For most artists, by the time they are starting work on their second album, their career is only just beginning. It takes the vast majority of working artists many years to build a fan base, and even if their first outing is met with critical praise and healthy sales, by the time the sophomore album rolls around, things may have changed. The same can’t be said for up-and-coming pop singer Halsey. In fact, it seems to be the opposite with her, as she is doing better now than ever before, and it’s not even thanks to her own previous album (though that helped launch her in a way most new acts dream of). As she was winding down promotion of her debut full-length Badlands, Halsey was featured on the song “Closer” by The Chainsmokers. What was supposed to be a fun dance track ended up going to No. 1 and holding on for an incredible 12 weeks, making it one of the longest-running chart-toppers of all time.
Halsey quickly became a household name, and she earned her first two Grammy nominations earlier this year. Now, just as all the hype around her Chainsmokers collab is beginning to quiet, she’s gearing up for another album campaign, although this time around, millions more are listening, and this could be another big break for the singer.
I spoke with Halsey recently while on the road to Coachella with Three Olives Vodka, which was showing music lovers and future festival attendees what it meant to “celebrate otherness,” which is the brand’s way of encouraging people to be themselves—something Halsey already knows plenty about.
Can you put into words the last nine months or year of your life? No. The only word I can think of is… N-O. No. I'm just kidding. Yeah, I mean it's been really crazy. Time goes by really fast, you know what I mean? You don't realize how much time is passing by until... Actually, Coachella is one to hit me.
I realized it had been a year since I played there, and that was one of the biggest career-defining moments of my life. I think it is for any artist getting to be a part of Coachella. I remember the surprise on my face when the flier went out. My name was so big and so high, and I couldn't believe it. I was like, "Oh, no!" I was excited, and then it kind of hit me and I was like, "I have a lot to prove now. I have to hold up to this."
I worked really, really, really hard. I put more attention into any singular show than I ever had before, leading up to Coachella. I had such a blast, and the response was amazing, and that was the moment when I was like, "Okay, I'm ready to take on a greater part of this journey."
So then, this year rolls around and I realize this paradox of feeling like it's just been Coachella a couple months ago, but also feeling like that was years ago with how much has gone on. I wrote an album, I toured the rest of the world, I sold two million albums, and I had this amazing, monster of a record with The Chainsmokers called "Closer." And, little personal victories too, like, I bought my first house and I spent my first year as a legal drinking adult, and I moved my family out to California, and my little brother started college. I mean, just little stuff like that, you know what I mean? That really made me realize how quickly the time has gone. So, I think Coachella, it’s like a checkpoint in my life now. Every time it comes around, I'll think about how much things have changed.
When you guys made “Closer,” did you have any idea what that was gonna become? Not a clue. We wanted to make a track we thought would be a fun festival song. We kind of had this cult fan base brewing. Neither of us really had tackled the monster that is top 40 radio quite yet. I spent, when I was 18, 19, going to clubs in New York and running into them left and right. They had "Selfie" at radio, and we had a lot of mutual friends, and I knew they were just some punk kids from Rhode Island, and from the East Coast, and I was from New Jersey so we kind of just both wanted the same thing.
It was just like from a couple feet away like, "Hey, hope it works out for you." And, a couple years roll around and we get to make this record together, and we're thinking, "This'll be fun." Then two months after it comes out, we're shooting the music video and they're like, "The record just went platinum." And I'm like, "What the fuck?" You know what I mean? Actually, honestly, it must've been a couple weeks, not even two months.
I was like, "What have we done?" And the records kept coming in, and we kept toppling these Billboard statistics, and people started to love the song; people started to hate the song, hate the song. I'd never had a song be so popular before, so I didn't know what it was like to have such a loud negative opinion, you know? But, it taught me to remove myself and step away a little bit, and not let people's opinions matter because people, whether they liked it or hated it, you couldn't escape that.
They heard it. Yeah. And, I'm not such an “all press is good press” kind of person. That's not really how I go, but it definitely taught me not to listen to the negative voices because they always allow us, you know?
I mean, we're so proud of what we've done, and so many people attribute that song to really important moments in their life, like, that summer was important for them or it reminded them of an ex-boyfriend, or it reminded of their brother, or it was their ex- best friends favorite song, or whatever. Now, that song is... It's permanent for people now, which is cool.
Now that you've broken all those records, do you feel any pressure coming up on a second album with a single out to match that or come even close to that? I don't really think so. I also know that the power of a good song is one thing, but the power of dedicated fans is another thing as well, and if I can have both then I shouldn't have anything to worry about. I think that, for me, the hardest thing is always fearing being misunderstood, and I kinda wrote an album that encompasses me in 16 songs. Not one song, 16 songs. When you just put one out, it's kind of like everybody's not getting the whole story, and it makes you anxious where you have to sit back and relax, and wait for the story to come out organically, and wait for them to find their own entry point, their own unique moment where the record relates to them. I think that's what I really care about right now is making music that's so authentically me. I'm really proud of this album, 'cause while it has a greater pop sensibility I didn't go chasing “Closer.” I didn't write 16 more “Closer”'s and put them out. In fact, I probably did the exact opposite.
There's urban records. There's alternative records. There's records that are two minutes long, records that are six minutes long. I wasn't chasing that perfect formula, and that's one thing I'm really proud of in this album is that I kept it pretty authentic.
“Now or Never” was just recently released, wasn’t it? Yeah.
What's the plan for that single, and then the rest of the year? Well, “Now or Never” is just doing it's thing. People are just getting their hands on it. It's streaming like crazy numbers and everyone loves it so much. I'm excited about my fans didn't leave me while I was on my break. I'm happy to have a comeback. We put out a music video for it, which was my directorial debut.
You directed it? Yeah. So, we have a whole bunch coming that completes the story. “Now or Never” is like the middle of the story, so we have to go give how they met, and then what happens after the chaos at the end of the video as it is a Romeo and Juliet story, but not the way that you would expect.
So, it's a little bit of a twist at the end of it. And, I have a couple more songs coming out, with some really cool collaborations and co-writes on this album. I wasn't planning on talking about this, but because it leaked 'cause of iTunes, so everybody knows about it anyway, but I co-wrote a song on the album with, Abel, The Weeknd, and I co-wrote a song with Sia and they're friends of mine so it was really cool to get to work with friends of mine who were also artist-writers.
An artist-writer is such a rare and special thing. People who write their own music, write music for other people, and they also have their own story to tell, and their own way of telling that story. So, I really respect the both of them, and getting in the studio with them was something I've always wanted to do, and I'm really proud of what we came up with, and I'm mostly proud because they're not like traditional hits.
That Sia one is going to be a banger. I haven’t even heard it, but I’m sure it is. Yeah, we'll see.