Sigh, Halsey. We never quite bought the sudden importance she’s been given in the pop scene, delivering a dud of a debut album and feeling like an act people were told to like rather than actually enjoy. Add to that a reputation that goes before her and an attitude that stinks more than a leaking bin-bag and, well, you’ve basically got the US equivalent of Jessie J.
It’d be marginally more tolerable if Halsey didn’t give herself so much damn importance. She starts off Hopeless Fountain Kingdom with The Prologue, a spoken-word tale of worthiness and how much of an artist she is by creating this world. But in fairness – and unlike her debut album – she actually manages to inhabit it well at first, delivering an initial run of songs that seem a little more befitting of her status.
So there’s the interesting tabla-driven 100 Letters, and the dark atmospherica of Eyes Closed. The latter may be a Weeknd co-write (and essentially one of his songs delivered by someone else) but Halsey certainly does make a strong case for the pop throne in her opening gambit. There’s confidence in the vocals, the songs sound fresh, and there’s a an aggressive charisma that certainly could translate to some proper radio play here.
But of course, with a mainstream pop album this length there’s always going to be some flab, though in this case it’s about 80% body fat. Now Or Never feels like a total retread of Rihanna‘s Needed Me, and not even the trusty production of Kurstin, Blanco, Cashmere Cat, & Lido can stop the wheels coming off in the middle. The problem is – in sharp contrast to the first third – is that anyone could be singing these songs, and Halsey tries on too many different suits (e.g. trap queen on Lie with everyone’s favourite homophobe Quavo) and not one fits her overly well.
It takes a duet with Fifth Harmony‘s Lauren Jauregui to give a last boost of life to an album that drags and tires on account of its own indulgence. Halsey largely squanders the platform she’s been given, trotting out songs that are largely so forgettable you’ll struggle to place them after the record is over. We’re not totally writing her off yet but unless Halsey can get her act together and not take her audience for granted, this Hopeless Fountain Kingdom of pop is the no man’s land in which she’ll remain.