Halsey stands in a yellow dress holding a baseball bat.
Design by Abby Schreck.

It’s 2015 — you are browsing the band t-shirt section at Hot Topic and “Ghost” by Halsey plays on repeat in your head. All is well, for Halsey, who has become a breakout star, and for you, as you embrace your mid-teens pop punk era. 

Flash forward to May 2022: Halsey, for one, is at war with their record label, Capitol Records. Let me break it down for you. 

Despite Halsey offering audiences some of their best work with the 2021 album If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power (which they created while pregnant with baby Ender), bringing the world absolute masterpieces like “Ya’aburnee,” “I am not a woman, I’m a god” and “Nightmare,” the album (at least in the eyes of the label) fell flat in comparison to other pop albums of the year and Halsey’s other work. Who’s to say exactly why; it could have to do with the album title in which Halsey literally demands power, or the daring and regal album cover, where Halsey is pictured on a throne partially clothed holding their baby (which personally drew me to the album, but as we all know, historically people aren’t praised for embracing their power in motherhood publicly) or the fact that this is Halsey’s boldest, most honest work to date and, in their own words, “a body horror album about pregnancy.” Although speaking their truth should be met with the same amount of enthusiasm as producing traditional cookie-cutter pop bangers, for Halsey as well as many others in the music industry and beyond, this was not the case. Halsey has also opened up about recent health struggles following diagnoses of Ehler’s Danlos syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, mast cell activation syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. What do they get for all their recent troubles? Punished by Capitol Music Group.

The drama officially began (or, rather, was revealed to the public) on Sunday when Halsey posted a TikTok saying that they had a finished song (now confirmed to be titled “So Good”) they wanted to release and despite having sold 165 million-plus records, Capitol Music Group refused to let them share the song “unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.” The label essentially said to this platinum artist: Get trending on a social media platform that didn’t even exist when you started making music or we revoke your right to share your art with the world. 

A few hours later, Halsey posted another TikTok in which they were on a call with an unnamed music executive who floated the idea of giving fans art and the song title on TikTok but not confirming a release date while Halsey nodded along unenthusiastically below text that read: “I wish I was kidding lol.” Ironically, Halsey’s exposure of the label garnered their TikToks the exact attention and traction that the label had demanded. Still, the situation escalated further. That night, Halsey posted this tweet claiming that, despite the label’s pleasure at all the attention on TikTok, they refused to hold up their end of the deal and allow Halsey to release “So Good;” rather unwisely, one fan pointed out, because Halsey’s last spontaneously-dropped single went platinum. Regardless, because Capitol Music Group retains ownership of the song, Halsey is unable to share their art with the world when and how they please as goalposts are constantly shifted

Halsey is not the first artist to receive this treatment: It is not an isolated event, but a disturbing trend. Even stars like Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, FKA Twigs, Doja Cat and Ed Sheeran have been instructed (the definition of which falls somewhere between “told” and “given an ultimatum”) to create TikToks promoting their music. It’s no longer enough to be an extremely talented platinum artist who sells out stadiums; regardless of status or track record in the music industry, you’re stripped of your freedom if you don’t go viral on TikTok. 

Although the future of the music industry appears to be heading down a dark dystopian path, you can still support Halsey and see them live at the Love and Power Tour this summer — I can’t promise anything, but you might just hear “So Good” live. 

Daily Arts Writer Emmy Snyder can be reached at emmys@umich.edu