Having released one of the most immersive and captivating albums of the last few years with 2021's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-produced If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, Halsey feels like an artist truly ready to transition way beyond the confines of the pop world. Even before tonight's set starts, the PA is blasting Code Orange’s Swallowing The Rabbit Whole: a warning, possibly, that Halsey's darker and more challenging recent material is going to be heavily leaned on this evening.
With or without that knowledge, Halsey’s arrival is something spectacular; backed by video screens showing protest across the world, they explode onto the stage with Nightmare, a song that is all claustrophobic rock riffs and long-suppressed aggression finally bursting out. It’s a hell of a start, but, even with the lights, visuals, sound and an impressive backing band, it’s Halsey that stands out the most. Some people just exude star quality, and Halsey has that charisma and effortless cool that is impossible to teach. Wherever they are, whatever is happening elsewhere on stage, your eyes are drawn to them; an eye movement here or an outstretched arm there literally inspiring screams from the massive crowd that have gathered here.
When they speak, be it about a love for the UK, the power of live music or hilariously reacting to a chant about them being a “MILF”, you hang on every word. It’s a command over an audience that the likes of Freddie Mercury were famous for, and yes, this slight figure in front of us has really does have that very special something that makes them comparable to the best of all time. It’s not solely charisma, either. Halsey’s voice is a thing of jaw-dropping quality; piercing screams and soaring melodies all are delivered so effortlessly.
The final piece of the puzzle is the music itself, which is fantastic as well. Easier Than Lying has Reznor’s fingerprints all over it, his oddly unsettling tonality brilliantly coalescing with Halsey’s voice. A cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill is held in hands that can truly do an anthem with such gravitas justice. Set closer Without Me is wonderfully received, the marshmallow bounce of the recorded version given grittier, rougher edges. And then, Halsey is gone. There have been plenty of fine artists over the weekend at this year's Reading, but there haven't been many moments where you felt like you were watching a true superstar. This one of those rare occasions where you certainly were.