REVIEW: Halsey brings provocative pop show to AMP on a scorching-hot Arkansas evening

Courtesy graphic

Editor’s note: Halsey did not permit any professional photography at this performance.

The tone for Friday night’s girl power pop show at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion was established early by opener Jessie Reyez.

“I see there’s a lot of kids in the audience. And I’m sorry, but I swear a lot. So [curse word] it. I’m going to be who I am.”

“[Curse Word] It” was the title track to the first song she played. (P.S. If you can’t guess the word, and still need to know, it’s Track 1 off her debut EP, “Kiddo.”)

Reyez’s set went from abrasive to empowering, from confrontational to introspective.

Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion

What: Pentatonix with guests Echosmith and Callum Scott
When: 8 p.m. July 25
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $35 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or visit for information.

That was in the first 30 minutes of the evening. Headliner Halsey spent the rest of the evening on this stop of her “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” tour doing much of the same, although without a bit more of a playful and subdued approach. As subdued as a set with fire and smoke and confetti can be, anyway.

Both women come to prominence in similar fashion, though on different timelines. Both started their careers by independently recording songs and posting them to social media platforms. Both eventually found a recording deal, although Reyez was rather explicit in discussing a deal she turned away. It would only be granted, she was told by a record executive, after performing a sexual act on the producer in question. She discussed that encounter and the #metoo movement before breaking into the song “Gatekeeper,” which is very much about the incident.

Halsey made many allusions to deeper emotional content, but was far more subtle in her approach. This tour is her first after finding mainstream success via the song “Closer,” which she recorded with The Chainsmokers. She has just two albums to her name, which forced her to play almost every track from both records. Her approach to storytelling came mostly from a large, almost continuous video display which featured two large screens that synced with lighted platforms serving as stairs. For example, when lightning imagery took place during the song “Hurricane,” it came to life on the top video boards and descended the stairs. It was a large setup, too – it consumed most of the stage, leaving room on the wings for a DJ and a drummer. Halsey would also be joined onstage by a solo dancer. Her video for “Colors” featured people popping pills; upon ingestion, the pill-takers turned into smoke. There was plenty of religious iconography visible in the videos as well.

This is a big production for someone as relatively new as Halsey, but the her call was answered. She very nearly sold out the AMP, and she thanked the 8,000 fans in attendance.

Those at the show got to see Halsey push through her hits and adorn them with blasts of dramatic smoke, pyrotechnic charges and dancing. She took one break to sit back and discuss her decision not to wear makeup for this show.

That came in contrast to the carefully created image we’ve seen of the pop star, and to the show we watched Friday night. Everything in the show was planned, from her blue hair and provocative outfits to the sequencing of the songs, which is exactly what she’s played in recent days. She lost a fake eyelash not long after her discussion to not wearing makeup, and she shared that bit with the crowd.

Something else to note about the manicured nature of the show: I don’t believe Halsey was lip syncing. But … the video board and the performer were not always aligned, particularly at the beginning of the show. It’s disconcerting to hear one thing and see another. That issue got better by the end of the night, but it was always a distant companion to the onstage proceedings.

When everything aligned with Halsey, we saw a glimpse into her world. But only a glimpse, and only then what she wanted everyone to see. That’s a sharp departure from the approach of her opening act, who said everything and did so forcefully.

Halsey, just 23 years old, has some growing into her own (perhaps makeup free) skin left to do. But she’s already near the top of the pop world. How she constructs herself for the next album and tour will determine how much higher she flies.

Halsey Setlist Walmart AMP, Rogers, AR, USA 2018, hopeless fountain kingdom World Tour