Red supergiants have been confirmed as the progenitor stars of the majority of hydrogen-rich type II supernovae1. However, while such stars are observed with masses >25 M⊙ (ref. 2), detections of >18 M⊙progenitors remain elusive1. Red supergiants are also expected to form at all metallicities, but discoveries of explosions from low-metallicity progenitors are scarce. Here, we report observations of the type II supernova, SN 2015bs, for which we infer a progenitor metallicity of ≤0.1 Z⊙ from comparison to photospheric-phase spectral models3, and a zero-age main-sequence mass of 17–25 M⊙ through comparison to nebular-phase spectral models4,5. SN 2015bs displays a normal ‘plateau’ light-curve morphology, and typical spectral properties, implying a red supergiant progenitor. This is the first example of such a high-mass progenitor for a ‘normal’ type II supernova, suggesting a link between high-mass red supergiant explosions and low-metallicity progenitors.