While Halsey is prepping for the first-ever performance of songs off her new album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, she lays out her sole criteria for knowing whether or not the album is successful: “If I can walk on that stage at Vevo Presents, and have my fans singing back the words with the same lightning in their eyes as they did on the last album, then I’ll know I’m going to be okay.”
She doesn’t cite sales, streams, awards or dream concert venues — though she’s already headlined a sold out show at Madison Square Garden — instead, Halsey wants to feel connected, she wants to feel heard. This might as well be the mantra of the much-maligned millennial generation, and based off the roaring crowd that greeted Halsey at The MacArthur show in Los Angeles last week, this dream is still coming true on Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.
In just two years, Ashley Nicolette Frangipane has forged the kind of connection with her fanbase that most artists dream of creating, and that most pop stars need to keep doing what they do. Part of the deep connection forged between Halsey and her fans is based on shared identities, the kind that pop stars don’t usually claim for themselves, even if they’re true, let alone champion. She’s long been open about her identity as someone who has bipolar disorder, identifies as bisexual, and has a biracial heritage (her father is Black).
Frangipane grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of a hospital security guard and a car dealership manager, and she’s also been open about her working class family’s financial struggles, particularly when it comes to not being able to afford college.
Plenty of pop stars come from poor or middle class backgrounds, and seek to obliterate their past in a whirlwind of success, but Frangipane seems to be still vividly in touch with the discomfort of growing up with not enough, frustration of not belonging to the cool kid’s club. And while many artists pay lip service to their fanbase, Ashley — aka Halsey — is one of the few who seems to really mean it; these songs mean nothing to her if they don’t mean something to you.
This emphasis on subjectivity is certainly part of what helps her step outside the hallowed circle of indie-approved “cool” bands, and arguably, her separation from that faction of the music industry is a further part of her appeal for diehards. Halsey is not “cool” in the way Lorde is “cool,” and for a lot of fans, this is what makes her even more relatable. F*ck the tastemakers, we choose our own heroines, right? I have no interest in pitting pop stars against one another — even if Taylor and Katy have proven that on some level, it works — but the distinct similarities between the way Halsey and Lorde came up makes it hard not to occasionally compare them.
Halsey’s debut album Badlands came out on Astralwerks in 2015, but the label found Halsey after she’d already accumulated her own fanbase, organically, online via Tumblr, Twitter, and Soundcloud. The support of a label helped her reach the next level, but the fans were already there, waiting for her to springboard to the next level. There seems to be a similar feeling, of reaching a new level, surrounding the release of her follow-up record. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom was preceded by the enormous single “Now Or Never,” which, for what it’s worth, is currently at No. 26 on the Billboard chart, her highest-performing single on the chart to date.
The single sets the tone for the album, a breakup record that’s centered around a narrator who is disentangling themselves from negativity more than pining after a lost love. That theme will always resonate for fans who struggle with mental illness, the tough journey of navigating biracial identity or queer sexuality; even more than what they hear, fans see themselves and their struggles in these songs. Maybe that’s why it’s necessary to see Halsey perform in person to really get it — you see the lightning reflected back in the eyes of hundreds of teens, teen girls in particular.
The defiance and underlying ambiguity of the some of the songs give Kingdom the flexibility to apply to any sort of self-empowerment in general, not just leaving behind a bad lover. This is the same appeal that fuels Lorde’s forthcoming Melodrama, and she too came up off an organic Soundcloud upload, before superseding that to become a global pop star. Just two years apart, 22 and 20 respectively, these women represent the next generation of pop: Stars who have grown up with the internet and figured out how to harness it to find their people, to be heard. Lorde found Jack Antonoff, Halsey has Quavo, Romeo & Juliet There’s a sense that in finding her fanbase, Halsey feels like she has found the respite from growing up poor and isolated or misunderstood in rural Jersey. The music is a form of self-expression, yes, but for her it’s also an extension of friendship.
“The reason they care abut me so much is simply because I care about them so much,” Halsey further notes in the Vevo video, this assertion is interspersed with footage of her hanging out with fans who are waiting in line to claim their spot for the show, and one point she even shares memories of meeting some of them as long as three years ago. As Hopeless Fountain Kingdom heads to a No. 1 debut on the Billboard chart, it’s clear that for Halsey, her criteria for success has been
“I’m bad at love, but you can’t blame me for trying,” Halsey belts out on a song of the same name off her new album, “Bad At Love.” But when it comes to her fans, love is exactly what Halsey is good at. Tastemakers be damned, this is about a relationship.
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is out now on Astralwerks. Get it here.