Maybe this is what progress looks like:
In 2016, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Maroon 5, Cirque du Soleil and others canceled shows at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center in protest of LGBT-unfriendly House Bill 2. Last March, HB2 was repealed. On Tuesday night, openly bi-sexual pop star Halsey headlined the venue in one of the LGBT-friendliest major concerts in recent memory here.
At the very least, it’s significant progress for Halsey.
A little-known opening act for Imagine Dragons when that band came to Charlotte two summers ago, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter has exploded in mainstream popularity since then thanks to woozy dark-pop like “Now or Never” and the EDM anthem “Closer,” her chart-topping collaboration with The Chainsmokers.
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I’m not sure it’s quite time from a practical standpoint for Halsey to be booking arena shows – she’s got just two albums to her name (which on her driver’s license is Ashley Frangipane), and on Tuesday, the upper deck at Spectrum was curtained off – but her show certainly has all the big-budget trappings.
A staircase that filled almost the entire stage (with just enough room on the ends for three live musicians) sometimes twinkled with lights, sometimes was enveloped in fog, sometimes both. Columns of big orange flames roared up from the floor during “Angel Fire.” A storm of red, pink and white confetti rained down from the rafters during “Alone,” 10 songs in, and then again 13 songs later, during the finale, “Gasoline.”
Understated presentations worked well: Mid-show, a white grand piano appeared at center stage, and Halsey stripped all the E and all the D from “Closer,” leaving just the M; this was a shining moment for her voice, which went a cappella at the end.
But flashier staging produced highlights, too: When she and her sole backup dancer moved to the rear of the floor section for a pair of aggressive club-bangers – “Lie” and “Don’t Play” – they climbed onto a small B stage that was flooded with water. Therefore, every kick and stomp made for a splashy visual.
One of the most shriek-inducing moments of the night, in fact, came during “Don’t Play,” when Halsey went into a deep squat and commenced to twerking, at which point her female dancing partner positioned herself behind Halsey and commenced to groping.
This was the second time the pair had gyrated while their bodies bumped into one another. The first came earlier in the evening, in the middle of “Strangers,” which ended with Halsey and her dancer locked in a kiss. (“Strangers,” for the uninitiated, made waves for being a love song recorded by mainstream female pop stars that incorporates female pronouns. Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui was her duet partner on it.)
In addressing the crowd – mostly female, many wearing their own support of LGBT issues on their sleeves – Halsey focused on difficult relationships, much like she does in her songwriting.
She set up “Bad Love” by saying: “How many of you guys are recently going through a breakup? (Lots of cheers.) How many of you hate that other person so much right now? (Lots of cheers.) But how many of you have considered that you might have been the problem? (Not very many cheers.) No? It’s not a night for taking responsibility? OK, well I’m gonna.”
Before “100 Letters”: “If you have someone in your life that’s trying to make you be somebody that you are not, I want you to make a promise to me right now that you are not gonna let them touch you anymore.” And before “Hurricane”: “Charlotte, this song is a reminder that you do not belong to anybody but yourself.”
But it’s what Halsey said before “Strangers” that really encapsulated the feeling of the whole affair.
“If you are a member of the LGBT community,” she said, the room swelling with applause and “woos” before she’d even gotten to her point, “or if you are a proud friend of somebody who is, I want you to know that this room is a safe space for you tonight.”
Maybe we’ll know we’ve achieved real progress when she doesn’t even have to reassure her fans of that.
1. “The Prologue”
2. “Eyes Closed”
3. “Hold Me Down”
5. “Good Mourning”
6. “Heaven in Hiding”
8. “Roman Holiday”
9. “Walls Could Talk”
10. “Bad at Love”
12. “Closer” (The Chainsmokers cover)
14. “Angel on Fire”
16. “Don’t Play”
17. “100 Letters” (VIP Request)
18. “Is There Somewhere”
19. “Now or Never”
21. “Young God”