At exactly 33 seconds into Halsey's massive, potentially generation-defining anthem "New Americana," you'll know exactly who you're listening to -- and you'll get a good idea of just who else might be listening, too.
"We are the New Americana/ High on legal marijuana/ Raised on Biggie and Nirvana/ We are the New Americana," the 20-year-old sings over an electronic pulse that runs throughout the entire song. Whether she intended it that way or not, this chorus acts as a mission statement of sorts for her music, or least as an introduction to it.
At the same time, Halsey says it's a light satire of the exact group of people making it into a hit.
"I think, most importantly, the song is self-aware. It's a satire on a generation that is so poignantly aware it's become a parody," she recently told MTV News. "For me, the song mentions my mixed-race upbringing in a very tongue-in-cheek way, 'raised on Biggie and Nirvana'... Overall, it's just a call to arms for the people in this generation (including myself) who used to be a part of counter culture that has become the norm."
Who She Is
So, who is Halsey? From that chorus, it's clear: She's an unelected representative for her generation, the New Americana.
"It's this idea of these kids who are part of a generation where pop culture is so heavily influential that diversity doesn't scare them the way it scared our parents and their parents. We're more accepting of different walks of life," she said. "So I think the New Americana is racially ambiguous, people who are proud of their culture and they own it, possibly not from a binary of gender."
Speaking for a subsection of young people today can be risky, but Halsey does it well. It helps that the music via which she delivers her message is sleek and magnetic, like the roar of the mass transit systems she used to get from her home in New Jersey to the New York neighborhoods where she came of age. Not quite 21 yet, Halsey -- born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane -- flipped around the letters in her first name as a reference to the street in Brooklyn when she first pursued a career in music full time.
For her, "Halsey" isn't just a name; it's an alter ego.
"Halsey is just a vehicle for me. Ashley is how I take my coffee. Halsey has a story to tell," she said. "I think you need to be able to separate the two because the nature of artistry is so egotistical. If I do a full day of interviews, the sun goes down and I just talked about myself for six hours straight. That would drive any person crazy. You detach. You depersonalize. It can be scary."
Why You Should Listen
Like Lorde, there's a certain specificity in Halsey's lyrics that can place you square in the moment, fishing through cigarettes and empty bottles at the bottom of a handbag or being made to endure endless car rides just because you're young.
But Halsey's different. Her personally shines through every song on her debut album, Badlands, which was released at the end of August. She's got enough momentum right now to carry her into bigger things, although she did spend the summer making new fans all over the festival circuit, which means her crowd has grown quite a bit already. And she's enthralled about it.
"I just want to keep bringing my fans quality art, tell my story, talk about what's important to me and encourage people to be themselves, and be proud of it," she said. "If I can continue to do that, I'm doing what I set out to do."
What You Should Listen To
As mentioned before, "New Americana" is a hell of an announcement, so that's a good place to start. And after that, the twitchy, yet explosively hooky "Hold Me Down" represents everything Halsey does well.
And Halsey's just getting started. Keep an eye on her before she's just too high in the night sky to see anymore.