Though Halsey was nominated in two categories at Sunday night’s American Music Awards, she skipped the televised awards extravaganza and instead rolled out all the stops for a sold-out crowd at the Allstate Arena.
The 23-year-old singer (born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane) was up for favorite pop/rock song and collaboration of the year for her breakout vocal contributions on The Chainsmokers hit, “Closer.” And though she didn’t take home either award, Halsey did win over many in the Allstate audience with her stripped down version of the song halfway through the nearly two-hour set.
Accompanied by just her keyboardist/pianist Greg Spero (who hails from Highland Park) Halsey gave the incredibly overplayed song a fresh take with a haunting, emotional delivery that proved she is the only reason still worth listening to it.
“I didn’t think I’d play this song this time around,” she admitted of the song that made her famous, noting that soon into her Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour she was struck by the line in the song about “never getting older” and realized it was the opposite when it came to the fans she was meeting every night. “I’m seeing you more confident and happy and prouder of yourselves. The truth it we are getting older and I’m so honored to see you grow.”
While Halsey is often considered the dark horse of pop — with a heavy noir take on the standard electro R&B format — there is a refreshing bright side in her message. On this night she dedicated “Strangers” to “the LGBT community and all its proud friends,” encouraged women to rise up and claim their throne on “Castle,” and gave hope to the broken-hearted with “Is There Somewhere” as she sauntered down the aisles giving hugs to everyone in her midst.
In the over-saturated arena of pop music, it’s a dire challenge to stand out from the crowd, but Halsey does so by connecting with her fans, being open about her own struggles with identity and mental health and sexuality — and doing so artfully.
Sunday night’s show upped the ante with a highly stylized creative intersection of fashion, visual art, film, music and dance (accompanied by the incredibly talented live band and nimble backup dancer “Tee-Tee”). At times, Halsey turned into a boxer (complete with sequined robes and braided hair) fighting the forces that have tried to hold her down. Other times she appeared like an angel in all-white costumes gliding down the onstage staircase as fog machines rolled in like clouds before she showed her devilish side in all-red ensembles to introduce more fiery upbeat numbers like “Walls Could Talk.” The show was about duality, she admitted, with a spotlight on her multifaceted self.
Though earlier dates in Halsey’s tour were plagued by illness and personal matters (forcing her to cancel a show mid-set in Canada last week), she recovered flawlessly in time for Chicago, commending the crowd for giving her some of her most memorable gigs at The Vic and Lollapalooza, and no doubt Sunday night, too.
“I’m going to remind you why you came tonight,” she said, breaking into “Heaven in Hiding,” its chorus repeating what everyone in the crowd was already thinking: She “can put on a show.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.
Hold Me Down
Heaven in Hiding
Walls Could Talk
Bad At Love
Angel on Fire
Is There Somewhere
Now or Never