Halsey, With ‘Badlands,’ Is Moving Fast to Share a Secret Language

Halsey in Los Angeles last month, just before a performance.
Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

It was one thing for Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, a kid from New Jersey, to have 14,000 friends on MySpace at age 14 and 16,000 subscribers on YouTube at 18. But it’s quite another for Halsey, Ms. Frangipane’s pop-star alter ego, to have taken that innate 21st-century talent for self-presentation — not to mention songwriting — from her bedroom to arena stages in a mere year since signing with a record label.

Instead of a viral flash of Internet lightning, Halsey, unfiltered and fast-talking, has been nurtured as an artist who could harness lasting loyalty online, not just one-off clicks. Now, with her nearly half a million followers on Twitter and more on Instagram contributing to the heavy lifting, the singer and her label — Astralwerks, an electronic imprint under Capitol Music — have set the stage for a potential mainstream breakthrough.

With the release of her first album, “Badlands,” on Aug. 28, Halsey will attempt to translate the secret language she shares with her online followers for a wider audience without losing its essential intimacy. It’s a rare tightrope walk pulled off by other web-driven artists like Lorde and Lana Del Rey.

For Halsey, now 20, the next-level rollout includes television performances (starting with “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Aug. 25); a headlining fall tour that sold out almost immediately, resulting in upgraded venues and additional shows in major cities (including New York, where Halsey will play Webster Hall on Oct. 22 and 23); and — her record company hopes — at least one hit single, with bets currently placed on “New Americana,” a would-be generational anthem.

But with “Badlands,” a brooding, conceptual electro-pop record with industrial undertones and big radio-ready hooks, Halsey has realized not just her label’s vision but also her own. “Being a pop-leaning, female artist, you’d think that I’d have my record company breathing down my neck and trying to control everything I’m doing,” Halsey said while finishing “Badlands” in the spring. “Actually, they’ve just kind of let me take the wheel.”

The foundation, after all, was hers. In March, Halsey had her industry coming-out party at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Tex. But at an event all about manufacturing the appearance of buzz, Halsey’s needed no fluffing: Amid the label types, teenage girls stood rapt at the front of a small stage, many of them holding up cellphones and beaming the performance via video chat to tearful friends at home.

Outside the club, another cluster of young people pressed against a single window to catch a glimpse. By the festival’s end, Twitter had named her most-tweeted-about artist, ahead of Miley Cyrus.

“I remember walking into Capitol Records, sitting down with the executives and having them say, ‘Look at what you did while none of us were paying attention,’ ” Halsey said over bubble tea in the East Village in April. “That was one of the proudest moments of my entire life. I put all the groundwork in myself, and they let me do my thing, because it’s working.”

Ghost,” Ms. Frangipane’s first single as Halsey, was self-released on iTunes in January 2014, plugged to her tens of thousands of followers across social media. To Halsey, it was “just another piece of content,” she said. “But now people who were quiet before and would just silently ‘like’ my pictures had something to engage with.”

The track exploded online, earning Halsey interest from five notable labels within days. She took some meetings but initially held out, and by late April, “Ghost” had found its way to SiriusXM’s Hits 1 station, which played the independent single alongside songs by Lady Gaga and Pharrell Williams.

Glenn Mendlinger, the senior vice president and general manager of Astralwerks, recalled hearing “Ghost” soon after at the label’s weekly new music meeting. “We have to find her immediately,” he said. They did, and the next day, Mr. Mendlinger pushed back a flight to have an 11 a.m. meeting with Halsey.

“By 1:30, I had sent an email to the entire executive team saying: ‘I just met this girl. The music is phenomenal. She is a star. We have to get engaged immediately.’ I was really enthralled,” he said. “It’s what you wait for.” By 7:07 p.m., Astralwerks had offered her a record deal.

Then it was time to slow down. “It wasn’t about going to radio immediately” despite the early traction, Mr. Mendlinger said. “If we had gone with ‘Ghost’ without any base behind it, we had a high probability of losing.” Instead, the plan was to record an EP — Halsey’s five-song “Room 93” was released in October — get her on the road and continue building an online congregation.

ImageHalsey at a recent Imagine Dragons concert in Southern California.
Credit...Rich Fury/Invision, via Associated Press

“We saw how she was already connecting, so we knew that was an avenue we needed to pursue with her,” Mr. Mendlinger said of the singer’s social media army, made up more of advocates than of passive fans.

Halsey, who is preternaturally self-possessed and becomes gleeful in moments of defiance, slips into music-business-speak with the same ease with which she curses or describes her favorite websites. “I cultivated this fan base that I really didn’t really understand or appreciate until I put my first headlining tour up for sale,” she said. “500- to 1,000-capacity rooms weren’t an underplay for me at the time. I’d never done a tour before!”

Yet every date on that spring 2015 run sold out in less than 30 minutes, and Halsey soon graduated to an arena tour, opening this summer for the million-selling rock band Imagine Dragons and often packing the front rows despite being first on the three-act bill.

“I come from a generation where these huge follower counts are normal,” she said. “But my interaction levels” — retweets, replies, click-throughs — “are incredibly high.”

Halsey could be mistaken for a millennial built in a lab: Not only is she fluent in the language of modern marketing, but her openness on social media feels authentic and inextricable from her personality. Raised in Union County, N.J., by a white mother, who often accompanied her tween daughter to concerts, and a black father, who manages car dealerships, Halsey identifies as what she calls “tri-bi” — biracial, bisexual and bipolar — and speaks with ease and confidence about social issues.

“Please don’t erase my race because I’m white passing,” she wrote on Twitter recently. “There is literally nothing I can do about my complexion.”

Her songs, which she writes herself with an array of young producers, are similarly candid and precocious. “High on legal marijuana/Raised on Biggie and Nirvana/We are the new Americana,” she sings. Although far from her most subtle song, “New Americana” was first played by the taste-making D.J. Zane Lowe on Apple’s Beats 1 radio last month. “Wow — there’s a new icon there, I think,” he said after playing the track twice in a row. “That record is big. Oh my God.”

It soon spread to influential alternative stations like Live 105 in San Francisco and KROQ in Los Angeles. But Astralwerks may be taking a risk on rock radio, which sits outside Halsey’s comfort zone. “We know the fan base was leaning female and young,” but alternative radio would introduce her to the 18-to-35 male demographic, Mr. Mendlinger said of that bet.

Halsey is typically oppositional about the single’s prospects. “Everyone thinks it’s going to be a cultural revolution, but I don’t think it’s that good,” she said plainly. As for “Ghost,” which Astralwerks may yet push to pop radio, “I’m so over that song,” she said, and it only made the album as one of her few concessions to the label.

More representative are songs like “Hold Me Down” — “I sold my soul to a three-piece/And he told me I was holy” — and “Hurricane,” an early track that made the deluxe edition of “Badlands,” on which she sings, “I’m a wanderess/I’m a one-night stand/Don’t belong to no city, don’t belong to no man.”

Loaded with the knowingness of a cool older sister who sneaks into the city from the suburbs, Halsey’s lyrics connected even before they were set to music. A breakup poem she wrote on Tumblr years ago has been “liked” and reblogged more than 820,000 times, taking on a viral life of its own (and even resulting in online plagiarism charges when she repurposed her own words as lyrics). At a Montauk hotel performance on Memorial Day, the Halsey faithful — dyed hair, black lipstick — stood out among the Hamptons regulars, singing every word. Some lingered for hours after the 20-minute show and burst into tears when Halsey’s mother, who is recognized at every concert, told them the singer would visit with them soon.

Upstairs in Halsey’s room, a fan had sent roses. “I’m not going to lie; it gets kind of intimidating sometimes,” she said of the constant attention online and off. “I put so much of myself out there and make myself so accessible that sometimes I fear I make myself too accessible.” When Halsey offered to get matching tattoos with fans recently as album promotion, those who were not old enough took offense.

“I’m giving so much of myself now that there’s going to be a point where there’s nothing left to give,” she said while chain-smoking Marlboro 27s. “I’m on this skyrocket, with all these expectations and this fan base and this buzz. I have blessed myself and cursed myself by building something that people are so attached to. I get one shot.”

A month later, at the Brooklyn stop of the Imagine Dragons tour, Halsey was visibly exhausted, having finished “Badlands” — overseeing sound mastering, album art, videos and promo — while playing arenas. “My whole body hurts,” she said backstage.

Under the lights, though, she faced the fans’ screams gamely, arching her back and spitting water onto those gathered up front for her early set. “My name is Halsey,” she told the crowd. “But I’m not who you guys came here to see.” Even then, that didn’t feel quite true.