Album Review: hopeless fountain kingdom – Halsey

Following up her debut album, Badlands and hit single “Closer” with The Chainsmokers, Halsey dropped her second album, hopeless fountain kingdom, on June 2nd.

Contrary to Badlands, which comprised of 11 tracks that the singer wrote herself, Halsey collaborated with Quavo, Lauren Jauregui, and Cashmere Cat for featured tracks. She worked with both Sia and The Weeknd as well during the writing process.

I, for one, am always down for concept albums, and hopeless fountain kingdom is no exception. Halsey has gone above and beyond with the details of this record, building an entire fantasy world through her elaborate promotion and visuals that expand upon the album’s lyrical content.

The concepts behind the album were a long time in the making—Halsey tweeted ‘The Kingdom” back in 2014 as a hint to her fans, later stating that “the hopeless fountain kingdom has always represented this kind of ‘love conquers all’ parallel universe to me.” At the time of the tweet, the artist had not yet been in love and did not feel quite ready to explore that universe. Now that she has went through the entire cycle of a relationship, Halsey has dived deep into this parallel universe to deliver her intricate concept album, in which she unpacks the emotional elation and conflict of a relationship from beginning to end.

The first single off the album, “Now or Never,” was accompanied by Halsey’s directorial debut in a music video that stylistically drew influence from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Anyone who has seen the 1996 adaption will immediately recognise the neon lit crosses in the music video.

Being an avid Baz Luhrmann fan, I loved the similarity between the two works. In an interview for Beats 1 with Zane Lowe and the director himself Baz Luhrmann, Halsey talked about her choice to gender-swap the star-crossed lovers. Sing J Lee, who plays “Solis” (Romeo), is seen wearing the notorious angel wings that Claire Danes wore at the Capulets’ masquerade party. The angel wings also refer to Solis’s family name, Angelus. Halsey has put a spin on the rivalling families and changed their names. The character that Halsey plays in the music video, “Luna”, belongs to the Aureum house, which means ‘gold’ in Latin. It is by no mistake that Halsey has named the two characters in the relationship ‘sun’ (Solis) and ‘moon’ (Luna).

In her recent Twitter Q&A, Halsey addresses the reasoning behind naming her character Luna by giving detail into her personal relationship (and subsequent breakup) that the album is inspired by. She states that her partner told her that she wasn’t being trustworthy, when in fact she felt it was the other way around. Taking a line from Shakespeare: ‘Don’t swear by the moon, for she is always changing,’ Halsey interpreted it as ‘Don’t trust the moon, for she is always changing,’ which relates back to how her partner felt about her. Another theme throughout the music video as well as the cover art for the singles is Tarot cards. A scene in the “Now or Never” video continues to illustrate the Tarot cards’ significance in interpreting the story, as Halsey’s character sees a Tarot card reader who warns her about her fate with Solis. The reader is wearing a bird-like mask, which is later seen on a poster with the caption ‘we are the eyes of HFK,’ weaving the imagery of the classic Rider-Waite deck into the world of hopeless fountain kingdom. In fact, her announcement of the album’s release date featured three key cards from the Major Arcana of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck: The Lovers (6), The High Priestess (2), and The Star (17), in a spread that simultaneously reveals the hopeless fountain kingdom story’s arc.

The Romeo and Juliet theme continues throughout the album. On writing the album, Halsey explained, “I was going through this really bad breakup at the time where I kinda felt like I had sacrificed so much of myself for the other person; wanting to change so that I could make it work for them. I wanted to let go of parts of me. It felt, in a way, that I was kind of killing off a version of myself and I know that they had done the same. So, Romeo and Juliet kinda came to mind because if I had only let myself live, I could’ve made it work. I didn’t have to sacrifice everything.”

The singer/songwriter has hinted at more videos to come this year, calling her album a soundtrack to the storyline that will unfold in the videos. Halsey takes a lot of inspiration from film directors and feels that the language of film is not that different from the language of music, so it only makes sense that we can expect more music filmography from the artist.

The opening track, “The Prologue,” is pretty self-explanatory; Halsey voices Shakespeare’s infamous prologue from Romeo and Juliet over steady string and organ notes. This track along with “Good Mourning” and “Hopeless” include choir vocals, which quite literally represent a choir, which Greek plays notably used as a form of narration. The songwriter strategically placed the three tracks at the beginning, middle and end of the album.

“100 Letters” is the first proper song on the album and offers a reflective moment on the artist’s past relationship. She likens the meaning of this song to that of Shakespeare’s prologue; the playwright gives away the ending before the play even begins, and this song tells the listener about the break up at the beginning of the album. Halsey described the album as “top to bottom about me removing myself from a toxic relationship to find love within myself.”

The third track, “Eyes Closed,” right away reminded me of The Weeknd—no surprise, seeing as he co-wrote the track. The creative process of both “Eyes Closed” and “Devil in Me,” is different than the rest. Halsey contributed the lyrics, and The Weeknd contributed the melody. In “Devil in Me,” the collaborative artist is none other than Sia. These two tracks definitely reveal each artist’s influence in the style and melody, given that each of them have such a signature sound.

Without the artist explicitly mentioning sex, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that’s what “Heaven in Hiding” is about. The crescendo into the chorus only adds to the strength and dominance of the female voice. This coincides with the previously mentioned gender swap that Halsey decided on with the characters in the storyline of her Romeo and Juliet, in order to fit the story more to her personal relationship. In the Beats 1 interview, she admits that whilst watching Baz Luhrmann’s film, she connected more to Romeo than Juliet in relation to her personal relationship.

The next track is definitely one of my favourites off the album. “Alone” is the most stylistically different—its upbeat, Gatsby-like vibe offers a sounds that counters the signature dark pop synth that Halsey is often associated with.

Halsey slows it down on the track “Sorry.” Pairing her vocals with lone piano makes this a powerful and heartfelt ballad. The lyrics offer an apology to the people she could have potentially had relationships with, but never did due to her own insecurities. There’s a certain raw sincerity in this piece that reveals the artist’s vulnerable side in a beautiful way.

To be completely honest, the first ten seconds of “Lie” immediately reminded me of the piano ticking at the beginning of each Untucked episode. Moving on from that first impression, this track blew me away with the intense vocals from Halsey along with the melodic lyrics from Quavo. Being accustomed to hearing his voice in Migos songs, I felt this was kind of out of his comfort zone, but it worked in a way that I did not expect.

Another stand out from the record is “Strangers” which features Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui, who recently joined Halsey in coming out as a bisexual woman. This is such a refreshing track—to have two female LGBTQ+ identifying artists singing a love song is long overdue. Halsey’s purpose for this song is not only to create a banger of a love song but to show the world that two female artists can sing about love and use female pronouns on a track. The vocals on this track work so well together—Jauregui has a powerful, raw tone that pairs perfectly with Halsey’s infamous soft and raspy voice for an amazing melody.

“Hopeless” is the last feature as well as the final track on the album. When I saw Cashmere Cat’s name, my expectations for this track went through the roof. With Halsey’s lyrics and Cashmere Cat’s sounds, my expectations were met. After listening to this album, I don’t know what melody Halsey’s vocals would not sound good with, quite honestly. My favourite lyric from this song is most definitely “Cause you know the good die young but so did this, and so it must be better than I think it is.”

hopeless fountain kingdom is available for purchase and streaming now. Follow Halsey on Twitter to keep up with events for the album release, and check out her world tour dates for a show in a city near you.