Written by M.J. Rawls
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous and storied tragedies within the works of William Shakespeake. It’s the famous story of two people from warring families who love each other so much that they could not exist without the other. Over time, there have been adaptations of this, most notability, the 1996 modernized version of the tale from Baz Luhrmann.
Sometimes we create our own universes or make updated revisions to a story in order to get out the disorientation of our own minds and lives. This is why stories like this live through centuries – love and lost are both universal languages. Badlands, the 2015 debut album from Halsey was an ambitious universe created by the singer to bring out what she was internalizing. Creating is a liberating thing, but to showing that to the world can be scary. With her second full album, she has created another world with continuity.
Here in Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, there are stories within stories; the main one being Halsey’s version of Romeo and Juliet. Halsey herself had stated that she was inspired bu Luhrmann’s adaptation. There are two houses, the Aureum and Angelus. Our two main characters are Luna (meaning moon) and Solis (meaning sun). Luna is the protagonist played by Halsey and Solis is that of an ex-lover. Making this a version of her own, the roles of Romeo and Juliet are switched- as Halsey’s character is Romeo. The album begins reciting the prologue to the original play, but from there is a journey created for the real world that we live in now.
You have the conventional sounds that directly play into the Romeo and Juliet narrative. The first single, “Love Me Now,” are both characters pushing each other to make a decision to be with each other. At the end of the album, a dreamy number produced by Cashmere Cat, “Hopeless” is our epilogue where we summarize the story and close the curtain. However, there are many twists and turns like any great storyteller does.
There’s this intriguing and intelligent play into gender neutral roles on HFK. Halsey identifies herself as bisexual and there are songs that make this story like a choose your own adventure book. “Bad At Love,” which sonically is a reminder of Badlands, talks of Halsey’s failed relationships both in an male and female spectrum. The 80’s infused “Strangers” serves as another curve ball in our story. On a teaser on her Twitter, Halsey shows brief looks of her and Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jaureguis in boxing gear in reference to the two houses. An LBGT anthem, you can also interpret Solis being a girl as well.
There’s also this ongoing theme between Ashley and “Halsey”. There are expectations that she has for herself, those around her, and the one she used to love. Right from the first song, “100 Letters,” submissiveness is mentioned.
“I find myself alone at night unless I’m having sex
But he can make me golden if I just showed some respect”
In some cases, “Halsey” is the valiant personality helps her break out of that. This is all intertwined in the trio of tracks (“Heaven In Hiding,” “Alone,” and “Angel On Fire.” These are set within a house party much like the one in Romeo and Juliet, but this can also be looked as the three stages within Halsey’s life. Heaven In Hiding is the intense, almost lustful meeting of Luna and Solis. Alone, complete with a 1920’s ragtime melody is Ashley being freed by the fame of Halsey with parties and not be available. In fact, missing phone calls is a motif that comes up in a couple of songs. “Angel On Fire” is when the party is over. The people have gone home to their respective lives and you are there wondering if giving all of you into this love/fame made you untouchable.
“I flew too closely to the sun that’s setting in the East
And now I’m melting from my wings”
One of the most emotional songs from the album, “Sorry,” a piano ballad where Halsey’s voice is given room to stand out ponders the lost relationships and friendships. There’s this side of Luna who is regretful for all that’s she’s given up, but then there’s the empowered side is depicted in the anthematic “Don’t Play” who finds strength in her new found freedom.
Musically, HFP draws from many different paint brushes. Working with producers like Cashmere Cat, Greg Kurstin and Benny Blanco helped this album contain a broader variety of styles from R&B, Alternative Pop, and Trap. “Eyes Closed,” where the Weekend contributed to the melody has “The Hills” like aesthetic where Halsey is envisioning her ex-lover in the new person she’s with. One of the issues with HFC is that as your getting lost into the song, some of them lose out to a short run time. One may consider that being a take from the songwriting being a bit formulaic this time around.
“Perhaps hopeless isn’t a place, nothing but a state of mind”
The Room 93 EP was a place inside the Badlands. Badlands was a chaotic wasteland that Halsey fought to get out of. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is the fairy tale that did not come true. All entangled in what we can call the HEU (Halsey Extended Universe), there’s growth. Growth in both sharing her story of a broken relationship and trying new fixtures musically. These are the mind states of Halsey which act as a snapshot of her life.
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Rating: 7 out of 10