The forced work of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is subpar

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Sarah Obermeyer, Managing Editor of Photography

On Saturday, August 13, 2016, Ashley Frangipane, better known as her stage name Halsey sold out Madison Square Garden and performed her debut album Badlands. This would be the closing of the “Badlands Era.” However, at the end of the show, she announced her next album concept with the ominous words, “You can find me in the Kingdom.” In early June, Halsey released her sophomore album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (which is shortened to HFK). However, it seems that Halsey has hit a sophomore slump; compared to Badlands, HFK is just mediocre.

Behind every Halsey release, there’s a story. With her first EP, Room 93, it is about a hotel room and how many moments actually go on inside. Her debut album is about a fictional place called The Badlands. The Badlands is actually a metaphor for Halsey’s state of mind. Her latest release HFK is about a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story. However, there have been some issues with the translation of this story compared to her previous albums. With Room 93 and Badlands, there was more left to the imagination of the listener. But with HFK, Halsey comes right out and says what story she is trying to tell and uses elements of classic literature and quotes from Shakespeare himself. I had a very hard time listening for the connections between her music and the love story she was aiming to portray. On top of this, telling a story that has been told thousands of times is much harder and less interesting than an original story.

Getting into the music, another crucial mistake Halsey made was the switching of producers. During her first two projects, she had a larger team of producers, including Tim Anderson who also works with Twenty One Pilots. But for HFK, she changed many producers and worked with Benny Blanco, who works with Katy Perry, Sia, Kesha and other pop artists. On top of Blanco, the rest of her producers were a star-studded team including Ricky Reed of Wallpaper, Lido, and Cashmere Cat. I understand professional relationships are not easy to keep and people move on to different projects, but the switching of her producers made a drastic difference in her overall sound. The changing of producers and the fact that she was admittedly aiming for more radio play gave her a very unoriginal sound. As an artist, her sound was compromised due to that goal. To me, her songs were repetitive and uninspired. I found that many times, the start of her songs started the same with a simple note or pattern that fades in.

The album kicks off with “The Prologue,” which is the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet and some original lyrics. I wish I ran the other direction the second I heard the overly autotuned, stacked vocals. The album flows along to “Eye Closed” with an amazing sound but repetitive lyrics and honestly, nothing inspiring. The next track, “Heaven in Hiding” has amazing lyrics, but the instrumental clashes sounds like a messy collage created by a child. “Alone” showcases a different jazz-inspired sound with the brass instruments present, but the lyrics don’t connect to the listener and seem less relatable than other Halsey lyrics.

Finally, the album regains strength with “Now or Never” and “Sorry.” “Now or Never,” the first single off the album, is incredible. The vocal riffs present, and interesting backtrack make for a pleasant listening experience. “Sorry,” is completely raw and finally gives me the emotional connection and depth I was yearning for at the start of my listening experience.

“Hopeless” is one thing: overproduced.”

The first collaboration on the album is track 9, “Lie,” with Quavo. This collaboration is forced and just unnatural. The sound is great at first, but the two voices are just forced together like puzzle pieces that weren’t meant to fit.

Until I heard “Walls Could Talk,” I found the rest of the album forgettable. Although “Walls Could Talk” is only around 1 minute and 40 seconds, I think it’s the best song on the album. Elements of violin are present and the sound develops naturally and isn’t forced into a synth sound.

The second collaboration, “Strangers,” featuring Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony, was another single off the album. It makes sense why this was the second single off the album, considering it is one of the strongest points of the otherwise weak album. This song contains one of the more unique rhythms of the album and the harmonies between the two singers are incredible.

The album wraps with a final collaboration between Halsey and Cashmere Cat. “Hopeless” is the finish line I was so glad I reached after making it through the painfully average album. “Hopeless” is one thing: overproduced. The lyrics are repetitive and there’s obviously a lack imagination with the overdone vocal stacking.

Overall, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom was never what I wanted out of Halsey. The pushed collaborations to expand fanbases are a complete flop, the overdone ironic autotune was nothing special and the forced storyline is unoriginal and average. The choice to base an entire album on a Shakespearean theme that has been used thousands of times really hurt Halsey in the end. Halsey will forever be one of my favorite artists, but this work was painful for me to get through. Hopefully, her next album will be for art, rather than radio play or to please a fan base.