In the past five years, Halsey has displayed a true knack for releasing songs at exactly the right time. She writes about what she’s currently experiencing and is immediately inundated with messages from fans saying they’re going through the exact same thing.
I know, because I’ve been one of those startled listeners: It’s uncanny how she seems to be writing from my exact memories and anecdotes. The fact that we’re all experiencing this seems nearly impossible. But it just goes to show the inimitable connection she has with her fans.
With each of her releases, she shares another story from her life — with enough detail to make it hers, but enough openness to let us project our stories onto it too. This May has brought us “Nightmare,” and added a new story to the library — one that lines up perfectly with the current issues America is facing. When it comes to picking favorites from Halsey’s catalog, which songs are “best” is less relevant than which songs came to you at the right moment, or soundtracked something specific to you.
With a new album on the way later this year, we can expect our favorite songs to change as we’re introduced to new music. For now, these are the 20 best Halsey songs (as selected by one fan with one set of human experiences).
20. “Hurricane” (Room 93 EP, 2014)
“This song is a reminder that you don’t belong to anyone but yourself!” Halsey has yelled this right before the bridge during each live performance of this song, and it’s hard not to still get chills every last time she does. It’s like the little sister of “Nightmare,” who isn’t quite as jaded or hardened to the world yet. Her lyrics these days usually opt for burying the real events under layers of storytelling, so it’s fun to go back and hear how straightforward “Hurricane” was.
19. “Tokyo Narita Freestyle” (with Lido) (Non-album, 2016)
Halsey and Lido sneak-released this track on SoundCloud in May of 2016, and thankfully added it to Spotify later as well. A number of their demo projects (remember the redo of Jaden Smith “Slow”?) have impressed, but this one in particular has held its own in an increasingly impressive catalog.
18. “Eastside” (with Benny Blanco & Khalid) (Friends Keep Secrets, 2018)
Halsey and Khalid teamed up to contribute vocals to this subtly infectious Benny Blanco track, and it paid off with a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100. This wasn’t Halsey’s first time working with Blanco — they worked together on her 2017 track “Now Or Never,” plus she made an appearance in his “I Found You” video with Calvin Harris. Billboard caught up with all three “Eastside” artists earlier this year to discuss how the single came to be.
“Colors” was the first instance of discovering Halsey’s Tumblr poetry in the wild — as some of her song lyrics have brewed for years in the open before we ever got to hear them in context. The music video has been out for over three years and I’m still shocked by the plot twist when I see it. Every time the “you were red…” drops in the bridge, hope you take a moment to pour one out for se7enteenblack.tumblr.com.
16. “Closer” (The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey) (Collage, 2016)
Most of the “DJ partners with the pop voice of the moment” tracks we get every summer burn out fast and bright. The still-irresistible “Closer” is the exception to the rule: I could hear this song a thousand more times and end up doing a full performance to my empty car every time. This was Halsey’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it spent a full year on the charts — and she’s since taken to performing a stripped-down piano version of the electro-pop banger while on tour.
15. “Hopeless” (feat. Cashmere Cat) (Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, 2017)
One of Halsey’s more subtle collaborations, Cashmere Cat took this track to somewhere ethereal. It’s a great way to end this album feeling like it’s coming from a different place — like this is the narrator stepping out of the scene to end off the story instead of us watching it play out. It’s a delicate balance of CC’s signature sound while still keeping Halsey’s unique qualities in tact. Perfectly done.
14. “Boy With Luv” (BTS feat. Halsey) (Map of the Soul: Persona, 2019)
The friendship between Halsey and BTS is the purest thing I’ve ever seen. Watching them go from hanging out in Korea last year to making fun of each other in interviews and performing together at awards shows? It’s an honor to have been a witness. Go through any of Halsey’s videos on YouTube right now and all of the new comments are BTS fans discovering her. “Boy With Luv” is so much fun to listen to and gives us a different, more traditionally pop side to Halsey.
13. “Ghost” (Room 93 EP & Badlands, 2014)
The song that started it all: We’ve heard the story a million times of how Halsey uploaded the booming “Ghost” to SoundCloud one night and woke up to multiple record labels knocking her door down. For those of us who were around for those moments in real time, it feels nearly impossible to reconcile her beginnings on Tumblr with where she’s at now. “Ghost” will always be a time capsule: her “hacking” fans’ Twitter accounts, fans graffiti-ing “LISTEN TO HALSEY” in their cities, a record deal signed atop the Empire State Building. Simpler times.
12. “Bad At Love” (Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, 2017)
This pop smash climbed all the way to No. 5 on the Hot 100, making it the biggest chart hit off Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Fans have often speculated on the identities of the romantic interests in the song — mostly the “London girl with an attitude” in the second verse — but the mystery is what makes it fun. They could be anyone. You listen and project your own past disasters and “what could have been”s onto it.
11. 11 Minutes (YUNGBLUD with Halsey feat. Travis Barker, 2019) (Non-album single)
Despite not loading up her albums with collaborations, Halsey has been involved with a ton of them. This year’s with YUNGBLUD and Travis Barker of blink-182 is definitely one of the highlights. The song takes on a more rock-influenced sound than most of Halsey’s older music — which was occasionally classified as “alternative” almost by default, but was rarely quite so guitar-based — leaving me wanting more from her in that direction going forward.
10. “Hold Me Down” (Badlands, 2015)
I find it almost impossible to write about this song because I’m so in love with it. Every time the second chorus hits, I get phantom pains in both my knees (for good reason). This was one of the instant grat tracks off of Badlands and it was the moment I knew I was in this for the long haul. One of the angrier moments off her debut album, it now feels like foreshadowing for the album ahead.
9. “Walls Could Talk” (Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, 2017)
This song is a whole production on its own. It feels like it would fit perfectly in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation of “Romeo + Juliet”, which makes sense, as the film was one of the main inspirations behind Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. The strings and harpsichords contrasted with the backing 808s creates a very cool modern alt-pop experience. Halsey spoke about how the lyrics behind this song were exaggerated from true facts — a verbal disagreement in a car became a fist fight in a limousine, someone sweet talking her roommate into letting them in became a lock being picked. The added drama goes perfectly with the production, and it makes for one of the strongest tracks on HFK.
8. “Trouble” (Room 93 EP, 2014)
I’ve spent years wondering why this song is titled “Trouble – Stripped” when we never received an un-stripped version. Maybe someday we will hear what could have been, but as is, this track was a beautiful finale to Room 93. With such a drastic shift between sounds and aesthetics on each of her releases, “Trouble” became an acting finale to a whole era. The difference behind the lyrics is where you really notice what level of growth there’s been, as Halsey wrote this EP when she was still a teenager. The shift from “I wouldn’t leave you if you let me” to “I don’t owe you a goddamn thing” makes my breath catch in my chest.
7. “Drive” (Badlands, 2015)
When “Drive” played on the radio at the end of the “New Americana” video, I waited patiently for months, hoping this was foreshadowing for which video was next. It wasn’t, but the collection of effects used in the production of this track create such an image on their own, you don’t need a video. You can imagine the scene yourself just by closing your eyes and listening. Maybe that’s what she wanted from us all along?
6. “100 Letters” (Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, 2017)
I almost had to give “The Prologue” a spot for being the reason I finally know a Shakespeare passage by heart, but “100 Letters” is where we really get introduced to the world of Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. The first time I listened to this song, the little notes she found in all her jeans sounded like cute reminders of the past. After finishing the album and listening again — really listening, with the context of the whole album — you feel how draining that would be. Constant memories of someone you cut off, reappearing every time you grab something out of your closet you haven’t worn in a while. It’s like they never left; you’re never allowed to fully move on. I find myself revisiting this HFK track the most.
5. “Gasoline” (Badlands, 2015)
“Gasoline” has been a fan favorite since its release four years ago. Everyone screaming “do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me?” back at the stage is one of the loudest moments during her set. The energy is unmatched, which bodes well for an album that’s been promised by Halsey herself as “mostly Gasolines.”
4. “Without Me” (Non-album single, 2018)
Halsey has said this is the first song she’s released as Ashley instead of as her stage persona, and it shows. The stunning breakup ballad “Without Me” appeared between album cycles and ushered in a new era, which makes it extra sweet watching it become her first solo Billboard Hot 100 No. 1. The cherry on top was her stripped-down SNL performance: When the words appeared on the walls, the moment was heart-stopping.
3. “Strangers” (feat. Lauren Jauregui) (Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, 2017)
When I found out there was a collaboration on this album between Halsey and Lauren, I immediately wished for something a la Brandy and Monica. What I received was even better: a lost-love song that passes the Bechdel Test. Their voices mesh together beautifully, and the video — which fans demanded in response to every time either of them tweeted for months after the song’s release — was worth the wait.
2. “Is There Somewhere” (Room 93, 2014)
This song kicks off the Room 93 EP with multiple verses and no chorus — nothing like starting your first ever major label EP by breaking the wheel! It foreshadowed exactly what we were getting into going forward, both on this EP and in the future: Second track “Ghost” hard-opens with its bridge, and Halsey has never followed the exact path that you’d expect since. “Is There Somewhere” is a dreamy slice of alt pop that is still held in the highest regard by new and old fans alike.
1. “Nightmare” (Non-album single)
Halsey’s latest single, and the strongest track in her catalog. It’s like a sequel to Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’s “Devil In Me,” showing her at her most Halsey as opposed to the restrained version she presented in former unhealthy relationships. After multiple albums keeping a “record of the wreckage in [her] life,” immortalizing the men who have come and gone, she’s focusing on herself — with one of the most powerful songs from anyone so far this year — and it’s beautiful.