That “Closer” singer stan Twitter vehemently loathes, Halsey, has dropped her sophomore album hopeless fountain kingdom – and, surprisingly, it’s not so hopeless after all.
Akin to Lorde and Melanie Martinez, Halsey belongs to that new wave of awkward, Tumblrfied millennial popstars churning out quirky Top 40 sounds, while often acting too cool to admit that that’s what they’re doing. With its arty-farty vibes and Shakespearian references, hopeless fountain kingdom yet again sees Halsey urgently striving to verify that she is, in fact, a Very Deep and Meaningful Artist; she potently smelt of the same aura on her debut record, Badlands, too. “High on legal marijuana / Raised on Biggie and Nirvana / We are the new Americana,” Halsey risibly roared over the crunchy sci-fi beats of Badland’s infamously scoffed at lead single, “New Americana”. However, the admitted radio-friendliness of hopeless fountain kingdom renders it a less insufferable and, vitally, much more listenable album than Badlands.
hopeless fountain kingdom’s cringey opening prologue makes way for “100 Letters”, a tabla-fuelled minimalist bop engineered for a grand arena tour entrance. The creepy, empty echoes of follow-up “Eyes Closed” mirrors the Weeknd-assisted lyrics of loneliness; “he’ll never stay, they never do,” Halsey murmurs. “Walls Could Talk” injects electro synths into slick, early 2000s R&B sounds, whereas the siren-like ‘wah’ voice in “Don’t Play”’s aggressive chorus (“Motherfucker don’t play with me,” she warns) could effortlessly polarize radio audiences as to whether it’s irritating or not for at least a month. “Bad at Love” is one of the obvious eventual singles Halsey alluded to, and will be well-received by the broken-hearted misfits of the world. “Alone” is a 70s soul-tinged number that, while sounding like another certified smash hit, thuds like the economy version of a massive pop anthem because of its oddly cheap sounding production. I am also still of the opinion that hopeless fountain kingdom’s lead hit “Now or Never” strongly borrowed elements from the chorus of Rihanna’s savage, ‘fuck me up’ bop “Needed Me”; a testament to Halsey’s somewhat secret, yet eventually realized desire to crack the charts.
Sadly, the presence of noted homophobe Quavo on “Lie” is most jarring, considering Halsey‘s unapologetic assertions of bisexuality; the theatrical electroballad had genuine potential to be one of hopeless fountain kingdom’s most monumental moments. Quavo’s feature is even more confusing when a few tracks later, Halsey is normalizing same-sex relationships on the bisexual anthem “Strangers” with the commendably outspoken Fifth Harmony vocalist Lauren Jauregui; we, too, suffer relationship drama. It’s an artistic decision which solidifies Halsey as a musician who desires to stand for something meaningful while shattering social norms.
hopeless fountain kingdom is honestly not dreadful. No, it isn’t as cohesively brilliant as a Dawn Richard record, but the sheer ambitiousness of hopeless fountain kingdom indicates Halsey could be very capable of creating her own Blackheart in the future. While hopeless fountain kingdom is nowhere near as unbearable as the pretentiously tryhard Badlands, neither is it the deep and conceptual magnum opus she probably believes it is. The record is a synthy good time, sprinkled with alternative pop – and there’s nothing wrong with that.