Halsey’s ‘hopeless fountain kingdom’: Album Review
Things have changed drastically for Halsey since her mainstream debut in 2015. After breaking through with an album of evocative alt-pop odes of rebellion, the up-and-coming hitmaker has teamed up with some of pop’s most in-demand names. She garnered an appearance on Justin Bieber’s Purpose and a tenure at the top of the charts as the featured vocalist on The Chainsmoker’s “Closer” Her successes brought a new dimension to her musicality, which she’s embracing on her latest album, hopeless fountain kingdom.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s youthful relationship between Romeo and Juliet, the album tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers doomed to suffer a series of pitfalls that pull them apart. The “Now or Never” diva updates the emotional narrative, creating an album that plays out their relationship over frenzied productions. Opening with a direct reference to Romeo and Juliet on “The Prologue,” Halsey intones the play’s opening lines before losing herself in the romance which plays out at raucous parties on tracks like “Heaven In Hiding” and in forbidden midnight meetings on interludes like “Good Mourning.” These frenzied moments of illicit adoration are starkly contrasted by declarations of independence on tracks like “Walls Could Talk,” a roaring trap production that sees a lover attempting to move on from her former partner. “I ain’t your baby no more,” she growls.
Another theme that runs through the album is fear of the darker side of herself. It’s evident in bonus track “Angel On Fire,” which sees Halsey struggling with the exposure of her newfound fame. “I used to be a darling starlet like a centerpiece” she sings before proclaiming “I flew too closely to the sun that’s setting in the East, and now I’m melting from my wings” under the pressure and expectation. This fear is even more clearly explored on “Devil In Me” (where she directly references a fear of unleashing her darkest musings) and “Sorry.”
“Sorry,” hopeless fountain kingdom’s one true ballad, is an absolute high point that feels deeply personal as Halsey apologizes to potential lovers over a sparse piano arrangement. “I’m sorry to my unknown lover, sorry that I can’t believe, that anybody ever really starts to fall in love with me,” she fragilely sings. Stripped back from any characters, this is Halsey at her most earnest and achingly beautiful.
The “Not Afraid Anymore” songstress claimed that hopeless fountain kingdom would be more tailored for radio play than her previous efforts. With collaborations from industry heavy-hitters including Ricky Reed, Justin Tranter, The Weeknd, Cashmere Cat, Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jaurengui and Greg Kurstin, it’s clear that she meant business. Every release from the album has been progressively more radio friendly from the plea for immediacy on “Now or Never” to the futile attempt at moving on from a lover on the The Weeknd-assisted “Eyes Closed” to the 80’s-tinged ode to a former lover on “Strangers.” The latter is a brilliant cut that could perform exceptionally well on radio. “100 Letters” and “Heaven In Hiding” are similarly tailored for success on radio with earworm-worthy choruses and tight productions.
That’s not to say that hopeless fountain kingdom is without flaw. The anthemic “Alone” strives for the sing-along status of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” but instead comes off as clumsy and out of place among the other cuts. Similarly, the Quavo-assisted “Lie” falls flat thanks to unimaginative (and totally unnecessary) feature from the Migos rapper. “She talk like the iPhone,” he blandly declares over a boiling production. Following the frantic interlude “Good Mourning,” which creates a sense of urgency and alludes to illicit midnight trysts, Quavo’s tepid verse feels like a missed opportunity to continue building the mood before it all comes crashing down.
hopeless fountain kingdom tells the story of a modern romance, and, like any relationship, it’s fraught with imperfection. Halsey unflinchingly recounts the joyous highs and torturous lows of love, and her honest portrayal makes the album all the more powerful as she faces down inner demons and heartache over electro-kissed productions. Although the future of her star-crossed lovers is bleak, Halsey refuses to abandon hope. Ironically enough, the Cashmere Cat-assisted closer “Hopeless” offers some optimism in the closing moments. “I hope hopeless changes over time,” Halsey coos over an aural production that marches onward despite her broken heart. It’s that resilience that sets Halsey apart and provides a glimpse of optimism at the end of a shattered relationship. The world may seem broken, but nothing is beyond hope.
Halsey delivers an album that feels personal and that features tracks that could easily dominate radio and streaming services in the months to come. Although she’s embraced more of a pop aesthetic after her breakthrough success with The Chainsmokers, the Badlands siren still manages to sound like herself in her latest evolution. There’s no unnecessary embrace of trop-pop for a surefire hit; instead, she has incorporated elements of trap, R&B, and pop into her alternative roots, creating something new and enjoyable in the process. hopeless fountain kingdom is a consistent and listenable body of work that will solidify Halsey’s status as one of the most promising artists in pop.