Since breaking big in 2015 with her shadowy debut Badlands, provocative pop sensation Halsey, 22, has sung on the Chainsmokers ubiquitous hit “Closer,” collaborated with Justin Bieber, and sold out Madison Square Garden. Now, the singer reveals how a devastating heartbreak led to her otherworldly opus, hopeless fountain kingdom (out June 2).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your new record is about two doomed lovers struggling in a paranormal world. Where’d that idea come from?
HALSEY: There was a lot of stuff that I was writing — poetry and quotes and phrases — about this relationship I was in. I didn’t realize I was building the foundation for this concept. As the content got darker, it started to take the shape of this fantasy story, like a comic-book adaptation of [my] relationship.
That relationship played a major role in your 2015 debut; you and your ex made Badlands together. Did his absence affect your creative process on this album?
I had a lot of insecurity. It was like, “What if everything people like about me is all the parts he contributed?” So I was determined to do everything myself. I wanted the end result to somehow prove to me that I was just as good on my own.
You’ve had a big couple years since releasing Badlands. Did you feel pressure to match that success on this LP?
Badlands was this kind of DIY record. Now I’ve toured the world and have fans that I want to make happy. The space I need to fill with my sound is not a bedroom anymore, it’s an arena.
You collaborated with Greg Kurstin (Adele), Benny Blanco (Justin Bieber), and Ricky Reed (Fifth Harmony). What were those sessions like?
I didn’t get in the studio with a single one of them and have them say, “‘Closer’? Let’s write another hit so I can be rich!” They were like, “Let’s write something cool because I think you’re cool and I think we can make something cool together.” They all contributed to three different sides of me: There’s this renaissance, singer-songwriter side, and then this urban, R&B vibe, and then this electronic side.
Was it a confidence boost to hear such powerhouse talents say you’ve got chops?
Oh, definitely. It’s easy for people to be like, “You put on a great show!” It’s like, “Of course I did — there’s fire and lights and a bunch of people singing along!” But for people who have made work that I admire to say, “We really like what you’re doing here”…it’s as if your family teases you for your whole life because they think you’re bad at cooking, and then Gordon Ramsay tells you that you made a great dish. It’s like, “Well, f— you guys!” [Laughs]
So what is the hopeless fountain kingdom?
That was a phrase that I heard an old friend of mine use when we were in New York and living in this sort of fantasy, upside-down world where everyone I knew was doing drugs and didn’t have jobs and everyone was f—ing each other. It was this psychedelic dream space.
You’ve been very open with your fans about your bipolar disorder, bisexuality, and endometriosis, and it’s come with some blowback: People have accused you of being exploitative. Has that affected what you’re willing to share?
I’ve learned that if I want to speak about something going on in my life, to make the narrative positive rather than negative. So rather than being like, “My life sucks because I had to have surgery for my endometriosis,” [I should] be like, “Hey, guys, I’m recovering from my surgery, and how cool is it that I still get to be a performer?”
After the album release you’re launching a massive tour. Then what?
I’ve started thinking about what I might want the next album to be like, but I’m not going to know until I tour this one. You learn so much about a record when you perform the songs. It would be really cool to see if I could do a movie or exercise my creative muscles in a different way. And I’d like to take some time and do some philanthropy. When I’m off, we spend time at My Friend’s Place here in L.A. They house and help homeless youth and work in conjunction with Happy Hippie, Miley [Cyrus’] nonprofit.
You’re also a big supporter of Planned Parenthood. What do you get out of giving back?
That’s what keeps you a f—ing human in this industry! You wake up every day and you get on the phone and you talk about how cool you are, how good your art is…for hours! It’s the most narcissistic s— of all time. Then you get on stage, and thousands of people applaud you. [But] going out and being around other people and helping other people…it grounds you. It makes you realize that there’s more to life.