A Shakespearean Opera: Review of “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” by Halsey

Halsey comes back with a bang in her long-awaited follow up to her popular debut Badlands. On this album, we escape to Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Set up on the premise of a Romeo & Juliet retelling, this album provides a story that is somehow darker and yet more hopeful than the Shakespeare original. Halsey also switches up her sound, opting instead for a mix of pop, hip hop, and R&B. Se bemoans love lost and abusive relationships, sometimes taking all the blame and other times showing she can be strong. As with her previous album, Halsey doesn’t shy away with being open about her sexuality, both in discussing sex and in her orientation. This album takes a head-on look at mental illness and how it can alter someone’s entire life and self-perception. Halsey explores themes of self-doubt and an unstable mind, as well as strength and perseverance. I cannot stop listening to this album and each time I get something new out of it. Halsey’s clever lyricism paints a unique picture that is just metaphorical enough to allow for multiple interpretations. Weaving together her songs with careful ease, Halsey paints a story of a girl who hopes for better but may not be there just yet. And now, let’s get on with the track-by-track review.

  1. The Prologue- The opening track consists of Halsey reading the prologue to Romeo & Juliet over a beat. She then gives it a personal twist by bringing us to modern day America, discussing how money, jealousy, and violence affect relationships as much as the infamous Capulet-Montague feud affected the titular couple. It’s almost theatrical, making you feel like you are truly about to embark on a journey.
  2. 100 Letters- This is a song about an abusive relationship. Halsey reflects on the relationship and compares it to how she feels now that she’s free. Despite the toxicity, she still fills a twinge of affection for him. But she also thinks about how she almost gave herself completely to him, and now she’s always left wondering both how she fell for his games and what would have happened if she’d stayed. Halsey also follows the example of Romeo & Juliet’s prologue, spoiling the ending of her story. It combines her past pain and her current strength seamlessly. This one is one of my favorites.
  3. Eyes Closed- In this song, Halsey wishes she could tell her ex she still thinks about him, even when she’s with another. The strong feelings she felt for her ex still have a hold on her and dominate her thoughts. Here she also starts blaming herself for the relationship failing, a self-recrimination she comes back to throughout the whole album. A gorgeous mix of guitar and synthy beats really bring this song together.
  4. Heaven in Hiding- This is Halsey’s first moment of domination on the album. It’s a sex song, but Halsey knows she’s the one in control. She can make her partner feel things and she enjoys playing that role. She thrives knowing she can do this to another person and it really boosts her self-perception.
  5. Alone- This song takes on a disco vibe, which is very new for Halsey. The bridge has an almost doo wop swing to it. Lyrically, Halsey is talking about the role she has as a celebrity. People look up to her and dream of meeting her, but Halsey is certain she’ll be a disappointment. Here is where we slide back into her self-doubt. She also touches on how she hides behind an armor of sorts and has a hard time letting people in. This is another of my favorites.
  6. Now or Never- In this R’N’B inspired track, Halsey demands her lover either stop dragging her along and give her all his love or just end the relationship. She’s hoping for the former, but seems to expect the latter. This is a moment of great vulnerability for Halsey, as she has placed herself entirely in her lover’s hands.
  7. Sorry- This track is one of Halsey’s few honest-to-god ballads. In this tracks, she outlines all the ways she has failed her lover. The twist comes when she says, “sorry to my unknown lover.” It feels as though she is preemptively apologizing to whomever tries to win her heart next. She suggests that that person is worth loving, but she isn’t and also cannot offer it.
  8. Good Mourning- This interlude of sorts marks the turning point in the album. This is the point where Halsey knows she must decide whether to aim for strength or fall back into old patterns. Halsey’s own brother reads the spoken intro, perhaps showing it is not just Halsey and her romantic partners affected by her downward spiral. It also acts as a direct contrast to her sung portion on the track. Dante seems hopeful, while Halsey dreads the change.
  9. Lie (feat. Quavo)- This track is one of the most hip-hop inspired on the album, Halsey sing-talking the lyrics. She talks about a relationship heading towards its inevitable end and begs Quavo, the stand-in for her boyfriend, to pretend that it’s not. Quavo responds insisting they are still in love and just need to make a few changes. But it’s not easy to tell whether he genuinely disagrees with her or if he is lying to her like she asked.
  10. Walls Could Talk- This song takes a page out of ‘90s R’n’B/Pop with its dramatic strings and smooth beat. In this track, Halsey talks about the drama and dysfunction that goes on between her and her lover behind closed doors. She knows that it’s toxic and messy, but both lovers are persistent and keep carrying on in secret. My only complaint is that it’s so short. I would’ve liked more. Regardless, this is another favorite.
  11. Bad at Love- This song is one of Halsey’s pop-iest tracks to date. In this song, she describes different relationships she’s been in (both with men and women). Even though it’s clear that her different lovers had a hand in the failure of their relationship (and sometimes more than that), Halsey still decides she is just not good at love and relationships. She’s also got a sexy rasp on this track. It’s another of my favorites.
  12. Don’t Play- This song is another one heavily influenced by hip hop. The trap beats and clever turns of phrase are reminiscent of modern rap. It also employs the badassary and bragging of modern rap. It’s also another of Halsey’s show of personal strength on this album, declaring she’s moving on to enjoy her life and career.
  13. Strangers (feat. Lauren Jauregi)- This song is somehow both a love song and not a love song. Both women want something different out of the relationship and therefore can’t progress much farther than the physical part. The chorus is strangely haunting, both girls’ voices coming together darkly. This song is absolutely one of my favorites.
  14. Angel on Fire- This song marks another fall for Halsey. She reflects on where she was before, perhaps during her Badlands era. She was the new It Girl, but quickly people either forgot her or turned on her. Now she is at a low point, being eaten alive by depression and anxiety. It has a haunting event at the beginning, almost like the sound of a broken tornado siren. It’s also the track most like Badlands, serving as a sort of prelude to “Control.” It’s cinematic and grand, just begging for a music video.  It’s easily another one of my favorites.
  15. Devil in Me- When I see a song called “Devil in Me,” it’s really hard not to roll my eyes. It’s always about someone’s inner dark side, so corny and cliché. But Halsey gives it a smart twist. The “devil inside her” is her mental illness. This song is at the point where she can feel herself slipping, knows a new episode is about to start. And she’s terrified. She’s pleading and desperate. However, she still aims for hope, suggesting she can make it out again. It’s heart-wrenching and another favorite.
  16. Hopeless (feat. Cashmere Cat)- This song is about the end of a short-lived relationship. Halsey fools herself into thinking the relationship was better than it was, while contradicting herself by talking about how disinterested and hateful her boyfriend has become. The strings are a gorgeous addition. It’s another favorite.

Halsey doesn’t aim to just tell her own story with this album. She also has another hidden narrative in here, about the fictional characters of Luna Aureum and Solis Angelus, as well as an as-yet unnamed girl. She includes elements from the original play, like having the couple meet at a party and end in tragedy. It’s cleverly and meticulously thought out, and I am in awe of it. I haven’t listened to many concept albums in my life, but I still know Halsey has provided an excellent one in hopeless fountain kingdom. I can’t wait to see how this era will play out and what she’ll do next.

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One thought on “A Shakespearean Opera: Review of “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” by Halsey

  1. Pingback: My Top 5 Best Albums of 2017 – Strangely Pop Cultured

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