- Alyson Shontell / BI
- Singer Halsey talked to Business Insider about her work ethic, being a CEO, and what happens when your friends are also your employees. Halsey has fired two of her friends because they were not working as hard as she thought they should. “It’s definitely painful,” she says. She told us why she regards herself as a product. The singer also discussed what she likes least about being famous. And why she will always prefer New Jersey over Brooklyn.
CANNES, France – Halsey’s new album “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” is a huge hit, currently sitting at No.1 on the Billboard US album charts. But rather than celebrating, Halsey is working.
She does this a lot.
Halsey once performed on stage the same day she had a miscarriage. Instead of cancelling the show or going to the hospital, she put on a pair of adult diapers, took some Percocet, and performed anyway. “It’s the angriest performance that I’ve ever done in my life,” she told Rolling Stone.
Even if she has a half-hour of downtime in the back of a taxi between appointments, she will use it to tweet at the 4.45 million fans who follow her on Twitter, she told Business Insider at the Cannes Lions advertising festival this week. Halsey told us she regards this as an act of customer service: communication with fans goes on at all times, around the clock, because the fans are the most important thing, and keeping them close to the Halsey project (her real name is Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, from Clark, New Jersey) is the core of the job.
Halsey was in France to do a panel with Ryan Seacrest in conjunction with iHeartRadio, and to meet female CEOs. The “CEO” thing is a new concept for Halsey, but she has a half dozen or more full-time staff tending to her career, and up to 200 people work for her when she is on tour. She is a business, she is their boss, and she is a micromanager. This isn’t just work, after all – it’s her life.
That can lead to some awkward tensions. Because she is so busy – literally working round the clock – she finds it difficult to have normal friends. She once told Debbie Harry that all her friends were also her employees: “All the people in my crew are my best friends. The one thing I struggle with is looking around and realizing every person I am friends with is on my payroll. Do I have any friends who aren’t gonna want to talk to me about Halsey?”
And yes, she has occasionally had to fire some of those friends when they didn’t perform. Scroll down for our full interview with Halsey, which shows you just how fierce her work ethic is, and what it’s like when your besties are also your staff.
On firing your friends: “It’s definitely painful. The lines can definitely get crossed in the sense where you’re, like, not performing to the best of your ability, and you should not only as an employee, but also as my friend, you should want me to succeed, you should want us to succeed, you should be working harder.”
- Gustavo Caballero / Getty
Jim Edwards: You have a lot of your friends on your payroll. Tell me about that dynamic. Isn’t that weird?
Halsey: It can be. But for me, it’s important because I live a really unorthodox lifestyle. If I want to hang out with people, they unfortunately need to be working as often as I am. So that’s how we get to cross bounds – also because I trust them. My project is so personal. One of the things I talk about a lot is encouraging my associates to kind of be as involved with the fans as I am. So you’ll be on the ground, dealing with fans, communicating – all of our customer service still comes from me and my management team. Obviously, we have a larger group of customer service people dealing with product malfunctions, and stuff like that, but when it comes down to the fan experience, we’re still on Twitter messaging people.
JE: Have you ever had to fire someone who was a friend?
H: Yeah, of course.
JE: How was that? What’s that like?
H: It’s definitely painful. The lines can get definitely crossed in the sense where you’re, like, not performing to the best of your ability, and you should not only as an employee, but also as my friend, you should want me to succeed, you should want us to succeed, you should be working harder.
JE: Can I ask what they got fired for?
H: Most of the time it’s just people getting comfortable. Kind of like, you know, acclimated to the lifestyle. And it’s mostly people I brought on later. Anyone who has been with me from the beginning has worked from the trenches with me and they’ve worked really hard. People that I have brought in where I am now, they haven’t worked the way that we have, they haven’t lost the sleep, and you know, the blood, sweat, and tears.
JE: You’ve done this more than once, then.
H: Oh yeah, I mean, I’ve only ever had to fire two friends. Two people actually. I’ve still got the same team I’ve had since the beginning.
“That’s very new to me this weekend, confronting the fact that I’m a CEO. It wasn’t until [now] I began to view myself as — instead of facilitating a product — as when I became the product.”
- Jason Koerner / Stringer via Getty
JE: How many people are on the team?
H: I have two managers. I have a tour manager, he takes care of making sure the shows are good and everything. I have a personal assistant and a business assistant, a business manager. And from a touring perspective it’s odd – I have around 150, 200 employees, doing carpentry or automation or lighting design, you know what I mean?
JE: Do you regard yourself as their CEO?
H: No. No. I think that I don’t ever really regard myself as a CEO. That’s very new to me this weekend, confronting the fact that I’m a CEO. It wasn’t until [now] I began to view myself as – instead of facilitating a product – as when I became the product.
JE: You just described yourself as a product on stage here at Cannes, why do you do that? Because – devil’s advocate – that’s arguably quite depressing?
H: Um, yep, it can be, but also when you transcend the basis of artistry when there are people buying into your interviews and your lifestyle and what you stand for as a role model…they’re buying into you, your personality, your life experience, your representation of that. So that’s kind of how I see it. Also, I am very close to my work. My work is like a manifestation of me. So it can feel really depressing when you look at a CD jewel case and you’re like well, that’s me! Or when you see a critic review and they’re like “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and it’s like they’re saying thumbs up or thumbs down to me.
“It’s easy to ignore when people are attacking your reputation. You know, ‘you’re a slut, you’re embarrassing, you’re this, you’re that.’ That’s easy to disregard. But when they are attacking your character I think that’s where it can become difficult where lines get crossed and you become offended.”
- Jim Edwards / BI
JE: You take that personally. On Twitter, random people criticising you, you take that personally right?
H: Sometimes. It’s easy to ignore when people are attacking your reputation. You know, “you’re a slut, you’re embarrassing, you’re this, you’re that.” That’s easy to disregard. But when they are attacking your character I think that’s where it can become difficult, where lines get crossed and you become offended.
JE: Do you ignore it now or do you still get upset about it?
H: I don’t ignore it but I also don’t get upset about it either. I am still taking into account people’s perspective and people’s opinions – it keeps me honest, it keeps me constantly self-evaluating, which is what I need to be, because otherwise I am going to become completely phoned in and detached and that’s not the kind of artist I want to be.
JE: What is the worst bit about being very famous?
H: Oooh – as an artist you very much want to have control over your dialogue and your image and when you become exposed in a way where other people are manipulating your brand or the public perception of you that’s where it can be frustrating. It’s when you want to tell everyone to shut the f*** up and say “hear it from me, not from them.” That’s all.
JE: Is that people like me, journalists, when we write a story…
H: Oh yeah, I hate all of you. I’m just kidding!
JE: It’s a genuine issue!
H: Yeah, I try to speak candidly and I am also prepared to defend myself at any moment. My intention is always good. I never mean ill when I am doing an interview.
“New Jersey has been the same amount of bad forever, Brooklyn just keeps getting worse!”
- Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
JE: This question is weird. Bear with me on this. Imagine a judge finds you guilty of a crime, and as a punishment the judge sentences you to live the rest of your life in either Brooklyn or New Jersey. Which do you choose?
H: Um. New Jersey because it’s just perpetually the same bad, but Brooklyn just keeps getting worse!
JE: What’s getting worse about Brooklyn?!
H: It’s just become a very judgmental place and it didn’t used to be. But if I could avoid either of them…
JE: But your home is New Jersey!
H: Yeah, I love New Jersey, but I love New Jersey for how shitty it is. It’s like a little sister or a little brother that’s annoying. You know – “I think you’re shitty but I love you still,” you know? That’s how New Jersey is, right?
JE: Do you avoid New Jersey?
H: No, no. I have to go back to New Jersey – I love Wawa too much.
“It doesn’t matter how many private jets you take, how much money you make, how famous you get, keep putting in the hours.”
- Getty Images
JE: What’s the single most important thing you’ve learned about the business side of the music business? Give a piece of advice to your younger self.
H: Keep putting in the work. Keep putting in the hours…It doesn’t matter how many private jets you take, how much money you make, how famous you get, keep putting in the hours because when you’re in the back of a car and you have 30 minutes in between interviews, use that time to engage with the fans and use that time to put in the work. Because you will never have to stop putting in the same amount of hours that you did in the beginning.