In just a couple short years, Halsey has become quite the brand. Her alternative-pop style music has inspired many, creating a movement with fans which started in the shadows of Tumblr posts, microblogs and really any non-mainstream digital media place. Her debut album BADLANDS was an impressive feat, selling nearly 100,000 copies in its first week of sales; an incredibly unique amount for a new artist living in the era of digital streaming. It’s certainly no question that her fans are passionate.
So what makes Halsey so likable? I suppose you could say she’s a trademark for Generation Z, a digitized, youthful generation born after 1998 that does not believe in the American dream, holds no labels, and breathes social media (minus Facebook). Rising to superstardom, Halsey reigned in on her aesthetic, a nostalgically-filtered lens which blends iconic rock-pop styles of ’70s, ’80s and ’90s with an avant-garde touch of the 21st century. Combined with her “tri-bi” equation – biracial, bisexual and bipolar – we have an artist who relates to today’s youth, youth who live in a divisive world native to controversial politics, media disasters and terrorism on all fronts. Perhaps Halsey is the light to Gen Z that says “it’s okay to be different as the times are much different than they used to be.” Certainly, I feel she’s offering more guidance to Gen Zers than most artists. I definitely feel like Halsey is the Lady Gaga of this generation. Although their styles differ greatly, Halsey is leading change and rallying a group of fans whose voice has yet to be heard, just like Gaga did in the early 2010s.
Breaking Down ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’
Refocusing back on Halsey’s latest apocalyptic-tendered release, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, is an LP chock-full of sixteen songs which reemphasize the same alternative-pop, electropop and R&B sonic which personified BADLANDS.
Starting off the record is “Prologue,” which pledges an ode to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet before breaking off into an electronic soundbite where Halsey says she’s a “child of money hungry, prideful country.” I guess you could say this album is just as conceptual as its predecessor.
Picking up the pace, we break into “100 Letters,” “Eyes Closed,” “Heaven in Hiding” and “Alone,” all midtempo songs which grapple at love, broken romanticism and raw emotion.
Next, the lead single “Now or Never,” which I wasn’t a fan of at first, is a song that has quickly grown on me. With a soundscape spin-off of what seems like Rihanna’s “Needed Me,” “Now or Never” focuses on the struggling, cataclysmic love between two lovers in a dystopian society. In the music video, which Halsey self-directed, said “The video for “Now Or Never” is one part in the center of a long narrative that tells the story of two people in love despite the forces trying to keep them apart.” This is a particularly recurring theme for Halsey and one that bodes well in creating an album that’s conceptualized in a such a thorough way. The single reached #26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Shortly following “Now or Never” is “Sorry,” a beautiful piano ballad that allows Halsey’s voice to shine as she spotlights her own insecurities, even hinting as to how her bipolar disorder may have affected her disparaged relationships.
The “Good Mourning” interlude shakes up the album’s journey. “They told me once, there’s a place where love conquers all. A city with the streets full of milk and honey. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m still searching. All I know is a hopeless place that flows with the blood of my kin. Perhaps hopeless isn’t a place. Nothing but a state of mind.” I’ll just leave that there for you to decipher as you please.
“Lie,” which features Quavo member, Migos, is a song that soars, with Halsey’s vocals drifting over a minor key. “Walls Could Talk” is a gritty song about broken, fickle love which has a dark ’90s edge to it. “Bad at Love,” is a list of lovers (both male and female), which Halsey elaborates on why the relationship failed. “Don’t Play,” which seems like a Nicki Minaj original, essentially says “don’t even try playing games with me.” Enough said.
“Strangers,” an excellent promo track for the album that features Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui, focuses on the moment when two female lovers at a house party confess their love to each other. Jauregui, who recently came out as bisexual, seems to be a surprisingly good fit for the song with Halsey. Although the two’s style ranges greatly, they both find common sonic ground here.
Hitting the tail end of the album, we come across “Angel on Fire,” a track of nostalgia where Halsey recalls the good times of being the center of attention and elaborates on how her anxiety has muddied things. “Devil in Me,” a track that was co-written with Sia, channels how everyone faces demons in their daily life; this is a standout from the album and one I think many can find themselves in, especially considering the inner turmoil we all feel from time to time. Lastly, “Hopeless,” the crown of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, is a collaboration with producer, Cashmere Cat. Although the song isn’t prolific in any way, it defines the album, capturing the essence of hopelessness. She refers many times to her dying relationship with her ex and how she “can’t help the way you (the ex) made me.”
Overall, Halsey’s sophomore effort isn’t revolutionary but it is one for the record books. Although the album can feel a little repetitive, especially with no earworms like “Closer” – her collab with the Chainsmokers – it is much more sentimental than that. Initially, I thought the album would be messy, especially when I heard what the title of the album would be. It just seemed quirky and complacent. It is anything but, however. It’s clear this album has texture, meaning and was produced with the best of minds. Halsey could write radio hits if she wished, but her music isn’t quite that generic. These songs are part of a larger story and should stay kept together in a catalog. With radio play on the way out and digital streaming rising to the top, I think it shows that Halsey is a testament to the system. Clearly, you don’t need a radio hit to be a superstar or sell arenas. Considering this album and her ability to connect with her core audience, I think Halsey will continue to dominate the music scene for time to come.
By: Logan Foster