Halsey's Pop Radio Crossover: Is 'Now Or Never' About To Explode?

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Billboard Magazine
Halsey performs at the Billboard Women in Music 2016 event on Dec. 9, 2016 in New York City.

It’s easy to forget that, prior to a certain inescapable collaboration with an EDM duo, Halsey was not a pop star, in the most classic sense. She had the big hooks (like “Colors” and “Hurricane,” both from her 2015 debut Badlands, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart) and the huge crowds (at festivals like Coachella and at a Madison Square Garden one-off in New York), but very little presence on pop radio—and (in part) because of it, no signature hits.

“New Americana” was Halsey’s biggest Hot 100 hit as a lead artist from her first album, and it peaked at No. 60 on the chart; alternative radio was more receptive to Badlands than Top 40, with "Americana" hitting No. 18 on the Alternative Songs chart in October 2015. That’s not to say that the singer-songwriter’s debut was a failure; if anything, the fact that she was able to gain such a following without anything resembling a widely recognizable solo single made Halsey an impressive outlier in popular music.

Now, of course, Halsey does have a hit to her name — “Closer,” her collaboration with the Chainsmokers that was released last summer, became one of the biggest No. 1 smashes of all time. And as she prepares to release sophomore album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, out June 2, Halsey may very well have the follow-up single, “Now Or Never," to complete her transition from alternative to pop.

The lead single to Hopeless Fountain Kingdom immediately became Halsey’s highest-charting Hot 100 single as a lead artist when it debuted at No. 50 last month, and after dropping to No. 66, the song rebounds to No. 52 on this week’s chart. "Now Or Never" is also up to 21.9 million all-format radio audience impressions (up 7 percent) in the chart week ending April 30, according to Nielsen Music. It’s starting slowly compared to “Closer”  — at this point in that song's lifespan, it was already in the top 10 and growing into a monster at radio — but Astralwerks and Capitol Music Group believe that “Now Or Never” has a good shot at growing into one of the defining songs of the summer.

"This song, if it turns out to be what we think it is, could be on the radio for 20 weeks, in a meaningful way,” says Greg Marella, Capitol Music Group’s EVP of promotion. Marella joined Capitol last August, when “Closer” was already exploding, and says that the success of Halsey’s featured turn on the Chainsmokers smash inevitably helped set up the new single’s push at pop radio, instead of retreating to alternative.

“'Closer' came at a time in Halsey’s career where she had two years under her belt of being an established artist of touring nonstop -- she had sold out Madison Square Garden at that point,” Marella points out. “She’s a 22-year-old powerful female artist, and she was featured on one of the biggest songs of 2016. The audience was there, the appetite was there. It was a highly anticipated single, frankly, because of the success of ‘Closer.’”

“Now Or Never” doesn’t have the massive chorus of “Closer” -- its hook, widely compared to Rihanna’s “Needed Me,” simmers and never detonates -- but the song possesses the type of slow tempo and vulnerable vocal delivery that has worked for recent hits like Julia Michaels’ “Issues” and Khalid’s “Location.” “The single feels like a legitimate Top 40 smash to me,” says Erik Bradley, music director of WBBM Chicago. "It’s one of those songs that I think is going to be bigger as time goes on. It’s very hypnotic and sexy and all of the things we love in pop records.”

On Wednesday, Halsey announced the first phase of a world tour that will have her play arenas across North America this fall; on Thursday, she’ll perform “Now Or Never” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. As the promotional cycle for Hopeless Fountain Kingdom ramps up, expect its lead single — which her label began previewing to radio PDs seven weeks ahead of its April release, and has received a cinematic music video that has gained 14 million YouTube views — to remain the focal point. “Now Or Never” isn’t inescapable yet, but Marella sounds confident that it will get there.

"You go into this with the mindset that the song that you’re putting everything behind is going to connect and stick around for a very long time,” he says. "It was great to be able to take an artist who hadn’t really had her own hit single at pop radio yet, and be able to make an event out of the launch of her single.”

And in the off-chance that “Now Or Never” never catches on? Don’t count out Halsey as a durable Top 40 artist. "The album is incredible,” Bradley says of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. “And it’s got plenty of other pop singles on it, too."