One of my closest friends introduced me to Halsey’s music around the time her 2015 debut album released. She showed me the hit single “New Americana,” and the rest is history. I didn’t necessarily fall in love with Halsey’s voice. But it had enough distinction to hold my interest. On the surface, the Jersey native may seem like another rebel under Lorde’s new-age pop umbrella. However, I believe Halsey has much more to offer than your average angst-driven teenage ambassador. On her full-length debut, Halsey’s spacey and edgy aura separated her from most pop acts. Although refusing to call herself “pop,” she uses the genre’s multiplicity of sounds to carve a niche all her own. Inspired by Panic!, Gaga, and Brand New, the 22 year-old finds a way to sound both familiar and distant.
Badlands felt authentic to me even if I didn’t love all 16 deluxe tracks. Halsey’s creative direction matched the album’s sound, though the amateurish writing kept it from truly blossoming. It had all the energy to inspire a movement, but lacked the charisma needed to completely break through. Halsey’s lyrics tend to be cold, spunky, and unsure of tomorrow. Her stripped-down tracks complement this writing style. She boasts spirited vocals, but litters them with redundant lyricism on occasion. Halsey’s follow-up album, hopeless fountain kingdom, thrusts these restrictive tendencies to the forefront. Thus creating a theme of confusion rather than one of cohesion. This sophomore effort is labeled as a concept album inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. As cliché as that sounds (and ultimately becomes by the album’s end), I was looking forward to Halsey’s interpretation.
The alternative-pop star’s take feels vague and underutilized. Digging through Genius to comprehend lyrics should be a hobby, not a duty, when listening through an album. Spanning 16 songs, hopeless fountain kingdom includes only two interludes despite its supposed deeper romantic meaning. One of these is intro track “The Prologue”. Halsey recites the play’s opening paragraphs word-for-word. In theory, this is not a bad thing whatsoever. However, after numerous less-than-notable tracks, this paraphrase of a project fails to stay true to its roots. In a nutshell, this album lacks detailed storytelling. Trying to connect the dots is a wild goose chase. Aside from a jumbled thematic, this follow-up’s sonic palette bites off more than it can chew. The sounds here are lush and delicate. However, when it’s Halsey’s turn to bring these tracks home, she falls back into her comfort zone.
The album’s songwriting is frustratingly redundant and peripheral. Her bisexuality and sporadic dating habits are an inconsistent duo. They make the narrative feel out of touch. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a clever and immersive tale of two cursed lovers. However, across hopeless fountain kingdom, Halsey reiterates why she feels undeserving of nice guys’ affection. It seems as though she only read the play’s introduction. Instead of focusing on “star-crossed” love, she spends her time wishing for a badass or claiming to be one. What does any of that have to do with arguably the most famous love story of all-time? I have no idea. Stylistically, hfk is synth-heavy and semi-orchestral. These opposites attract at times. Only when this production team stretches beyond the current norms of pop does this album achieve splendor.
The retro soul of “Alone” gets me every time. Though Halsey’s vocals never reach true brilliance, her performance is genuine and convincing. Additionally, second-half standout “Walls Could Talk” is short, sweet, and effective. At first, I wanted the 111-second, Britney-inspired tune to never end. In retrospect, fun size is the perfect size for this track. It could have been a tad longer. Nevertheless, it is a pleasureful, unpredictable pièce de résistance. The chilling atmosphere created on “Lie” has ambitious potential. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Migos member Quavo gives the track a mundane, cash-grab feel. None of the guests make much of a splash, for that matter. With a trimmed track list and a focused perception, hopeless fountain kingdom could have catapulted Halsey’s artistry into pop’s elite. Alas, this final product suffers from poor conceptual execution and lackluster curation.