Halsey [live review] – O2 Academy, Glasgow 19/02/16


With tonight’s show originally billed for the ABC before being upgraded due to phenomenal demand, the sticky floors of the Academy are full to absolute capacity for Halsey (otherwise known as Ashley Frangipane) to make her Scottish live debut. To describe Halsey as an artist coasting on hype, however, would be to do her a disservice; she very much owes the internet for her discovery and accelerated success, certainly, but the release of 2015’s Badlands (acknowledged by many as a defining pillar in the current wave of moody electropop) and the long list of impressive collaborations and tour spots under her belt confirm that her art has legs to stand on. Currently in the process of emerging as something of a cultural icon, too, Halsey embodies the values of today’s younger music consumer – outspoken, tuned into social issues and unapologetic in her expression of self, but with an advantage on many in the industry as, at just 21 years old, she speaks as part of the generation driving this shared conscience.

That sense of being simultaneously one-of-us and somewhat alien – ethereal, even – is most definitely present during her time on stage tonight, shaved head and thigh-high boots setting a striking silhouette against relentless backlighting. Gasoline serves as a fitting introduction to the set, Halsey’s distinctive timbre asking: ‘Are you insane like me? Been in pain like me?’ in a way which would feel as personal as a whisper were it not for the audience’s volume overpowering her, suggesting that they believe they indeed are and have been. Barely stopping to breathe between tracks, Halsey launches through the majority of her album material with a stage presence that seems almost carnal, crouching and weaving and as desperate for connection as the swell of hands reaching towards her from feet below. A small backing band helps the songs pack more of a punch than their recorded counterparts, though the vocal track used through meatier sections can sometimes be enough to pull you out of the performance momentarily. Fortunately, there’s no risk of this raising questions regarding Halsey’s vocal competency as her voice remains solid throughout the rest of the show, guttural and dulcet all at once.

Where many pop acts struggle to find the balance between visuals which reach unnecessarily distracting levels and visuals which scream half-hearted afterthought, the production of tonight’s show is gloriously effective and stunning at points. A simple angled screen behind the band’s set up displays atmosphere-driven imagery throughout, dipping in and out of solar systems, animated Brooklyn Bridges and a plethora of beautiful colours perfectly timed to enhance the experience without overshadowing the performance. As the music is left to speak for itself, then, Halsey herself speaks considerably little, and keeps it almost exclusively to admissions of love and gratitude for her supporters, though stopping to remind her fans that they “don’t belong to anyone but [themselves]”.

Tonight’s set certainly feels short, but isn’t unreasonable considering her limited bank of material and the ultra-cohesiveness of the tracks. Impressively so considering her relatively short time as a touring artist, Halsey has perfected the art of establishing intimacy in circumstances which should be anything but, performing vulnerability and displaying the strength of doing so in one short hour of raw mid-tempo synthpop. It’s difficult to imagine her material would work particularly well otherwise, however – one can’t imagine that the scores of younger fans in the room tonight can always relate to her stories of sex, drugs, and complex relationships viewed through a 3am haze, but she makes herself accessible in a way that allows fans to see shades of themselves reflected in there anyway. And therein lies her greatest strength.

Despite the motif of honesty pushed through everything Halsey does, she appears at her most genuine as she engages in mutual adoration, gazing deep into the venue and asking: “Who could ever get sick of this?”