With Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, the queen of New Americana is more outspoken than ever. Here, she covers everything from donating $100,000 to Planned Parenthood to the virtues of the dad bod.
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom hit number one on the Billboard 200. You’re the first woman to top that chart in 2017. How does it feel?
A lot of this accolade shit is super arbitrary: “Halsey is the first girl with blue hair from New Jersey to.…” It’s exciting but also enraging, because I know a lot of women who put out better albums than me who deserve massive accolades, and I’m the one who had to break the seal.
Badlands, your 2015 debut studio album, made you a pop star. In less than a year you went from playing 400-capacity clubs to selling out Madison Square Garden. Then, last year, the Chainsmokers’ “Closer” blasted you to a whole new level. Has your ascent been as dizzying as it looks from here?
I got successful so quickly. I blinked, and a couple months later I was performing on national television. There was zero time to get adjusted. I was considered relevant and important enough to accept awards and perform, but some people were like, “Who the fuck is that?” It’s weird: The further I slip into the mainstream, I also maintain this kind of cult personality. And it’s weird to me that I’ve tried so hard to be transparent, and then after “Closer” it dawned on me that many people know only that about me.
Do you ever feel you’re underestimated?
I feel like I have been, yeah. After “Closer”—which is an absolutely great pop record, and I mean no disrespect to the guys—it was really hard for me and my fans. People were like, “Oh, the ‘backseat of your Rover’ girl.” My fans were like, “No, the girl I’ve loved for three years and sings about mental health and self-love.” Also, I write every song. I have co-writing credits, but most of the time it’s a co-write from a melodic perspective. Make no mistake: The poetry is mine. I executive-produced this album and direct my videos, so to go from that to “Rover girl,” no.
How is the new album different from Badlands?
I needed this album. I described Badlands as an angry female album. But I’m not angry anymore. I just feel catharsis. Calm. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom was about me trying to figure out who I am again. I’m smiling and happy. I stopped biting my nails. I have these long, beautiful nails I grew out because I’m not anxious anymore. Now I feel just… good. Until the next thing comes along that fucks me up so I can write the third album.
You’ve become known as a pop star with an unusually close connection to your fans. Does that generosity make it hard for you to maintain romantic relationships?
I learned a while ago to keep that part separate. I’ve dated people no one knows about. I’ve managed to keep them to myself, going through a breakup and not having it be on the fucking internet. I’m always in a position of dominance in my relationships, and a lot of people have had a hard time dealing with that. I think because I’m so dominant in my main life, in my intimate life I want to be in a position of submission. I want to be taken care of since I’m taking care of everybody else all the time. But I’m a fucking 22-year-old female CEO of a company; I can’t do all that all day and then come home to some person and be like, “Okay, now treat me like I’m a delicate little flower.”
How do newer fans respond to you?
I love watching people change their mentality. I love watching frat bros tweet me things like “You’re the hottest woman. You’re my celebrity crush.” And I’m judging them back, like “You are not a dude I’d think would find me hot. By any means.” Whatever it is about me—my music, the way I speak or whatever led you to be accepting and interested in me—that’s really cool.
You seem to have a pretty laissez-faire attitude about your appearance. Does that extend to your body image?
I always had an 18-year-old’s tight body. I could just eat whatever the fuck I wanted to and have abs, and my butt was always firm and round. Then recently I was changing and looked in the mirror and was like, “Oh my God—it’s been three months since I’ve been on tour! My body is changing. I need to put in work now.” I went down this psychological rabbit hole, and now I’m telling myself that I need to change how my body is changing naturally.
Would you ever get cosmetic surgery?
I try never to do anything permanent. And it’s not because I have qualms about plastic surgery; it’s because I have qualms about my own indecisiveness. I don’t want to make surgical decisions and in 10 years be like, “Ah, small lips are very in fashion now.” Can you believe that around 10 years ago all the women’s beauty magazines were writing articles about how to make your butt look smaller? Now it’s “How to Make Your Butt Look As Big As You Fucking Can.”
Do you think beauty ideals are becoming more inclusive?
I think we’ve finally reached the point where we’re so oversaturated with sexuality and so much is considered “ideal” that we’re in a position where we can change everything. I watch my own perspective changing. I was talking to a guy, flirting with him by a pool, and he took off his shirt. He wasn’t a muscular dude, but he wasn’t skinny; he was kind of chubby. I just remember being like, “He looks so happy and confident, and I love the way he looks.” This isn’t a self-applauding thing. Hopefully we are becoming a society that appreciates people as a whole package instead of little parts on a checklist.
You’re only 22, but you’ve already used your platform to raise awareness about social issues. You went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and donated $100,000 to Planned Parenthood earlier this year. How was that received?
The negativity around Planned Parenthood was crazy: “That’s not your money. Someone’s using you as a front to donate it.” “Whenever celebrities say they’re donating money, they never really are; it’s a company.” No. I charged it to my personal Amex card. And the second-biggest response was “Why Planned Parenthood? Why not the ACLU? Why not LGBT causes? Why not blah blah blah?” I’ve got to fight one battle at a time.
You’ve been vocal about your endometriosis, and Planned Parenthood was instrumental in treating that, right?
Yeah! In 2015, I had a miscarriage on tour, and the first place I went was Planned Parenthood. All the responses were like, “Well, if you have $100,000 to donate, why did you have to go to Planned Parenthood?” Other people have controlled this negative narrative that it’s a low-income place, this place in the ghetto, this place for abortions, this place where drug users go, this place where “slutty” girls go—I say “slutty” in quotes because I’m rolling my eyes at it. But it’s a doctor’s office. I can afford some of the best health care in the fucking world and I still went there, because I trust it.
How do you handle the negativity that’s constantly hurled at you?
When a society is inclined to get negative, that frequency spreads across everyone. Everyone’s looking for a fight. There is a fight to fight, but some people are picking the wrong one and fighting people who are on their side. And everyone has become a detective.
A detective? Is that related to “first” culture, where everybody races to be the first to post about a trend or controversy?
That’s completely what it is. Everyone’s goal is to be the one to find out that someone’s doing something wrong. A girl will post a photo of herself with braids and the first response will be “This is cultural appropriation. What the fuck is wrong with you?” And the girl will say, “I’m half black.” Then the person’s like, “Oh, sorry. You look pretty.” We’ve become traumatized because so many people have actually committed cultural appropriation, but our instinct is too reflexive.
How did you navigate growing up biracial?
I’m half black. My dad managed a car dealership, wore a suit to work, had a nice watch, was always clean-shaven, handsome, played golf on the weekends. And people would come up to him like, “Yo, brotha! What’s up!” And my dad would be like, “Hi.…”
How did that affect you?
I’m white-passing. I’ve accepted that about myself and have never tried to control anything about black culture that’s not mine. I’m proud to be in a biracial family, I’m proud of who I am, and I’m proud of my hair. One of my big jokes a long time ago was “I look white, but I still have white boys in my life asking me why my nipples are brown.” Every now and then I experience these racial blips. I look like a white girl, but I don’t feel like one. I’m a black woman. So it’s been weird navigating that. When I was growing up I didn’t know if I was supposed to love TLC or Britney.
How do people react when they do find out you’re biracial?
White guilt is funny, but this is a really hard time for white allies. People don’t want to do too much but want to do enough, and in my bubble of Los Angeles I’m surrounded by a lot of good people with a lot of good intentions. But as I learned in this past election, my bubble is just a small fraction of how this country operates. That is ultimately my greatest frustration with the public perception of any sort of activism: the mentality of “Well, it’s not affecting me.” Open your fucking eyes.
Your hallmark in interviews is being really open. Is that just your nature, the same way you’ve refused to censor yourself when writing lyrics?
Sometimes I forget I’m doing interviews and I just talk to people. I have a friend who has been in the industry a very long time, and he said to me the other day, “Remember, the press is not your therapist.” Being an artist is so fucking lonely, though. People forget that when I’m on tour, sometimes interviews are the only human interaction I get all day.
If it makes you feel better, oftentimes it’s the only human interaction for the journalist too. Are there things you’ve regretted divulging?
Sometimes I give pieces of myself to everyone that I wish I could take back. As soon as I have my first child, articles will say, “Back in 2016, Halsey came out about having a miscarriage, so we’re very happy for her.” I’ll be enjoying the happiest moment of my entire life, because I want to be a mom more than anything—if you told me tomorrow that I had to quit music but could have a happy family, I’d be like, “Sorry, guys, I’m out”—and I know the press will ruin it.
What spurred you to reveal your miscarriage to the press?
Every time I read a miscarriage story, it’s about a happily married woman who loses a baby, and that’s fucking terrible and I empathize, but I never read “A 20-year-old girl who’s scared and alone and single had a miscarriage.” And guess what—that happens all around the world every day. I wanted to say something about it because when I was going through it, I was fucking alone. I didn’t know any artists I could have called and said, “Hey, I know this happened to you. What should I do? Can I go back on tour? How long did it take for your hormones to realign?” I had no one to talk to.
You have open DMs on Twitter, and you’ve helped fans out financially when they were struggling. Do you feel a responsibility toward them?
It has made me empathetic, but it’s hard. I sign into Twitter and at any given moment there are a hundred kids messaging me: “My mom died. I hurt myself. I have an eating disorder. I’m failing school. My best friend committed suicide.” It’s amazing when I can be there for them, but that’s still energy I carry all day long. I love that it hasn’t numbed me. You can’t cry 15 times in a meet-and-greet, but I still do. I hope I never lose that, because having the capacity to care in that way keeps you a decent human being. That’s all I fucking want: to be a decent human being.