Halsey reaches for the sky on sophomore album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Halsey has come a long way since she dropped the demo for her track ‘Ghost’ online, becoming an overnight viral sensation. She dropped her debut record Badlands, had massive hit success with her Chainsmokers collaboration ‘Closer’ and then started promotion for her sophomore album with the single ‘Now Or Never’ and a whole concept and long music video inspired on the Romeo + Juliet movie. Today Hopeless Fountain Kingdom saw the light of day. Is Halsey slowly becoming one of the biggest pop girls out there today?
Online Halsey is often criticized for ‘trying too hard’, ‘doing the absolute most’ and ‘being extra’, but there certainly is one thing we cannot fault her for. Halsey is anything but a lazy pop star. Admitted, some parts of her artistry feel forced over the top and pretentious even, like the spoken prelude or ‘Good Mourning’, but at least she tries her absolute best to lay out a body of work that is both visually and sonically cohesive and tells her story. Does this always result in good pop songs? Not necessarily. Does it result in an album that is interesting enough to entertain from start to finish? Definitely!
Halsey showed off an electronic indie pop sound on her debut and she evolved this style on Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. She worked with her long time collaborator Lido again, but also co-wrote with hit producer Greg Kurstin (Sia, Adele and Ellie Goulding). The production therefore is smoother this time around, while the choruses are more often suitable to be played on radio. First single ‘Now Or Never’ does sound too similar to Rihanna’s ‘Needed Me’ on first listen, but also keeps creeping up on you with every listen until you can’t help but sing and sway along. ‘Eyes Closed’ co-written by The Weeknd does completely belong in 2017 sonically and features some of her best and most honest vocal work to date, while telling a personal story in straightforward lyricisms.
While Badlands mostly dealt with her mental demons, the story Halsey tells with this album is mostly about a past love that she metaphorically compares to the dramatic story of Romeo and Juliet. That we are not necessarily listening to a traditional boy meets girl story becomes very clear during ‘Strangers’, the absolute highlight of the record. This duet with Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony is a passionate story of two estranged lovers with a delicious 80s inspired synth production. The intense pop anthem ‘Heaven In Hiding’ describes the same love affair in an earlier stage where the lovers have to hide their new found love for the rest of the world, which matches the Romeo and Juliet narrative, but could also be read as two girls afraid to come out of the closet and show their love for the rest of the world.
On ‘Bad At Love’ Halsey goes a bit overboard lyrically describing how she fears she will never succeed in love with some awkward phrasings and her urge to be edgy shows on ‘Don’t Play’, easily the least listenable of all songs on Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. But for every missed opportunity, there is a track like the painfully honest ballad ‘Sorry’, the soaring disco vibes of ‘Alone’ or the Cashmere Cat collaboration ‘Hopeless’ where she colours outside the lines in terms of production and sound without trying too hard. It is also tracks like these that save Halsey’s record from becoming too samey in terms of sound and vibe.
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is not perfect, but it is a pop record with a story and personality. Halsey’s persona is certainly not for everyone, but with her determination, work ethic, impeccable ear for a great pop hook and uncompromised honesty in her lyrics, she is here to stay.