“You are not in Coachella anymore. Welcome to the fucking Badlands!”
That’s what Halsey declared on Saturday night (Apr. 16) at the Indio festival, after explaining to her crowd that Coachella’s dry setting recalled her own retreat into the desert to find herself. Yet Halsey’s Coachella set was not an escape, but an arrival. The singer-songwriter has traveled from wide obscurity to big festival draw in a relatively short amount of time, and she used Coachella to assert that she will dazzle when given the opportunity.
From the opening moments, in which Halsey emerged in a skin-tight white getup and danced as flames burst from the stage around her, the Coachella performance was an uncompromising visual spectacle. “Hold Me Down” featured stripper-pole acrobatics that were both poignant and sexually charged; “Castle” showcased fierce choreography set against a brick-wall background. “Ghost” was portrayed as Halsey’s origin story, and included a segment where an animated soul left her body.
There were moments when the performance leaned too heavily on its theatrics, but Halsey dutifully pulled back when she needed to, on songs like “Drive” and “Colors.” There was a clear method to Halsey’s presentation: she wanted her show to be burned into her viewers’ minds, and offer herself as a lasting alternative to the current crop of radio-friendly pop stars.
The sizable-if-not-enormous crowd appreciated Halsey’s pageantry, and lost its collective mind when she pulled out the biggest trick up her sleeve: Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie, a childhood hero turned duet partner. The pair sang “New Americana” and then Panic!’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” with Halsey looking positively giddy as she traded verses with Urie.
For Halsey, this was a special moment, and not just because she described Panic! as her favorite band ever. Coachella represented another hurdle cleared on Halsey’s rapid ascent within the music industry, and another audience conquered with technical wizardry. Halsey brought a capital-s Show to Coachella, and although she’s still peeling back who she is, she isn’t afraid to put a big moment into her own captivating context.
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