It is an interesting, shifting time in the music industry. With the term “purposeful pop” orbiting around the industry like crazy, we are hearing and witnessing more artists claim how their new music speaks for a higher, more influential meaning or message. Even the term “pop” itself means something completely different today than it did 15 years ago, so how do we even define pop? Well…essentially pop isn’t a music genre anymore (tbt to the Britney Spears “Oops I Did It Again” days) instead it just stands for whatever is “popular” on the charts at a given time…rap, electronic, R&B, alternative, country, etc. So this leaves fans with a whole lot of interesting, creative material to sift through and form opinions on.
The latest? 22-year-old, pop-alternative artist Halsey and her sophomore album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which she claims to be a conceptual album. Before diving deep into her second album, here’s a refresher on how Google defines a concept album: “Album featuring a cycle of songs expressing a particular theme or idea.” So…hmmm think Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Green Day’s American Idiot (2004), or more recently Lemonade (2016) by Beyonce.
Halsey exists as THE prototype millennial artist. She outspokenly stands up for what she believes in, breaking down stereotypical boundaries and walls in the lyrics of her songs. She defines herself as bi-racial, bisexual and bi-popular, Halsey fearlessly entered the music scene only a couple years ago with her debut album, Badlands (2015), with her major hit “New Americana.” Cue the notoriously famous lyrics:
“We are the new Americana
High on legal marijuana
Raised on Biggie and Nirvana
We are the new Americana”
Badlands was a refreshing debut album because of Halsey’s soulful, captivatingly raspy voice paired with relatable and detailed lyrics that made you feel like she was directly addressing you.
Like any fresh, fairly new artist, Halsey, feared her second album’s release wouldn’t exceed fans expectations when it comes to creating a sophomore record. To shake things up, she decided to dive into creating a conceptual album, to earn credibility and creativity points in the competitive industry. Her core goal was to achieve a genuine connection and reaction from her devoted fan base, but it seems her underlining attempt was also for every track to land on top 40 radio..hence the simple lyrics, flashy rifts, overproduction and heavy beats.
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’s intention: to be a dystopian concept album centering around a forbidden, Romeo-Juliet type relationship..from start to finish. The album itself starts off with Halsey reciting the actual the prologue from the play, “Romeo and Juliet.” She also explained on Twitter that this album is also about leaving a toxic relationship.
It is clear when listening to the different tracks in order on the album, that she had a running theme of a tumultuous, unhealthy relationship in mind.
Lyrics like from “100 Letters”:
But I don’t let him touch me anymore
I said “I’m not something to butter up
And taste when you get bored
‘Cause I have spent too many nights on dirty bathroom floors
To find some peace and quiet right behind a wooden door”
He said “please don’t go away”
He said “please don’t go away”
I said “it’s too late”
Or “Walls Could Talk” lyrics that read:
Been about three days and I’m comin’ back
I’m about four minutes from a heart attack
And I think you make me a maniac
But you don’t know, oh
Two years and we in between
But we both been here since we seventeen
Here we go, fist fight in a limousine
But they don’t know
The interesting aspect of Hopeless Fountain Youth is that she actually is less specific with her lyrics than she was in her previous album. This makes the overall concept of Romeo and Juliet romance less identifiable, especially paired with immense overproduction. Almost as if the theme and idea of a “concept album” is all talk and not as authentically true or evident in the album. Some of the tracks feed into the theme, while others barely make sense and seem rather cliche and simple, for example “I don’t wanna fight right now, know you always right now. Know I need you ’round with me, but nobody waitin’ ’round with me” (“Now or Never”) or “I miss the mornings with you laying in my bed / I miss the memories replaying in my head” (Strangers). But collaborations with Quavo, Cashmere Cat, and Lauren Jauregui make the album stand out and worth playing. Also props to Halsey for switching gender roles (aka she played Romeo in the “Now or Never” music video) and for being one of the first artists on top radio to make major hits that address her bisexaulity:
She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore
‘Cause it’s more intimate, than she thinks we should get
She doesn’t look me in the eyes anymore
Too scared of what she’ll see, somebody holding me
Overall the album feels like top 40 radio on repeat, rather than a true conceptual album that centers around a particular feeling, mood, or theme in each and every song. The majority of the tracks are catchy, upbeat, and show off her incredible voice, but inevitably they lack the unique, authentic vibe Badlands achieved. Regardless, it’s worth listening too especially for the summer months, but just not worth the “concept album” title she so widely marketed prior to its release.
Stand Out tracks:
1. 100 Letters
3. Bad At Love
4. Walls Could Talk