Halsey’s long-awaited and hotly anticipated hopeless fountain kingdom was finally unleashed to the world a couple weeks ago and has already reached number one in the U.S. album charts. It is quite the journey…
The New Jersey-born songstress is a controversial figure. Looking at comments on YouTube, many are quick to label her “pretentious” or a “sell-out”. Halsey’s work is complicated, records taking the form of concept albums and she is always willing to talk in depth about her intricate creative and recording process. This deters a lot of listeners from really engaging with her and truly understanding what she is creating.
hopeless fountain kingdom is a work of paramount importance for the progression of recording music. There have been a number of reviews published which complement the album but brush it off as something that just doesn’t quite fit into music industry. However, it really does work. If anything, the album and everything surrounding it is so cutting-edge in creativity that it rises above the industry.
If anything, the album and everything surrounding it is so cutting-edge in creativity that it rises above the industry.
The concept behind hopeless fountain kingdom is hard to grasp for those who don’t follow Halsey religiously. Perhaps, even the idea of a concept album is something abstract. A “concept album” on a very basic level is “an album featuring a cycle of songs expressing a particular theme or idea” but are not common today. For Halsey, she took inspiration from Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film re-make of Romeo & Juliet. The album follows the story of two star-crossed lovers, prevented from achieving their love by others before a tragic separation. The singer plots the classic Shakespare story throughout the record but inter-twines it with her own failing love (“I’m going through this relationship where I feel like a version of myself and a version of himself are dying for the sake of wanting to make our love work”) to create a phenomenal two-dimensional album.
The extent to which Halsey has mapped out the whole concept storyline is miraculous. The singer executive-produced the whole album herself, set-up Twitter accounts for the two “houses” of Aureum and Angelus (similar to the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo & Juliet), sent fans out on ‘treasure-hunts’ to find detail, directed her own film-like music video to lead single ‘Now or Never’ and even set up a pop up House of Angelus in LA last week.
The record itself follows a linear plot to create a listening experience that is like watching a movie simply through music. The story is told from multiple character perspectives, features with the likes of Quavo, Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony and Cashmere Cat helping to do so, whilst the music and mood create and shape the aura surrounding the plot. hopeless fountain kingdom opens with ‘The Prologue’ in which Halsey quotes from Shakespeare’s own prologue with lyrics such as “from ancient grudge break to new mutiny”. ‘Heaven in Hiding’ and ‘Alone’ set up the lovers’ meet scene, one sung in the perspective of the male protagonist and one in the female voice, re-vamped for the 21st century to be a house party. This meet is later shown in ‘Strangers’ featuring Lauren Jauregui as the two, openly bisexual, singers perform the song as the two lovers singing to each other. Transitional tracks such as ‘Good Mourning’, which features the innocent voice of Halsey’s young brother, and ‘Walls Could Talk’ have “choir vocals” to serve as narration to tell the listener what is happening in the storyline. Quavo’s feature of ‘Lie’ provides a third-party voice which scold’s the male character by rapping “treat her right and she won’t complain”. The record finishes with ‘Hopeless’ featuring DJ Cashmere Cat which is almost an epilogue of the work, reflecting on the journey the listener has just been through with lyrics including “the good die young, but so did this, so it must be better than I think it is” and “the truth hurts, but secrets kill” to conclude the story of youth’s careless in love.
However, as previously mentioned, the album is two-dimensional and listeners don’t have to simply follow this linear concept plot. If the tracks on hopeless fountain kingdom did not make sense alone then Halsey could rightly be labelled pretentious and even elitist. However, this is not the case.
the listener can insert themselves into the concept and shape the emotions around their own experiences as well as listening to the story unfold before them.
The way in which Halsey has inter-twined the Romeo & Juliet-esque concept plot with her own relationship means that the songs, on their own, remain compelling. In this way the listener can insert themselves into the concept and shape the emotions around their own experiences as well as listening to the story unfold before them. During interviews Haley has spoken about falling in and out of a toxic relationship, almost certainly referring to producer Lido who even worked with the singer on tracks, upping the intensity on the likes of ‘Lie’ and violent ‘Walls Could Talk’. Even ignoring the concept, songs such as the stripped-back ‘Sorry’, similar to the singer’s first sample album Room 93, is raw and heart-breaking as she laments ending the relationship as she couldn’t love herself: “I run away when things are good and never really understood the way you laid your eyes on me in ways that no-one ever could”. She goes on to sing of her own personal journeys across the world and kiss-and-leave relationships in the feisty ‘Bad at Love’ which contains lyrics referring to romances with both “a boy back home in Michigan” and “a girl with California eyes”. ‘Alone’ is about feeling side-lined at a house party, under-confident and lost deciding that “as soon as you meet me, you’ll wish you never did”. Clearly, these tracks slot perfectly into the concept album’s story-line but are also representative of her liberal youth fans and their own experiences.
Never before has anything even come close to attempting what Halsey’s has created with hopeless fountain kingdom. It’s genre-defying. The sound of each track has nothing to do with the music industry, Halsey’s work is almost a complete separate entity to what has come before. It’s more than music. It’s film, it’s theatre, it’s art. When the listener is fully submerged in the work it is an unparalleled listening experience. The majority will write the record off without trying to get to grips with it but Halsey’s hopeless fountain kingdom is something special, so powerful and so, so important.