Halsey appears on scaffolding in loose lipstick red pants and a black lace top exposing her mid-drift. The entrance is dramatic and EDM bass heavy, accompanied by industrial graphics of futuristic Japanese cityscapes on two enormous LED screens. As she begins monkey barring through her well-traveled Badlands Tour set, the crowd stands completely still, phones in the air, Snapchatting every movement. No one is dancing. The makeup of millennial and Snapchat generation women and girls are a strong contingent of the concert and all are dressed slightly grungier and riskier than they typically would with dark lips, tight black tops, and a rainbow assortment of dyed hair. It feels forced and inauthentic, like when Halsey unnecessarily hurls f-bombs every time she talks to the audience sounding more and more like EDM producers asking the audience to “make some f@#$ing noise.”
A half hour before, southern California native band Bad Suns played an alternative rock set that, although paired well with Halsey’s album Badlands, did not seem to brighten, enlighten, or stoke up her fans. Despite a strong performance by the band, the teenyboppers were uninterested in the indie rock band, even though their grit matches Halsey’s punky demeanor.
But that’s just it, no matter Halsey’s attempt to define herself beyond a pop star with her raw and profane lyrics, she still occupies the same space and draws the same crowd that similar performers like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus attract. This doesn’t mean she’s not changing the role of a pop star slowly by incorporating less bubble gum and more grunge. On her website, her bio describes her in three sentences. “I am Halsey. I will never be anything but honest. I write songs about sex and being sad.” Halsey taps angst and lust and identifies herself as an outsider, all incredibly relatable feelings for her maturing fans.
Midway through her set, she strips down into tasteful burlesque inspired lingerie and addresses the audience “thank you for giving me the privilege of running around in fishnets!” The audience cheers approving of her liberated flesh and brazen behavior. One woman on the side of the audience says loudly to her friend, “She is such a badass.”
Sound in the Shrine Expo Hall carries through the massive garage as an aggressive bass overshadows many of Halsey’s lyrics, but it does not matter because her fans rock their heads on every thump and mouth every syllable in unison. Halsey’s band frames her on either side of the stage, almost completely hidden from view. She does not acknowledge them or play off of them, there is little to no chemistry between the two and, unlike many pop stars, Halsey does not have choreography to her music nor does she employ a team of backup dancers. Instead, intense, post-apocalyptic images, marching monster armies, and barren landscapes dominate the LED screen which she plays along with and matches. In one aesthetic moment, she lays on her back on top of the lower screen with a leg dangling while her ghost or soul rises above her on its way to some higher space.
Despite the tenebrous feeling Halsey sets for her performance, she footnotes everything with a clear message of love and acceptance to support her outsider identifying fanbase. At the end of her biggest hit “New Americana,” which mentions “legal marijuana” and male-male homosexuality, a rainbow pride flag appears waving on screen with text reading “Send Love.” With the recent events of Orlando, police brutality, and the Nice terror tragedy, Halsey chooses to explicitly support her fans, beyond just her encouraging lyrics. She declares, “I hope you are proud of your race, your sexuality, and your faith because I am f@#$ing proud of you!”