I hope hopeless / Changes over time.”
“Alone” also carries a somber message. This, however, is about fan adoration. Halsey believes that what fans and people expect her to be like is always greater than who she really is. She repeats, “I know you’re dying to meet me / But I can just tell you this / Baby, as soon as you meet me / You’ll wish you never did.” Really, “Alone” tackles the struggles of fame. Everyone wants a piece or a moment. Yet the expectation can be built up. In addition, it can distract from the artist’s actual mental state. Halsey also explains, “See everywhere I go, / I got a million different people tryna kick it / But I’m still alone in my mind.”
“Lie” and “100 Letters”
“Lie” is an aggressive, dark song about breaking up and reflecting on sex in an ugly way. Completely candid, Halsey sings, “I gave you the messiest head / You give me the messiest head / Oh, you’re turning red / ‘Cause I’m tryna give the impression that I get the message you wish I was dead.” She wrote this song with Lido, the ex who the album is in regards to. Therefore, it plays out like an artistic way to handle a couple’s argument. It also indulges in the lies people tell each other even though they know the relationship is doomed.
“100 Letters” is a jewel on hopeless fountain kingdom. This directly explores Halsey’s sexuality. Discussing a man, the lyrics center around her self value. She leaves her partner, though he still wants her, because she is merely an object to him. Sex is fun but not when the only enticement is that; nothing more personal. She sings, “But I don’t let him touch me anymore / I said ‘I’m not something to butter up / And taste when you get bored.'” The chorus cycles through “He said, ‘Please don’t go away’ / I said ‘It’s too late.'” Summarizing, Halsey cuts ties with an unhealthy, casual relationship. The man evidently does care, as he “wrote 100 letters just for [her],” but the gesture is not enough.