Women in Music 2016

Halsey's 'New Americana' Finds Acceptance at Adult Radio

Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Halsey performs at the Gothic Theater in Denver, Colorado on Nov. 9, 2015. 

The single scales the Adult Pop Songs chart despite some concerns over its lyrics.

Halsey climbs 37-35 on Billboard's Adult Pop Songs radio airplay chart (dated Nov. 28) with "New Americana," complete with its chorus prominently referencing "legal marijuana."

"We are the new Americana / high on legal marijuana," Halsey sings. "Raised on Biggie and Nirvana / we are the new Americana."

The format has traditionally been cautious with lyrics that might be controversial, given its family-friendly focus. (If anything, the shout-outs to Biggie and Nirvana might be as jarring to some format traditionalists as the marijuana mentions, thanks to adult pop's history of touting "no rap and no hard rock," a tenet that has largely dissipated over the years.)

Lyrics citing marijuana are pretty much a badge of honor at alternative radio, with "Americana" holding at its No. 18 peak on Alternative Songs. The track also jumps 37-33 on Pop Songs, with mainstream top 40 radio edgier than adult pop (aka, adult top 40). (Adult contemporary is even more conservative.)

"Americana" is from Halsey's debut full-length Badlands, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 (Sept. 19) and has sold 199,000 to date, according to Nielsen Music.

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So, are adult pop stations that are playing the song concerned?

KFYZ Santa Barbara spun "Americana" 44 times in the week ending Nov. 15, although an edited version. While Capitol Records issued an edit minus the "legal marijuana" phrase (replaced by a sound effect that suggests an inhaling Halsey), "We made our own edit, to take the references out," says program director Brian Davis. "We did it prior to Capitol sending out their edit."

For the station, Davis feels, "It would be too much to talk about marijuana throughout a song."

Conversely, "It never occurred to us to play an edit of this song. The song itself doesn't glorify anything; it just discusses reality," says KLLC San Francisco assistant PD/music director Jayn. The station played "Americana" 18 times last week.

"And, if it prompts a conversation about these current realities of ours, even better."

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One market where the lyrics of Halsey's breakthrough hit are perhaps most acceptable is Denver, with Colorado at the forefront of legalization. "The marijuana conversation is mainstream here, so there may be more tolerance for the lyrics," says Mike Peterson, PD of KALC, which played "Americana" 23 times in the past week.

As always, though, lyrics are only one part of the programming equation. "The lyrics didn't play into our decision to play it," Peterson says.

"It came down to a great song that we felt is a good fit."