Aug 27, 2015 1:07PM

Halsey On Satire, Sexuality And Finding Solace In Music

Life beyond Tumblr.

Halsey, aka Ashley Frangipane, is a 20-year-old singer/songwriter who's been building hella hype online via an incredible voice, knack for creating expansive electro-pop tunes, and DGAF social media presence. The honesty in her lyrics (that touch on everything from having bipolar disorder to love, heartbreak and being a part of the Tumblr generation) has won her about a zillion internet fans. And now, as she's poised to release her debut album Badlands, she's on the brink of breaking into the mainstream. We caught up with Halsey IRL to find out where she's at. 

Alex Kazemi: How excited are you to be opening up for The Weeknd on the west coast?
Halsey: I am so excited. When I got word that I was going to do it, I had to re-arrange the dates on my headlining tour. I wanted to do it so badly. You don't understand, I've been a fan of The Weeknd for years. The Kiss Land concept was massively inspirational for me.

That's so dope. If we go back to the start, do you ever feel like you transferred over the feelings and experiences of Ashley to Halsey, to deal with what Ashley couldn't handle, in the way most fiction writers do in their own work?
I definitely feel that way. I know what it's like to be a kid, a part of fandom — to be obsessed with music. I've spent the last few years of my life living for music. When I originally started to craft the Halsey project and Badlands, I wanted kids to feel a part of it. I wanted it to be something bigger than just an album, because that's what I would have wanted as a fan. When you are an adolescent, and you don't have everything figured out, music is all you have. I wanted people to find solace in the way I found solace in musicians. I'm writing about my life, my experiences but I'm going to give it all over to Halsey — for the kids, who need something to hide in. That's what I did in creating Badlands. This is where you go to run away.
On the song 'Colors', you say: "I hope you make it to the day you're 28 years old." Are you talking to yourself or specific men in your life who you know are going down that path?
'Colors' came from a conversation [I had], I could hear the song coming to me during a conversation over texts. It was back and forth dialogue. That song was originally about one person, but I think it is about multiple people I know. I grew up around a lot of people who were using drugs and, you know, I'm not very fond of the idea of "sad girls", "heroin chic" and "the 27 club" but I know how people find that stuff romantic. I've watched people die as a teenager. It's not fun stuff. That line comes from a place of exhaustion, I was genuinely worried about these people not making it to 28. The guy I wrote 'Hurricane' about just turned 27 a couple weeks ago and it was the most painstaking week of my life. I was terrified that something was going to happen to him or that he was going to do it something to himself, but hey, he made it!

Do you feel frustrated with the way mental illness is fetishised by the youth that grew up with Tumblr/Instagram? You can tell young people see a currency in the attention these illnesses receive. Do you think people who fake mental illness online are most likely mentally ill as well?
I think that if you are going to go so far to fake having a mental illness, you have something going on that you need to deal with inside of you. I also think that it's a good thing that there's a conversation/dialogue going on online about it. We want people to be comfortable and not ashamed of something they don't have a choice over. I think it comes from confusion — adolescent confusion is universal. You are dealing with so many emotions and changes that it basically feels like a mental illness. I mean, no one is telling these kids that they have a reason to be upset about the transition period of being 18. It's so frustrating for me because as soon as I came out about it, publications [started] using it as a fetishisation, and it becomes a headline or clickbait. That's dangerous. They don't get how counterproductive that is, they make it seem like it's a trend, or an accessory to get people to read their interview. It's a disturbance.
When you put out songs like 'New Americana', do you ever fear it will be fetishised as glamorous? Do you think in this politically correct time, it's harder for people to pick up on irony and sarcasm? How do you deal with the frustration of your work being misunderstood?
It's so frustrating when people don't understand the satire of 'New Americana'. They think it's this insane basic pop song, but that's the point. I wrote a song critiquing pop culture and I made it sound like a huge pop song. People are writing angry think pieces about how they don't appreciate me rhyming "legal marijauna" with "Biggie and Nirvana". The whole point is for it to be a buzzworthy song. I'm making fun of current pop culture. Has anyone heard the bridge? I say: "What kind of bubble gum have you been blowing lately?"  In my other songs, I'd never say something like that. But the whole point of that lyric is me saying, "What kind of bullshit have you been talking? What kind of vapid things have you been obsessed with lately?" Honestly though, the fact people miss the point of the song is driving me fucking insane.

Do you think this is the price way pay in a cultural era of total seriousness/political correctness? Are people becoming blind to irony and sarcasm?
I struggle with this everyday. I come from a place of wanting to be politically correct and not wanting to offend people, but I think art is meant to offend. It's not friendly. It's supposed to be something polarising and sometimes hateful. I struggle with this purgatory of wanting to be politically correct, wanting to be sensitive to the feelings of people and respect them but at the same time I have to make art that provokes. It can't be safe. The people I am working with understand now, and see that this is a project that has the opportunity to create cultural change. My label wants me to be challenging. Do you know what? I get fucking shit on all day on social media by people our age who are constantly tearing apart what I do because it's either too provocative or not provocative enough. It's like, what do you want from me? Some people think I'm so controversial and then other people think I'm just some boring girl. I'm either unoriginal or too original. Dude, it's not bullshit. I really do yell to people in boardrooms and say things like, "I want more people of colour in this video."

When you make your work, do you ever consider the mean reactions of our generation automatically rolling their eyes at you without ever creating anything themselves? Or have you blocked it out at this point?
I know how to block it out. I know what you are talking about. It's usually other female artist's fans who do this kind of stuff to me. I constantly get attacked, every two minutes. People are like, "YOUR RECORD IS GOING TO FLOP! BASIC BITCH!" It's like, "OK sweetheart, I've seen my sales. I've been doing OK." I'm not an idiot. I see everything online. I know when female artists are "throwing shade" to me but I don't give a fuck. What I'm doing is working so far, if it's making them upset — good. People consider me to be an outspoken female cause I'm not afraid to just be this silent, little doll. I pick my battles wisely. I will never ever call someone out for attacking my reputation, I will only call someone out if they've attacked my character. At the end of the day, if people think I'm a "slut" or a "flop" that shit doesn't matter, but if you attack my sexuality, my race or my views, I care strongly about those things. Do you know what? I never hear negative things from the people that matter to me. My fans, people I respect in the industry. I only hear positive things. Did you know my record leaked?

It did, and a lot of people are expecting me to hop online and have some ferocious blah blah blah rant. When I found out, I was like, "Tight. Glad you have it! Enjoy!"   

Making this record, did you feel a responsibility as a young woman to include uncensored lines owning and commenting on your sexuality, and not being ashamed or submissive about it in the way some women in music are presented?
I want to instil into my listeners that being sexy is not something that other people tell you that you are. It's something you need to discover about yourself, it's something you deserve to discover about yourself. Someone telling you, you are sexy doesn't make you sexy. I think there's a sexual nature to me and my album that people don't understand. I don't disrespect myself or my sexuality. If I can own it, if I can control it, then nobody can take it away from me.

Halsey's full-length debut album Badlands is out August 28, 2015. Pre-order it here

Photo: @iamhalsey

Alex Kazemi