The Halsey Saga Returns Within a ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’
Adam Flores | Senior Writer
If Halsey’s 2015 debut studio album, “Badlands,” represented her psychological condition as a conceptual artist, then hearing her June 2 sophomore release “hopeless fountain kingdom” is a continuation of that dystopian narrative.
Born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane (Halsey–derived as an anagram of her first name and also references Halsey Street station of the New York City Subway in Brooklyn), her self-diagnosed “tri-bi” condition as biracial, bisexual and bipolar drives the straightforward themes throughout “kingdom.” “Now Or Never,” the album’s lead single released back on April 4, is not only Halsey’s thesis statement of urgent yearning for an exclusive, compatible relationship but also projects a relationship androgynimity until we hear “Strangers” (featuring Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui). It is here that she proclaims in verse one’s sole quatrain, the female pronoun in each line. This asserts the unapologetic, strong voice of and for bisexual and lesbian women. Has mainstream music finally arrived directly addressing bisexuality and LGBT inclusivity?
There was no scratching the surface on the issue, direct disguising or B-side hidden treatment to “Strangers.” It went to radio and entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This is not important just for Halsey, but also for Jauregui who came out as bisexual through an open letter to now President Donald Trump just after his election. The track in itself gives agency to lesbian and bisexual women in love. Remarkable. And, it’s about time: a same-sex love song.
Halsey’s electro-angst youth vibe permeates through each track of “kingdom.” Alongside a bold look and most importantly, a vocal prowess that elevates well-crafted lyrical shifts within transmitted energy and emotion, she commands the attention of her audience. Her honest musical delivery makes this easy over the backdrop of seductive and urgent electronic beats and sonic landscapes reminiscent of Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and even Taylor Swift. What sets Halsey apart as an electro-pop femme fatale is her ability to be a straight shooter telling it like it is. She suffers, we suffer with her; yet, she is resilient and finds her way moving forward. There is no sugar-coating.
“Lie (feat. Quavo)” brings on yet again, a dystopic, self-destructing relationship scenario. Quavo (of Migos fame) contributes his rap talents to the cut with a bit of the Kanye effect that proves a sonic surprise and freshness within the set.
“Eyes Closed,” “Bad At Love” and “Angel On Fire” display complexities in how Halsey can vocally switch from one timbre to another, even from one track to the next with precision. Perhaps this is her strength since she has a somewhat limited vocal range except for the occasional brief reach of a phonetic falsetto note highlighting a given melodic phrase.
“Sorry” strips down to a subtle, yet powerful piano-vocal breakup ballad as she tenderly sings, “Someone will love you / But someone isn’t me” over haunting quarter note chords. “Alone” possesses an R&B sample vibe remix with brass stabs and classic ‘70s Soul Train notions while “Walls Could Talk” takes on the Maroon 5 “This Love” aesthetic with a deep, sexy bass tone effortlessly supporting sparse string and keyboard instrumentation underneath periodic, over-compressed Halsey-belted chorus sections. Musical colors constantly shift and change making the entire 16-track compilation anything but boring from beginning to end. Stylistically, there’s something for everyone within “kingdom’s” pop spectrum.
As a self-confessed Marvel nerd, Halsey continues her fictional sci-fi breakup saga minus the stage or big screen to further compound all the melodrama. Songwriting and production reign showing off her musical command, control and maturity mixed with a systematic chaos that reaches well beyond her current twentysomething mindset.
“hopeless fountain kingdom” hints at being “Badlands” II, yet stands strong as another story in the evolving chronicles of Halsey. The pervading power and emotion of its message, particularly for lesbian and bisexual women, not only brings to the forefront its real everyday implications in this world, but also in telling an important, necessary story in a mainstream market that goes well beyond Katy Perry’s kissing a girl and perhaps, liking it.