Exclusive: Halsey on Shaved Heads, Gray Lipstick, and Why She's Not a Cliché
Upon arriving at the glossy MAC store in Hollywood to interview electropop singer-songwriter and Tumblr icon Halsey, I promptly touched up my deep purple lip color and tried to play it cool. Because that’s exactly what Halsey is. At 21, the Badlands artist has already toured with Imagine Dragons, collaborated with Justin Bieber, and rocked more hair colors and lengths than most girls do in a lifetime. On the day we met, Halsey looked as though she just stepped out of a much-reblogged tableau. Think a two-inch brunette crop, embellished white kimono, and slate-gray lip color—the shade she just created and launched with MAC on March 31 as a part of the brand's Future Forward campaign.
Halsey and I sat down to chat about her new lipstick, but what we ended up discussing got a bit grittier. We talked gender, role models, and self-image. (Spoiler alert: Halsey says she doesn’t “give a sh*t” what you think about her short hair.) But actually, in a way, I think she does. Because from the production of her songs to her stance on femininity to her gunmetal gray lips, Halsey doesn’t do anything by accident. After all, not just anyone gets chosen to create her own lipstick with MAC. You’ve got to be someone with perspective.
Want to learn more about Halsey’s beauty icons, buzz cuts, and more? Keep scrolling to read our exclusive interview with beauty icon–to-be!
BYRDIE: Could you talk a bit about your decision to shave your head last year? Whenever you make a drastic change to your hair, is it spontaneous or more considered?
HALSEY: I think I’m a product of my environment, for sure. And I’m very much a product of my music. Like, if I’m wearing an outfit onstage that doesn’t translate to my music, (it will be a) bad show. Immediately. When my EP (Room 93, $5) came out, I had really long, blue hair. My music was very ethereal, very spacey. And then I wrote this record that was supposed to be really angry, really industrial, and raw. But when I started performing those songs live, I had this long blue hair, and something didn’t connect. Something didn’t feel right. I felt a little too soft, too glamorous, to be singing such worn and weathered music. So I cut all my hair off. And at first I felt so much better.
But shaving my head was something I wanted to do for a really long time. And I realized one day that all the reasons I wasn’t doing it were really stupid. What’s this boy gonna think? Is he still gonna like me? Is he still gonna think I’m pretty? What are my fans gonna think? Are people gonna stare at me? Stupid reasons. But I wanted to do it. Nothing was stopping me except for everyone else’s opinion. So as soon as I did it, I felt liberated. Like, I don’t give a s**t what you think it looks like! You know what I mean? Like, this feels great, I’m happy I did it. And it was a really big step for me, especially in this industry—really, really not caring what people think.
BYRDIE: Why do you think it’s important to have nontraditional feminine figures in pop music?
H: Growing up, I was never like a super-feminine girl. But I’ve also never been the typical description of a tomboy, either. I skated growing up; I snowboarded. But I also love makeup. I’ve loved makeup my whole life. But I actually get a lot of flack sometimes for saying I’m not traditionally feminine, traditionally beautiful. People will be like, “Oh, shut up, you’re so pretty!” And it’s like, that’s not what I mean. I’m not saying I’m not pretty. I’m saying that for me growing up, there were only a couple people in pop music, like P!nk and Alanis Morrissette, and then later in the pop game Lady Gaga, who weren’t afraid to embrace a more androgynous part of themselves. I think that’s really important, especially in 2016, where the lines between gender are getting blurred. There’s no reason why someone needs to be the perfect form of whatever gender they identify as. Gender is a fluid thing. And I think the beauty and makeup industry is really starting to embrace that. A lot of brands are starting to do unisex products, and I think that’s a really cool thing. Which is why I think I picked a color that didn’t lean one way or the other. It’s kind of an androgynous color. I honestly feel like a man could wear this lipstick, and it would look awesome.
BYRDIE: Your aesthetic is such an essential part of your music and on-stage presence. What inspires it?
H: I’m really influenced by film. I’m trying to make music I consider really cinematic. I’ve always been really inspired by female characters in movies like Léon: The Professional with Natalie Portman. Badass. Like, that’s how I want to dress. That’s how I want to look. I love Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. I love Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Really nontraditional characters. Kinda the girl that people will often peg as like the “manic pixie dream girl,” you know? I feel like that’s an expression that gets tossed around a lot. A girl whose negative qualities are romanticized by people who want to fix them. That’s something that I’ve found myself attracted to in music. I’m really open about mental illness; I’m open about my sexuality. And a lot of the time, it almost provokes an eye roll in people. They’ll be like, “Ugh, we get it!” And it’s like, well, I should still be able to talk about this without it becoming a cliché.
So I base my music on a lot of that—how I approach myself as a character, as a protagonist. Because that’s what you become when you’re a songwriter. Writing about yourself you become a protagonist, like the female ones in movies I kind of relate myself to. But also, [my record] Badlands ($12) as a concept was really inspired by Quentin Tarantino. Strong female characters. Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction. When I was getting styled for my tour outfits, I told my stylist, “I want to look like an assassin!” So we built all these outfits with hoods and crazy boots and high-cut legs. A lot of my references were, like, Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. I think I referenced a lot of cult movies. Because, unfortunately, in the past decade, in the past life, finding a strong female character often comes from those cult films. Which is probably why they have such a dedicated following, because those characters are so real.
BYRDIE: Tell us a little more about your MAC lipstick. How did you come up with this sick gray shade?
H: I wanted to do something kind of blue, but something that was a little bit more wearable. So I stumbled upon this gunmetal [color]. Also, I was supposed to be an art major in college, so color theory is my jam. Like, I love colors, which is why I think I love makeup so much. I think I’ve loved makeup my whole life because of that.
I was always that kid in high school where my friends would be like, “Can you teach me how to do my eyebrows?” I remember I was filling in my eyebrows like my freshman year of high school, and every girl I went to school with made fun of me. All of them. They called me “Sharpie brows.” But I knew that big brows were about to become a thing. So over those next few years, Cara Delevingne, Lily Collins, these big brows started to be a thing. And all of the sudden, these girls are calling me like, “Can you teach me how to fill in my eyebrows?” And I was like, “Oh now you want to know. I’ll show you how to use a brow pencil.” So I’ve always been obsessed with makeup because of how much I love art. I love drawing. I draw a lot of faces. So it makes sense that I would be naturally inclined to makeup.
But when they told me I was gonna get to do this [with MAC], I went to the art store right away. I bought a ton of paints and started mixing colors. I mixed like a metallic shade, one that was a little bit more green, one that was a little bit more brown. I based it on another MAC color that I really love called Stone. And then there’s a metallic liner called Industrial that I really like. I kind of wanted to merge those two into some kind of lipstick. Like I said, I feel like it’s really, really androgynous. I feel like a man could wear it, a woman could wear it, someone in between could wear it.
And sending in that swatch board [to MAC] was like the scariest day of my life. I was like, “Please like one of these colors. Please like one of these colors!” And they came back immediately and said they really loved one, and we started getting into production. When I got the prototype, I was like crying. I couldn’t believe it. It said “Halsey” on the box.
Because you know, this is one of my dreams. MAC is one of my favorite companies. I don’t have a lot of favorite companies. It’s a weird thing to have: a favorite company. Like, “I just really adore Tropicana.” No one says that, you know what I mean? But for me, I have a pretty strong nostalgic attachment to MAC. My mom was never really a very feminine person in my life growing up. She was, like, super tomboy, super badass, like a grungy kind of woman. But one of my earliest memories of her is her wearing really dark brown metallic MAC lipstick. She’d wear it down until she was scooping it out of the pot. I would always try to go in her drawers and steal her lipstick. So the MAC lipstick tube is present in a lot of my earliest childhood memories, whether it’s my mom flipping down the rearview mirror and fixing her lipstick in the car or stopping in a store, looking in her sunglasses. That’s a very present memory for me. I think my little brother when he was young even bit into one that he pulled out of my mom’s purse. So some of my funniest, saddest, happiest memories involve that tube, as cliché as it sounds. So it was really cool for me to think I’m gonna be rolling around in some girl’s purse when she’s getting her first kiss or going to prom or doing whatever she’s doing. Like, that’s me rolling around in her purse.
BYRDIE: We’ve already talked about your on-stage beauty inspirations. What about your personal ones?
H: I think for me, recently, I’ve just been really inspired by Rose McGowan. She just shaved her head. She’s a badass. She shaved her head after I did, too. I was like, Did you check my Instagram? [Laughs.]
I think Audrey Hepburn is an obvious one. Twiggy, Edie. I think a lot of the short-hair icons are coming to mind for me.
As far as modern icons, I love Rihanna. I think she can wear anything. She’s such a badass. Pictures of her stepping out of the club wearing, like, lingerie and a fur coat. And I’m like why not? Sure! Go for it! You look incredible. So I really love her a lot. I think just people who aren’t afraid to take chances. I’m influenced by a lot of males too. I love '80s British rockstars like Mick Jagger. I love that glam, androgynous, sexy thing. Sweat, leather pants, no shirt. It’s like, almost borderline gross. I kinda love that. [Laughs.]
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