5 Essential Halsey Songs

Jimmy Fontaine
Halsey

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Going platinum with no features will likely always be associated with J. Cole, but he isn't the only solo star to pull it off recently. Halsey’s Badlands was platinum-certified by the RIAA several months ago, joining a parade of imposing feats for the 22-year old musician. And although Badlands had no featured artists, collaboration has been key in many of her biggest moments -- leading the Hot 100 for 12 weeks straight on The Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” getting up close and personal with Justin Bieber on The Today Show, bringing out childhood idol Brendon Urie at her Coachella set this April. 

Before she was jamming with A-listers, a few IRL encounters and many, many interactions with her legion of online fans built up the Halsey we know today. Born Ashley Frangipane, the New Jersey native had been creating, performing, and attracting followers long before she decided to move around the letters of her given first name and go by the moniker of a familiar stop on Brooklyn’s L Train. On one of her many trips into the city, she met Anthony Li (then a member of the Warped Tour band Action Item, now her co-manager) who encouraged her to record some original music, aside from the tongue-in-cheek Harry Styles and Taylor Swift parodies loved by her considerable Tumblr and YouTube followings. 

The first song they recorded is actually the start of our five-song playlist for getting acquainted with Halsey…

1. "Ghost"

"Ghost" appears as the final track on Badlands, but it's actually the genesis of Halsey's stardom. It's what came out of the New Jersey studio session encouraged by Li, a session she  first hoped would make "a quick couple of hundred dollars writing yogurt commercials,” she told Billboard for her March 2016 cover story. Instead, she got this frosty electronic song... and a lot of calls from major label A&Rs (Republic, Atlantic, Island, RCA) shortly after she uploaded it to iTunes. She eventually went with Astralwerks, which included "Ghost" on her 2014 debut EP Room 93, and eventually, on Badlands the following year.

Two months before the album dropped, she shared this music video, which finds her getting intimate with another woman. Halsey, who is bisexual, has addressed how she felt how the video exposed many people's distorted views of female-female relationships. She told Fader:

I’ve been hearing so much about how “Ghost” is a provocative video. I put out the same f-cking video of me and the lead was a male. If anything it was more sexual content -- there was f-cking nails scratching down backs and orgasm faces and me being thrown up on on a desk by my things and everyone was like, “Oh what a great love story! This is like 90s love!” And then I put out a video where I’m making out with a girl and all of a sudden everyone is like, “This is pornographic!” 

2. "New Americana"

This not-so-subtle Millennial anthem is Halsey's highest-charting single as a lead artist and probably her most recognizable solo song to date. When she sings, "Raised on Biggie and Nirvana" in the chrous, she's actually referencing her own bi-racial upbringing. Her father, an African-American, loved 90s hip-hop, while her mother, an Italian-American, turned her onto the alternative rock of the same era. And as for legal marijuana, well, you'd have to ask Halsey who turned her onto that.

3. "Closer" 

We were careful to call "New Americana" Halsey's "most recognizable solo song" because of this little collaboration with the Chainsmokers. Perhaps you've heard it? Halsey takes on the second verse of this mammoth hit, playing the part of Andrew Taggart's ex-flame, who was looking pretty in a hotel bar four years after they'd last seen each other. She also gets to nod to her teenage love of pop-punk by shouting out Blink-182.

4. "Colors"

This was the second single released off Badlands. It's catchy, infectious, almost glowing, but the subject matter is especially dour. The "colors" refer to the hues of a vibrant relationship fading over time to a loveless gray, with drugs involved in the process ("Everything is blue / his pills, his hands, his jeans"). It's been surmised that Matty Healy, frontman of the 1975, is the subject, and though Halsey has spoken of their relationship, she's kept the specifics of "Colors" open-ended. Since recording it for Badlands, Halsey has continued riffing on "Colors;"  the deluxe edition included a minute-and-a-half reprisal on the following track and earlier this year, she released the Complimentary Colors EP, containing a stripped-down version and several re-mixes.

5. "Gasoline"

We'll end with a fan favorite. "Gasoline" has never been a single and wasn't even included on the standard issue of Badlands (it's only on the deluxe) yet it served as a frequent set opener on her 2016 tour and lately, has been one of her most popular streaming songs (it's garnered more Spotify plays than numerous standard issue Badlands tracks). It sounds powerful and driving, but perhaps the biggest reason Halsey's fans connect with it is because it's so open about about her experience with mental health. Halsey is bipolar, and on "Gasoline" she sings very explicitly about feeling out of step with the rest of society and how she copes: "Low on self-esteem / so you run on gasoline."

Halsey's catalog to this point is relatively brief, so it's not too difficult to settle on a few highlights. But looking ahead to 2017, that could be about to change. Stay tuned.

Halsey has been honored as Rising Star for Billboard's 2016 Women In Music event. It takes place on Dec. 9 in New York City and airs on Lifetime Dec. 12.

2016 Billboard Women in Music