If it's been a minute since you read (or SparkNoted) William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for English class, don't worry: Halsey can help you brush up on it. The doomed romance inspired her new concept album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, the follow-up to 2015's Badlands due out June 2. Halsey's been working on it for more than a year, creating star-crossed characters who emulate her real-life experiences.
"Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is a story of two people who want to be in love so badly, they're willing to change themselves for their love," she recently told iHeartRadio. "They let the real versions of themselves die."
The way she's been promoting the album is equally dramatic, going all out with Shakespeare symbolism and leaving clues for eagle-eyed fans (like me) to find. I did the sleuthing so you don't have to. Here's everything you could ever want to know about Halsey's ongoing connection to Romeo and Juliet.
July 2014: Halsey gets a Romeo and Juliet tattoo
After signing her record deal, Halsey inked "These violent delights have violent ends" — Friar Laurence's Act 2 warning that Romeo and Juliet should take things slow and maybe not get married less than 24 hours after meeting — on her right forearm.
February 2017: Mysterious Twitter accounts start appearing
Four Twitter accounts linked to the new album have popped up: Luna Aureum and Solis Angelus (the presumed protagonists based on Romeo and Juliet) as well as House of Aureum and House of Angelus. There have been references to "Anorev," which spelled backward is Verona, the Italian setting of the play.
The accounts shared links to an exclusive listening party in February, so we can assume they're legit. Halsey's record label later tweeted the respective family crests of the Aureum and Angelus houses (a bumblebee and wings). To make things even more symbolic, Luna means moon and Solis means sun in Latin, making Shakespeare's famous "star-cross'd lovers" phrase literal.
March 2017: Halsey sends Romeo and Juliet quotes to fans
March 2017: Halsey launches a Shakespeare-themed scavenger huntDeepa Lakshmin
On March 7, Halsey tweeted, "When I'm ready for you to have the album cover, I'm gonna make you find it." Three weeks later, she kept her promise with a worldwide scavenger hunt for nine gun-shaped USB drives containing her HFK artwork.
New York's USB was at Central Park's Romeo and Juliet statue, and others were found at The Shakespeare Bridge in Los Angeles and Mexico City's Parroquia del Purísimo Corazón de María, where Baz Luhrmann filmed Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. In cities presumably lacking a public Shakespeare reference, USBs were hidden at local fountains.
April 2017: Halsey's 'Now or Never' music video mirrors the Romeo + Juliet movie
Speaking of Mexico City, the video for lead single "Now or Never" — Halsey's directorial debut with Sing J. Lee — was shot there, too, and draws heavily from the 1996 film. In it, Halsey portrays Luna Aureum (as those Twitter accounts hinted), while model Don Lee plays Solis Angelus. The references to Luhrmann's film are seemingly endless here, including Hawaiian shirts, angel wings, and the fact that both end with gunshots — because swords are so 1597. (You can find a complete list of all the references here.)
Ongoing: Fans speculate about Halsey's real-life Romeo
This rabbit hole goes deep, but basically, fans believe they've found the real Romeo in Halsey's life: Zach Merritt, an ex she's periodically sung about since her first EP.
Merritt reportedly owns the HFK website, and as Billboard pointed out, Halsey wrote "HFK" in his Badlands thank-you note. He's also associated with Instagram accounts containing cryptic references that go beyond any Romeo and Juliet symbolism I can fathom. And he co-authors a bizarre Tumblr about bees (in keeping with the house of Aureum's chosen symbol).
Whoever Romeo is — maybe the character represents multiple guys and girls — the most powerful part of this theme is Halsey's explanation for it.
"I was in a relationship with someone for a really long time, and I broke up with them, and then I sat down to write this album and realized I didn't know anything about myself," she revealed in April. "When I'm alone and I'm not in a relationship, who am I? Who am I without the gaze of another person? When I'm getting dressed in the morning, and they're not sitting at the foot of my bed, what clothes do I pick out? ... Who am I when they're not watching me? When they're not judging me? And that's a lot of what this record is about."