Melanie Martinez is perhaps one of the most unique artists of the decade. Debuting on the stage of “The Voice” in 2012 with a smooth and bluesy rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Martinez won over many hearts with her voice and original style. In May of 2014, she released her first EP, “Dollhouse,” which focused on topics like family and romantic hardships. Then, in August of 2015, she released “Cry Baby,” from which developed the character of Cry Baby, Martinez’s alter ego.
After the release of “Cry Baby,” Martinez fell under the radar and was accused of sexual misconduct in 2017 as Timothy Heller, a close friend of Martinez, claimed she had raped her. Martinez denied the accusations, saying that Heller had voiced her consent, yet some fans and critics did not know what to believe. While I do not condone Martinez’s actions, I feel her work stands alone.
On Sept. 6, Martinez released her sophomore album “K-12” and a film of the same title to go along with it. Both the film and album explore Cry Baby’s experience from kindergarten to 12th grade at K-12 Sleepaway School, and according to Martinez, is meant to showcase Cry Baby’s perspective and “[learn] about the place that she’s in” with titles like “The Principle,” “Nurse’s Office,” “Drama Club,” “Detention,” “Teacher’s Pet” and “High School Sweethearts.”
The first track on the album is “Wheels on the Bus,” which starts off with an instrumental version of the children’s nursery rhyme of the same title and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The song’s original innocence is contrasted by Martinez’s explicit lyrics. “There will be a lot of recurring themes that contrast between light and dark or just duality in general,” said Martinez in an interview with the Alternative Press. Listeners will see and hear this in every single song.
My two personal favorites on the album are “Show & Tell” and “Recess.” The lyrics of “Show & Tell” convey the feeling of being trapped in an endless cycle. There’s a repetitive, eerily pleasant cranking sound in the background, and lyrics like “You pull me by my hair so I don’t go nowhere/Tell me you love me, but you treat me like I’m never there,” imply a song about a romantic interest. Listening closer, they are actually about the struggles of stardom and constantly being in the public eye, better understood through the lyrics “There are strangers takin’ pictures of me when I ask ‘No more’” and “Buy and sell/Like I’m a product to society.”
“Recess” is the last track on the album and reminds listeners of the importance of maintaining their own mental health. As the title implies, the message behind the song is about knowing it’s okay to take a break from individuals whose energies negatively drain you and can be heard in lyrics like “Don’t let them hurt you, baby/Just say, ‘Recess, I’m tired.’”
Martinez’s music may not suit everyone’s taste, but “K-12” is worth checking out, and you can even listen to the whole album just by watching the film.
Photo: M. Hsu