Her debut album “Badlands” made Halsey a breakout star in 2015. She has since toured the world and broken into the mainstream with The Chainsmokers. Ready to show more of her abilities, she released her sophomore effort “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” June 2.
Halsey went all out while building a team to create “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.” She aimed to make a more radio friendly album, collaborating with some of the hottest people making music right now, from powerhouse producers like Greg Kurstin, Benny Blanco and Ricky Reed to contributions from Lauren Jauregui (Fifth Harmony), Sia, The Weeknd and Quavo (Migos).
The album tells two stories. It is a concept album that tells the story of the fictional kingdom Halsey has crafted based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo + Juliet.” The protagonists Luna and Solis are a modern version of the famous star-crossed lovers, facing an ill-fated love in the 21st Century. At the same time, the album tells the story of Halsey’s own break-up from longtime boyfriend and producer Lido. The lyrics, all written by the singer herself, brutally and beautifully illustrate all of Halsey’s own feelings.
The album begins with the aptly titled, “The Prologue.” It features a recitation of Shakespeare’s prologue to “Romeo and Juliet.” She then paints a picture of Luna and Solis’s world singing: “I am a child of a money-hungry, prideful country.” The first actual song, “100 Letters,” is one of the strongest songs on the album. It was the first song Halsey wrote for the album, and like the prologue to “Romeo and Juliet” it outlines the entire story of the relationship. It has a fun beat and pre-chorus will get stuck in your head.
From the moment Halsey’s voice enters on “Eyes Closed,” you can tell The Weekend was involved on the track. It has his signature trap beats with a ballad melody mix.
“Heaven in Hiding” and “Alone” tell the story of the same party from the two characters’ perspectives. “Heaven in Hiding” is a dark, roaring track where the physical aspect of the relationship is described. It is one of the strongest vocal performances on the album. “Alone” sounds like it could have been on the soundtrack for “The Great Gatsby.” It is a new sonic territory for Halsey.
The next track is the album’s lead single “Now or Never.” It has the all too familiar chorus structure of repeating one word ad nauseam. But, it’s catchy.
“Sorry” is a standout track. The song is a showcase for Halsey’s voice and lyrical craft. While many of the songs are based around electronic and synthesized sounds, here her voice is accompanied by just piano. The lyrics are heart-wrenchingly honest. In the chorus she sings, “Sorry that I can’t believe that anybody ever really/ Starts to fall in love with me.”
It is followed by a foreboding interlude spoken by a young boy (fun fact: it’s actually the voice of her younger brother). It signals the narrative taking a turn, and the little melodic tag is wierdly catchy.
“Lie” sees Halsey serving bars and a guest verse from rapper Quavo between a belted melody washed out in reverb. It is definitely one of the most experimental tracks. “Walls Could Talk,” “Bad At Love” and “Don’t Play” are probably the closest to the Halsey from “Badlands.” They all give off the badass, take-no-prisoners, rockstar attitude that grabbed everyone’s attention on her debut.
“Strangers” was released a couple weeks before the album and has made waves on the internet. It is being lauded as an achievement for the LGBT community. It appears to be the first mainstream same-sex love duet. The song is a duet between Halsey and Lauren Jauregui, who have both come out as bisexual. The song contains a storyline that is common in pop songs, but the simple use of feminine pronouns instead of gender neutral ones make it revolutionary and important. Also, it’s a certified bop.
The last three tracks on the album close out on a somber note. “Angel on Fire” seems like the aftermath of “Alone,” she now feels like people don’t care about her anymore. “Devil in Me” talks about inner demons, and the roaring chorus is recognizable as co-written by Sia. The closing track, “Hopeless,” is the acceptance that the relationship has reached its messy end.
As a body of work, “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” is a lofty experiment. But, it delivers on all fronts. There are multiple radio-ready songs, and it effectively illustrates the narrative. Halsey’s sophomore effort will probably end up landing on many Best of 2017 lists in the winter. If you don’t have time to listen to the full album, I recommend checking out “100 Letters,” “Sorry,” “Lie,” “Don’t Play” and “Strangers.”