“I thought I was in fucking New York,” Halsey says to a heaving Barclays Center in the middle of ‘Castle’, by way of a challenge. It’s only the third song into her set, but already she’s demanding more of those in front of her. And why not? Tonight (October 13) is special for the former Brooklyn resident.
Within 10 blocks of the arena lies the start of Halsey Street where the 23-year-old used to live and found her moniker (which is also an anagram of her first name, Ashley). This show is part of her first headlining arena stint, in support of her first number one album ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom‘, and the venue is packed with screaming die-hard fans. There are few ways tonight could be a bigger deal for the singer.
She can own the stage without filling it with dancers and flashy props
As you’d expect from an artist with such a keen creative vision as Halsey (just look at the music videos for her ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’ singles for proof of that), her live show isn’t just any old gig. Backed by a three-piece band set off to either side of a giant set of stairs (“They’ve been with me from the start,” she gushes as she introduces them towards the end of the night), for the most part the only other person who makes an appearance on stage is her dancer TeeTee. It’s all Halsey needs to make a transfixing show, though – their chemistry and choreography as impressive in skeletal form as it would be with a plinth full of bodies.
There’s a ton of epic production
The New Jersey star’s entrance is blocked by big, billowing, white curtains as ‘The Prologue’ – a literal reading of part of Romeo & Juliet’s prologue – plays over the PA. As the track reaches its end, part of Kanye West‘s ‘Hold My Liquor’ aggressively loops round before the opening notes of ‘Eyes Closed’ enter and Halsey’s silhouette appears and the curtains are dramatically ripped down to reveal her atop her staircase to spine-tingling screams of excitement. From there on out, things are non-stop impressive. There’s plenty of pyro and costume changes as you’d expect from a pop show as big as this, while the visuals projected behind her are consistently stunning – from the co-ordinated bursting balloons with confetti streams on ‘Alone’ to the clinical but brightly coloured soda bottles of ‘Bad At Love’. Halsey recently described her intentions of making her show more like an art exhibition and that’s precisely what tonight feels like – a modernist art masterpiece that perfectly complements her inventive and weird pop.
She makes long-used arena tricks her own
Halsey’s not above utilising arena show tricks that have been around for decades. Halsey being Halsey, though, she gives everything she does her own twist. When she splits the crowd in two before ‘Strangers’, she links things back to the two fictional houses she created on ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’ – Angelus and Aureum – and pits each side against the other to see how can scream the loudest. “Halsey shows are meant to be about community, but it’s just so god damn fun,” she laughs afterwards. A winner is never declared.
Most arena-playing stars from Bastille and Drake have made the B-stage – a smaller platform towards the back of the floor space – a part of their shows, but none so far have made done it quite as boldly as Halsey. For ‘Lie’ and ‘Don’t Play’, her and TeeTee decamp to the back of Barclays and do some synchronised splashing about on a water-soaked square. Coupled with the latter song’s brooding beats, it’s a dramatic moment and one that’s made all the more intense as Halsey runs back towards the main stage hollering “Women! Don’t play no games” – a poignant message considering the week’s events in Hollywood.
Her setlist doesn’t play by the rules
Halsey’s big mainstream breakthrough came in 2015 with ‘New Americana’ and you’d expect that – a mainstay in her set until earlier this year – to be the last song she plays tonight. Instead, she leaves it off the setlist entirely – hardly the move of your conventional pop icon. But the chart-topping singer isn’t conventional and that’s why she and her new live show are great. There’s a uniqueness to her creativity that’s compellingly unrivalled, along with that ability to construct her own world and usher 18,000 fans into it without it feeling any less intimate. The ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’ tour proves Halsey to be a visionary ruler of that world. Bow down.