“I literally black out when I do red carpets because it’s the most terrifying and anxiety-ridden fucking experience of my entire life,” says Halsey a week later when we sit down for lunch. We’re on the patio of a restaurant at a golf course in the Southern California desert, and the musician looks decidedly more casual in a crop top and baggy distressed jeans. One of her only accessories—besides her long, pointed nails—is a Coachella wristband. It’s the Friday of the iconic Indio music festival’s first weekend, the day before Halsey’s scheduled to perform.
It’s hard to believe the self-assured pro I met at the Movie Awards was terrified, but she had good reason to be: It was only her second red carpet experience ever. And the fact that she walked directly from there to a performance watched by 3.5 million people would make even a veteran pop star nervous. But that kind of leap is par for Halsey’s course. Less than two years ago she was better known as Ashley Frangipane, a run-of-the-mill broke cool girl, couch surfing with friends around New York, unsure of how she was going to pay for her next meal. “There were definitely points where we’d be like, ‘We dead-ass can’t eat,’” she recalls, as we order salads, fish tacos, and beers.
Just a few weeks ago she moved into a house on a hill in L.A.’s Sherman Oaks neighborhood and invited those same friends to come live with her. It has a swimming pool and an “insane” view, Halsey says: “I keep just waking up and being like, ‘Is this my house? Is this really my house? Are you sure?’”
In a few short years Halsey’s gone from being a New Jersey teen with a popular Tumblr to one of the music industry’s fastest rising stars. She’s sold out a headlining show at Madison Square Garden, performed with Justin Bieber on the Today show, and released a gold album, Badlands, that reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts. She’s amassed 2.3 million followers on Instagram and 1.4 million on Twitter, the kind of audience that warranted a call from Twitter when she decided to temporarily quit a couple of months ago. Halsey, whose name is an anagram of Ashley and a nod to a subway stop in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, has basically been on warp speed to stardom.
“I was like, ‘Maybe my friends’ll like this,’” Halsey says of “Ghost,” the dark pop single with eerily intimate lyrics that she put up on SoundCloud in 2014. Overnight, record companies came calling, and before long she signed to Astralwerks, released an EP, Room 93, and headed out on tour with the likes of The Weeknd and Imagine Dragons. “Walk onstage in front of 20,000 people in an arena opening up for fucking Imagine Dragons, you think to yourself, There’s a possibility that I can’t do this. That I go out there and I fucking choke. But ‘no’ is not an option,” she says. “Rolling with the punches has become my mantra.”