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Singer/songwriter Halsey lives up to the hype in raucous, sold-out Midland show

Touring in support of her debut album, “Badlands,” singer/songwriter Halsey performed Friday at a sold-out Midland theater.
Touring in support of her debut album, “Badlands,” singer/songwriter Halsey performed Friday at a sold-out Midland theater. Special to the Star

At its peak, the line into the front doors of the Midland theater on Friday night was a few people wide, and it stretched south on Main Street, west along the entire block of 13th Street and then north up Baltimore Avenue.

The crowd of nearly 3,000 people that filled the theater was in line to see a 21-year-old with one album in her catalog: Halsey, whose debut album, “Badlands,” was released 11 months ago.

“Badlands” includes a few singles that have charted, though none has cracked the Top 10 of any chart. Nonetheless, Halsey has been a “best new artist” or “favorite breakout artist” nominee in several award shows, such as the MTV Europe Music Awards and the People’s Choice Awards.

Friday’s show proved, however, that you can’t quantify momentum and hype, which, in the case of Halsey, is off the charts. The crowd that filled the Midland on Friday was as rabid and passionate as any I had seen in years. Her set lasted about 90 minutes and it was filled from start to finish with raucous sing-alongs and convulsions of cheers, applause and other expressions of approval.

Halsey is Ashley Frangplane, and her stage name is both an anagram of Ashley and the name of a subway stop in her native Brooklyn. She burst into the music world in 2015 after ballyhooed performances at the South by Southwest Music Conference and then a New York Times profile in which she christened herself a “tri-bi”: biracial, bisexual and bipolar. Her music is a homogenized version of synth-pop that draws instant comparisons to the sounds of Lorde and Lana Del Rey, a hybrid of pop, electronica, trip-hop and R&B that is spit-shined and radio-ready.

She opened with “Gasoline,” in which she declares her personae as an outsider with “a flaw in my code” who is “low on self-esteem.” It’s a dark, throbbing electronic anthem, like most of her songs, engaging and appealing but neither groundbreaking nor inventive.

The stage production was five-star, starting with the array of captivating videos and other visuals. Halsey changed wardrobe a couple of times, ultimately ending up in an ensemble that was either a high-fashion bikini or a bra and underwear, which added to her image as a low-cal Lady Gaga.

She commanded the room, keeping the adoring crowd in her thrall throughout the show. The stage was set with scaffolding that looked like an enormous shelving system, which she mounted and traversed during her performance. She was backed by a band that provided some live music but stayed in the shadows, on the outskirts of the stage.

The set list included “The Feeling,” the duet she recorded with Justin Bieber, plus the entire “Badlands” album. Each song ignited a raucous ovation, but the hits aroused the loudest sing-alongs: “New Americana,” which contains the clever-but-trite lyrics indicative of the rest of “Badlands”: “We’re the New Americana / High on legal marijuana / Raised on Biggie and Nirvana.”

Halsey delivered a couple of sermons about individuality, declaring her shows a “safe place” for people of all races and sexual/gender orientations. She also heaped some genuine praise upon Kansas City, as if humbled by the uproarious welcome she received. She will return, she said, but though she’s a rookie and newcomer to the music scene, it’s a wonder how she will top her impressive debut.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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