© Lisa De Franco

Venue: Palais Theatre, Melbourne

Date: January 6, 2016

The music industry’s best kept secret, Halsey, fresh off her Falls Festival debut, brought the house down at her Melbourne show last night at The Palais Theatre. Despite her ‘new and upcoming artist’ status, the 21 year old from New Jersey has a wealth of fans who not only manage to sell out her live shows, but managed to get her album into the top charts around the world in spite of minimal radio support and promotion.

Her debut album BADLANDS which was released in August last year, hits both on the highs of self-empowerment and the lows of relationships and inner darkness— especially the latter of those two. She feels that she doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and her persona and music reflect that. Choosing to take a classically-dark and introspective lyrical direction, her raw and brutally honest story is intriguing and the way she looks at herself and her sexuality is both empowering and very current.

A somewhat unique sound has also manifested itself from her obviously diverse list of influences. She puts intrigue into simple concepts like road tripping to nowhere with your significant other (‘Drive’) via her writing; “All we do is drive, all we do is think about the feelings that we hide.” With common pop themes throughout, it is left to her voice and vivid songwriting to entertain. Her depictions of her lack of self control are brought to the forefront whereas other writers/artists tackle those subjects mostly metaphorically. She touches on feelings of instability, alienation and hurt and how they affect personality.

A true voice to this generation, Halsey speaks for many and doesn’t shy away from topics surrounding mental illness, sexuality, love and societal pressures. Her growing success is well deserved.

Opening the night was indie pop artist BØRNS and his band from Michigan USA, delivering a strong and polished set. Their psychedelic and easy listening sound engulfed the venue, setting a nice mellow start to the night.

But before too long, the lady of the hour was upon us. The electricity in the room the moment the lights went down was almost addictive, even before we’d gotten any glimpse of her.

Halsey’s set was nothing short of mesmerising. Her fierce delivery was met with sheer passion for her live performance and her lyrics. She captivated the audience as they sang every word and anticipated every key change, every pause, every spoken verse for every one of her songs throughout the night. Halsey could stop at any point and there would be hundreds of people ready to carry on the performance.

The harp-like sounds are familiar to fans as she opened the show with ‘Gasoline’, a personal favourite of mine. “I think there’s a flaw in my code, these voices won’t leave me alone” resonates hard with everyone in the room. These lyrics are a strong example of what makes her music so special – raw truths that tap into the deep dark recesses of our souls but make us feel less alone. ‘Hold Me Down’ followed, a track that points out that her demons are and always will be following her, but she won’t let them keep her from achieving what she wants; another very relatable and motivating anthem. Having been released as the first taste of the record last year, this was a firm favourite and there were points where it became increasingly difficult to even hear Halsey over her fans.

But no track was more electrifying than ‘New Americana’, where Halsey and the crowd became one. “We are the New Americana, high on legal marijuana, raised on Biggie and Nirvana” we all bellowed together, our arms reaching out and pumping passionately in unison. In no time, she was making her way through the crowd, grabbing hands and showing her gratitude for our support (she totally touched me!)

The slower, more subdued Halsey then kicks things back into gear with perhaps her biggest pop record on the album ‘Roman Holiday’, which true to its name, takes you to another place. At that moment, everyone was in their own little world, eyes closed, feeling the cosmic beats deep in their bones and singing out the chorus with so much gusto that we forgot to breathe. With backing track in tow for the vocal samples, ‘Haunting’ was incredible, and the dark brooding of ‘Control’ (“I’m meaner than my demons, I’m bigger than these bones”) was enough to calm the lively crowd before she dropped her breakout hit, ‘Ghost’. Bizarrely this was the most underwhelming part of the set, and shows just how much Halsey’s artistry has grown since its debut.

The setlist featured most of her songs from BADLANDS, mixing in a few earlier tracks off her 2014 EP Room 93, such as ‘Is There Somewhere’. A magical moment came when she asked the audience to light up their phones and to turn around and look at how special it was to be together and how important it was to her. Her stage setup and production was just as incredible as her performance, with visuals animated on LED panels and coloured lights to match the mood and content behind each song. But more importantly, it had no frills.

“I really like my show, my kind of show,” she says, during a break between songs. “because it really just feels like it’s me singing, and you guys just hanging. And that’s how I want it to be. There’s a lot of things you can do when you build a show, especially when you’re coming to a country for the first time. I don’t want to do anything ‘extra’, I don’t want to do any gimmicks, like crazy bullshit on stage, I just want to come here and sing my songs to you guys.”

It was truly an honour to experience her live and I will cherish the evening always. BADLANDS is an extremely important album to me, and to see with my own eyes the genuine love and passion she not only has for what her music means but also her fan base, has just made it all the more significant.

Halsey’s high-energy performance as well as the crowd participation was extremely exciting to witness. If you ever get a chance to see her live, I strongly recommend it.

What a way to kick off 2016. Goodbye, Badlands. Until next time.