When pop sensation Halsey first stepped onto the music scene with her debut album Badlands, she exhibited the beginnings of an impactful and lasting talent within the music industry. She broke ground with “New Americana,” which has since been deemed by publications such as The New York Times and Billboard Magazine, as a “generational anthem.” Since then, a loyal fan base stretching across all platforms of social media have anxiously awaited the release of her second album.
With 16 songs totaling 48 minutes, hopeless fountain kingdom is a piece of synth-pop perfection with a dark and haunting twist. It is a step forward from Badlands, which was criticized for its lack of originality and hollow sound. For hopeless fountain kingdom, she enlisted a team of notable co-writers, such as The Weeknd and hitmaker Sia. Along with her natural songwriting talent, her co-writers and producers helped elevate her music. However, Halsey’s album still lacks the authenticity to elevate her from newcomer to pop veteran.
The first track on hopeless fountain kingdom is “The Prologue.” In the track, Halsey recites lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. After a short pause, the song transitions to an electronic beat, with Halsey singing “I am a child of a money hungry, prideful country.” She then continues to say, “hands so bloody taste like honey / I’m finding it hard to leave.” These prove to be some the most powerful lyrics on the album, providing personal commentary about her life as a byproduct of greed and pride. This type of self-reflection is a theme throughout the entire album.
In a tweet about her album, Halsey stated that although hopeless fountain kingdom is about a breakup, she wanted to make sure the album was more about herself and her emotions. Her ability to self-reflect through songwriting is one of the highlights of her sophomore album, as she used pop music to illuminate some of her more dark and personal thoughts. hopeless foundation kingdom touches on familiar musical tropes and on paper, contains all the elements to make successful commercial pop singles, as well as a successful commercial pop album.
However, many musical elements in this album seemed to be inspired by other contemporary artists. “Eyes Closed” is reminiscent of Selena Gomez in Revival. “Heaven in Hiding” contains similar elements to Lana Del Rey’s “Dark Paradise” and “Now or Never” resembles Rihanna’s “Needed Me.” The album is lacking an originality, or a signature that is uniquely Halsey, and in turn, each song in the album sounds like it could be done by someone else and better. This makes the album predictable and boring, but the familiarity is, perhaps, what makes this album so comfortable to listen to.
The only distinctive and near original component about Halsey’s music is her voice. In the album, Halsey sounds more comfortable with her singing. Her vocal performances on the tracks “Sorry” and “Devil in Me” showcase her vocal improvement since Badlands.
The highlights of this album are “The Prologue,” an eclectic but strong introduction to hopeless fountain kingdom; “Alone,” an uptempo song mixed with cliché lyrics and infectious R&B chorus; and “Strangers,” a stunning duet between Halsey and Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui. “Good Morning” contains some of the strongest lines in the album: “There’s a place where love conquers all / A city with the streets full of milk and honey.” The song serves as an effective and effortless prelude to “Lie,” a dramatic piano ballad featuring an auto-tuned verse from Migos’ Quavo.
Despite its lack of originality, hopeless fountain kingdom remains poised to be one of the biggest commercial pop releases of the year. Each track sounds as if heavy thought was placed into its production, which, although gives it a highly calculated feel, assures there are no throw-away tracks on this album. With this album, Halsey has solidified herself as a pop star, whose career can go anywhere she chooses from this point.