Standing onstage Friday night at the Forum, Halsey paused between songs to shout out to her keyboard player, Greg Spero, a stalwart collaborator who’d been with her, she said, since her first real concert, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
That was two and a half years ago.
Things have moved quickly since then for this proud misfit of a pop star, whose 2015 debut, “Badlands” — full of moody songs about depression and drugs — entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2. After that came hit duets with Justin Bieber (“The Feeling”) and the Chainsmokers (“Closer”), the latter of which has racked up nearly 2 billion plays on YouTube.
Then, in June, Halsey did “Badlands” one better, topping the album chart with her second solo disc, “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.”
As that overripe title demonstrates, Halsey didn’t ascend by shedding her flair for dramatic outsider imagery. Indeed, at a moment when established acts like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry are grasping for relevance, Halsey understands the power in speaking to a marginalized audience.
In “100 Letters” she describes having spent “too many nights on dirty bathroom floors,” while “Heaven in Hiding” evokes a chaotic scene of domestic violence. And “Strangers,” a breathy electro-pop cut with surging drums, has Halsey trading lusty verses with Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony.
At the Forum, where Jauregui joined her for a vivid performance of the song, Halsey introduced “Strangers” by declaring her show a safe space for LGBTQ people and their allies — a place removed, in other words, from the less welcoming mainstream.
Yet if Halsey has thrived on a kind of oppositional energy, she’s also absorbed many of the mainstream’s customs.
In some ways this slick arena production was indistinguishable from those by Halsey’s more conventional peers, with confetti and choreography and colorful high-cut leotards. Halsey’s boyfriend, the rapper G-Eazy, put in a surprise appearance to do his typically oily new single, “No Limit.”
And with help from good old Greg, the concert featured a brief sequence in the middle in which Halsey remade several of her songs (including “Closer”) as stripped-down piano ballads.
That’s a beyond-familiar gesture at this point, almost as inevitable as the singer’s attempt to get one side of the venue to scream louder than the other.
But Halsey was smart to put the focus on her voice, as her singing is where much of her edge came through on Friday. Minus the Chainsmokers’ sleek EDM arrangement, “Closer” had an exasperated quality that suggested she’d seen through the song’s idea of youthful invincibility; elsewhere, she found a raw, gutsy tone for “Bad at Love,” about losing a romantic partner to “little thin white lines.”
Halsey set herself apart with another bit that started out as something any pop fan has seen countless times: the moment when she hopped down from the stage to run through the crowd and collect her fans’ hosannas.
Only here Halsey kept stopping every few seconds to lean over a barricade and embrace somebody in the audience. These folks were excited, no doubt about it. But none of them looked as excited as Halsey did.