talking the new americana with halsey
We caught up with the singer at this week's Chanel fashion show (front row, obvs).
Nicolette Ashley Frangipane or Halsey is everything that we as Europeans, want from our American pop stars when catch up with her after the latest Chanel show in France. Outspoken, honest and authentic, she's just one of the many musicians who grew up and broke out on the web yet has managed to establish themselves in the big leagues. Her ascent to fame happened quickly too. A million followers on Twitter here, two million followers on Instagram there. And now, at 21, she's already sold over a million copies of her first album Badlands and what's more, she's nowhere near ready to stop. We caught up with New Americana singer to talk France, the States, pop, politics and, of course, Chanel.
Hello Halsey. How did you enjoy the show?
Oh yes I loved it. It's a honour to be here. I've always been attracted to all things Parisian, all things French. And Paris has always been a very cliché but a very childhood dream of mine. So being here at Chanel's show in Paris is like a childhood dream come true… I took French classes for years!
Don't you feel American?
No. And I come to Paris and everyone is so accepting of the way that I like to live. The idea of giving in to your desires. Something about that is very Parisian, I love it. Also, it's such a beautiful place. I think France has a very particular culture. Music is so particular, art is so particular, and France is the epicentre of so many artistic pursuits. Every good genre of music starts in Paris. Fashion starts here. Everything starts here. So to come here and to be accepted by people who are a little bit avant-garde, makes me feel cool. That's like the cool kids in school telling you that you're cool! It's amazing.
Your success was very quick in the US, how make it through the whirlwind?
It was very overwhelming at first. I think it raises a lot of questions. One day you wake up and you go, "Why me?". And you start to overanalyse yourself a little bit. You start to get really introspective, reading into everything you're doing, asking yourself, "What is it that I do that's making this work, because, God I don't want it to stop!". You start wondering what you've done to propel your success so that you can do more of it. The problem is, when you start over analysing and looking for the thing that makes you successful, you lose the thing that makes you successful in the first place.
Did you always want success?
I think that when I first started out I thought success was a place, and success was somewhere you got to. Now I'm starting to realise success is more of a mentality because, once you're really successful, you realise you'll never be successful enough. You'll keep pursuing it. And for success to be a state of mind rather than a destination, a place that you reach, a finality, it's more rewarding. Because the pursuit is the whole reason you make anything artistic, so you can keep evolving, keep bettering yourself, improving. I just want to play at the Superbowl! Just kidding.
How old are you?
So you grew up with the internet. How did do you think it helped develop your taste?
I think that I owe my career to the internet, because it created this platform where kids can curate their own tastes in anything. Like, I know there are 16-year-old kids on their laptop right now, watching the show, trying to see what everybody's wearing, trying to be up to date, appreciating fashion as an art rather than something that's consumer based. When I was 16 I didn't know anything about fashion, I didn't know anything about the art, the rules, the energy, the ecosystem that is fashion. And these 16 years old kids are watching right know because they care about the signs behind it. My music exists on Spotify, on Pandora, on places where kids can discover it on their own, decide if they like it for themselves. And it's funny how that relates to fashion, because when you discover something on your own, make it something that you love, it becomes a trend. And music is very much the same. When people discover something that they love, they are proud to love it and it becomes a trend.
You're pretty big on social media and sometimes quite political too. Do you think that pop artists should be political?
I think it might be better if I wasn't, but it's too late now. I've already opened that big mouth! I think I do have a responsibility to speak for what I believe in. Because a lot of people like to complain and then not do anything about it, and I think that if I'm in a position to make a difference... I've never been to Spain before, and I was playing in Barcelona last night, and there was like a hundred kids in the front with signs saying "Vote for Bernie Sanders". They don't even live in America, they don't even vote there! I always say that if I'm gonna talk about politics, I'm gonna talk about things that are topical, things that are controversial. My number one thing is, I don't want my fans to have the same opinion as me, I just want them to have an opinion. Have an opinion, educate yourself.
You said that you were "tribi" (biracial, bisexual and bipolar).
That was actually a misquote, the New York Times called me that! Which was confusing for me because it was a very trivialising way to talk about some of the things that alienated me for most my life. To make it a hashtag. I grew up really struggling because I had a black father and white mother and I looked white and had issues not being accepted by the community around me. I grew up bisexual, which a lot of people pass off as a phase, something that shouldn't be taken seriously. And I have bipolar disorder, I have a mental illness, so sometimes everything things aren't quite as easy for me as for other people. And that was written as a hashtag, 'tribi'. That's kind of annoying to me.
Do you think it's important to make your voice heard on these issues?
I think it's important to talk about it because when I started talking about it I didn't realise what a big deal it was. I was talking about bipolar disorder and the internet erupted. It turned into this frenzy with everyone talking about mental illness. I stepped back and I was like "What? Doesn't everyone talk about that?", and everybody was like "No, everyone does not!". And that naivety in the beginning of my career, I think it protected me in a way, because it created this trend and this persona for me that's outspoken and honest. I don't have to change to be that way, I can continue to be that way. If I was hiding who I was for so long and then one day decided to come out about it I think it would be very overwhelming for my fan base. So now they just expect what's real from me.
What are your hopes for 2016?
Well, I was front row at the Chanel show wearing the Métiers D'art Paris à Rome collection, I played at the Chanel party at MoMA organised for Cate Blanchett, I'm playing Madison Square Garden in New York… I don't know how more good things could possibly happen to me! But if you think of something please let me know.
And if you had to wish something for the world?
That Donald Trump doesn't get elected president in America. That people continue to forgive the people around them for learning at different paces than they do. Because if we're mean, nobody's gonna be brave enough to admit when they're wrong.
Photography Christoph Wohlfahrt
Halsey is wearing a Chanel dress from Métiers d'Art Paris to Rome 2015/2016