Music, sexuality, relationships, body image, Halsey—nee Ashley Frangipane—is the lastest newbie on the pop block, but the 20-year-old speaks frankly, unapologetically and and no topic of out of bounds. Born in New Jersey, Frangipane named her alter-ego afeter a subway stop, after frequent journeys on Brooklyn’s L-train, but if you look closely, Halsey is also an anagram for her real name.
This past October Halsey dropped her debut EP, Room 93, via Astralwerks. It’s a collection that shows off her sweet vocals chops over music that can best be described as ethereal pop, but it’s gritty and raw too. Or as Halsey’s mom calls it, “overdose music.” (File her alongside MS MR, Lorde, and early Ellie Goulding. There’s even a bit of Adele in the tear in her voice.) But for Halsey Room 93 was more than just an introductory batch of songs: she envisaged each track with a complementary video. The result is a unique series slick shorts, all of which take place in one hotel room, a habitat she’s more than familiar with (more on which later).
Although her full length isn’t due till next summer, Halsey’s already clear on the differences between the two. Where Room 93 hovers in a dream-like state, her upcoming debut LP will be more urban, concrete, and representative of real life.
We talked with Halsey about her obsession with classc teen cinema, the supernatural vibe of Room 93, the appeal of 90s threads, and just not giving a fuck. Check out all four of her videos from the Room 93 EP below.
Noisey: How did this EP come about?
Halsey: For me, the concept wasn’t something I really planned—it just ended up happening. Everything that I write is autobiographical. I was writing during a period of time when I was living in and out of hotel rooms… and I was trying to have a relationship with a guy. Because I bounced around a lot and because of how frequently I was traveling, it became really difficult. The things that keep relationships interesting, challenge them, and shape them are environmental factors: going places together, meeting people together, and the things that affect you externally.
When you’re trying to form a relationship with someone in a closed environment like a hotel room, the only thing that’s really affecting the relationship is the person right in front of you. It kind of strips it down to this bare, vulnerable intimacy, which can be a good thing because it can really give you an opportunity to be yourself, or it can be a bad thing because someone’s there to call you out for being someone you’re not. That conflict really made its way into my music. When I was going through the songs and deciding what I wanted to pick for the EP, I definitely noticed that continuity. That’s why I ended up calling it Room 93, and that’s how we ended up making all the videos about this one hotel room that’s sucking the life out of these couples.
Can you tell me how the short film story happened? How do all four videos tie together?
For me, having a cinematic element was really important because I wanted my music to be cinematic. I didn’t feel like my project was complete unless there was a visual aspect to it. I wanted all of the songs to sound visual: I wanted to evoke imagery and do justice to the lyrical quality of the songs. I started writing the storylines before the songs were even finished. “Hurricane” was the first video and it features a young couple going through changes. That’s the spontaneous part—like kids in 1995 being reckless. After that, there’s “Trouble” which was always supposed to be a behind-the-scenes / teaser clip that was more expository stuff on the characters. It was supposed to make you uncomfortable. It shows you these young kids making out and this elderly couple that’s half-naked making out. That’s what the whole video is, but it says so much with just that. It focuses on the idea of the hotel being a surreal place.
There are three separate couples that are all different ages and are all connected to the room which lends this supernatural quality. Then there’s a more sadistic, violent couple—that’s the polar-opposite “Hurricane.” All of the videos end up connecting: the ghosts of the “Hurricane” video are the ghosts that are haunting the characters in the “Ghost” video. When I was a teenager, I really liked music that was complete, so I was constantly craving more content from the artists that I liked. When you’re a young adult and you like a band, it becomes a part of your identity. I think it becomes a part of you.
So, can you elaborate a little bit more on the supernatural quality the hotel has in the videos?
It’s not supernatural in a cult way, but we were referencing lots of cult classic teen cinema like Kids. I reference Harmony Korine’s Gummo heavily in the “Ghost” video. Also, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet, Lords of Dogtown, True Romance, Natural Born Killers, and Cry-Baby. One of the things about teen cinema is that it’s otherworldly; there are a bunch of random references that came into play. All of these movies and characters are set in a specific time zone, but the way they dress and the way they act almost makes them seem like the world revolves around them. That’s what I like about throwback teen cinema because nothing matters but these kids that the film is following. That’s the feeling that I get from that kind of cinema. I just wanted to bring those feelings together.
What inspired you to make Room 93? Was it a specific story you had in mind for a long time?
It was honestly just a long time coming. I think this EP is a reflection of me coming of age and of what I’ve experienced in the last five years and the young adulthood I’m in now. It’s my memoir of relationships I’ve gone through, whether they’ve been mature, innocent, destructive, or fruitful. I feel like this EP is my "little black book" in a weird way. It was very important for me to get these five songs out—very cleansing in a way. Now that I’m onto the album, I have other things to write about and I have new perspectives about the relationships I wrote about on the EP. These [songs] were un-biased opinions that I had of these things in that moment. When you write an album, you have a few months to write from this organic place, which is great because albums need continuity, but this EP didn’t come from one organic place. It was written over the past two years and it came from different perspectives and viewpoints.
Who are some of the artists you look up to?
Sonically, I’m kind of all over the place. Lyrically, I reference a lot of Alanis Morissette because I really admire her ability to describe gender roles. Everyone knows “You Oughta Know.” That is one of the most powerful songs to me because of how vulgar she is, but it’s not interpreted as vulgar because of the pain behind what she’s singing, like, “Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” It’s very similar to the way I write. It’s tongue-in-cheek, unapologetic, and autobiographical. She doesn’t fucking care if anyone is like, “Alanis, you shouldn’t be singing about giving head in public. That doesn’t belong on the radio.” She’s like, “Fuck you. That’s what I want to sing about. That’s how I feel.”
People are saying you’re a teenager who’s singing about sex, violent relationships and you’re singing about things that are way too mature for you. I don’t fucking care. I don’t think about that. When I write a song, I write what I’m feeling. I don’t care about what people are going to think about it. It was a different era. The 90s were a great era of singer-songwriters in general, like Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, Anna Nalicik—even Celine Dion and Jewel: the 90s were a time for female singer-songwriters to shine. If you were a singer who could play piano or guitar and could sing about shit, people loved you. I always think that if I were born 20 years ago, I would have been a hit a long time ago.
The 90s are clearly a big influence on your music, but what about on your style?
I dress super, super 90s. I was Googling the wardrobe of Kelly Kapowski and DJ and Stephanie Tanner today. As ridiculous as it sounds, looking up outfits from that time is so much better than looking at lookbooks of kids that are trying to be 90s chic right now. There’s also that Alexander Wang black-and-white and color-block thing. I hate to use the word Lolita, but I would say “teen dream, “California 80s” or “Beverly Hills” vibe. I’m really open with my body and with my sexuality. I was really skinny and ugly growing up. Everyone I knew grew into themselves earlier way before I did. When I was 15 or 16, and I had a body, I thought, “This is great. I’m gonna show this off everywhere.” Nope. Not what you’re supposed to do. After I got unwanted attention, my idea of what sexy was started to mature. Now I definitely wear super baggy t-shirts and boyfriend jeans and sneakers, or I’m barely wearing anything at all like a bralette.
So you covered lyrics, what about inspiration for the sound itself?
Sonically, it’s a little different: my dad is black and my mom is white. My parents are really young too; they just turned 40. When I was six and in the car going to kindergarten, my parents were 26, and that’s how old my manager is. That’s insane. They were just really hip. Most kids grew up listening to Jimmy Buffett and listening to their parents’ record collection, but I grew up listening to Nirvana and N.W.A. That was what my childhood was like. I think it was amazing for me. One thing that has benefitted me tremendously as a songwriter is that I can reference Kanye West, The Weeknd, and Drake when I’m looking for producers to work with. I’m looking for people who did Drake records because I think it would be really cool for someone who did a Drake record to make a pop song for me.
Ilana Kaplan is a writer living in writer living in Brooklyn. She has a sweet tooth for girls in pop! Follow her on Twitter.