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"Melanie Martinez"

Oct 25, 2019

A World With Pastel Tones And Sweet Flavors Faces Adolescence.

Written by @FerSP from Fernando Sempere / 14 mins read

They say that the sweet taste is the favorite of many (I include myself), especially the little ones love it. Flavors that make you smile, fix any anger or make the hunger appear out of nowhere. But apparently and to our misfortune, everything that is good in excess can be impaired or even harmful. Is this what happened to Melanie Martinez with the release of her second album, K-12? Let's get in position: this New Yorker appeared on the American program The Voice in 2012, standing out for a peculiar style and presence on stage. With the seventh remaining, few expected that her departure from the program held something much bigger for her. She took a long break to compose and in 2015 she released her outstanding pop debut Cry Baby. During those three years, Martinez did not just focus on creating an album, but a whole universe around it and herself. A children's world of sweets, cakes and candies, all tinged with pastel tones and soft versions of the primaries. Costumes, makeup, visuals, everything accompanied a work fully studied, but that was spontaneous and fresh. The most tender innocence was united with the macabre and sinister to talk about social issues such as bullying, imbalanced families or mental health. The response of the world was lukewarm, but we were facing one of the most powerful growers of this decade. A year after its release, it was gaining popularity, until today becoming one of the albums with more gold and platinum certifications thanks, above all, to streaming. Already here we could see a great sample of the importance that Melanie gives to the visual part of her music. Virtually each song had its own video, some of which were spinning to forge a childish and sinister story for older children. After four years of waiting, and with great curiosity to know how this unusual artist could evolve, Melanie has returned in style. If with Cry Baby she offered a delicious cookie to the world, now she offers a delicious and huge cake. K-12 is presented ambitiously and with that false innocence brand of the house. Apart from the songs that make up the project, we find, nothing more and nothing less, than an hour and a half movie where we are shown a teenage story. Thanks to this, Melanie has been able to share with us her world and unique vision, which is taken care of to the millimeter and full of children and just meanings. A film shot in Budapest, in which the singer has worked for almost four years, putting heart and soul, and taking care of the direction, production, costumes, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, demonstrating that besides being a good singer, she is a privileged mind. Joining her childish world, with an aesthetic of Marie Antoinette of Coppola and the problems of American teenagers, Melanie has created a bomb (of chocolate) that elevates this project to a small and sweet wonder. This is why the album and “video clip” should be holding hands at all times (and this is something worse than good) as the misunderstood friends of the class, never separate. They only have each other.

Goodbye to childhood, hello to adolescence and rebellion.

K-12 is a project where music and theatricality come together in a successful and outgoing way. To the surprise of some, the protagonist is Cry Baby, the character that Melanie Martinez created for her debut album. In this way, we observe a huge plot line between both projects: the life of a girl who is growing and facing new problems. If in Cry Baby, Melanie explored the problems of her childhood, in K-12 this girl has grown up and now faces the problems of adolescence. The chosen scenario is an institute/boarding school, as beautiful on the outside as creepy on the inside, echoing the society in which we live. And the story? It does not go beyond the typical adolescent comedy, about some outcasts of school, only that this comedy is sweetened by Melanie's shattered vision. The weight falls on the artistic and aesthetic richness that each scene possesses. This whole story begins with “Wheels on the bus”, a song in the purest Melanie style that means goodbye to the Cry Baby era and the beginning of her adolescence. A pop theme that has the meody of a popular children's song as a fun nod to the children's stage and that fits perfectly into the world she has created. But far from its childish sound, the meaning of it is much darker, and denounces the attitude of many teenagers and how society obvious these facts. “Cause Maya's letting Dan put his hand up her skirt / And she's got her hand down his pants (…) I know the driver sees it / I know he's peeking in the rearview mirror /He says nothing”, it's just one of the many small injustices that are discussed here. In this way, this song serves as a cover letter and example of what is to come where the duality between childhood and sadism is the order of the day. This, one of the key pieces in the Martinez universe, will be the constant in each song, combining the childish sounds typical of the singer with messages of justice, denunciation or social rebellion. In this way, “Class fight” addresses topics such as patriotism while an interesting distorted voice in the chorus sings the creepy phrase “go for the throat”. This theme evolves in “The Principal”, where Melanie points directly to the director of the institute, clearly referring to Donald Trump (it is well known that the singer is not a follower of his), to which she dedicates, helped again by voices distorted, one and a thousand verses nothing flattering. In the visual, Melanie confronts the director, while dancing at the same time (and for the first time) before a court that judges her. Feeling observed, Melanie goes to one of the highlights of the album “Show & tell”, where she has become a puppet and, in the eyes of her classmates, talks about fame. Using a metaphor seen a thousand times but effective, and that comes as a ring to the finger, Melanie tries to enter our heart by velveting her voice and sounding tender. She tries to tell us that behind all this paraphernalia there is a young woman with feelings: “Why is it so hard to see? / If I cut myself, I would bleed”. While tender, it sounds sensual, also denouncing the superior position of the industry and how it treats its toys.

The balance between musical novelty and lyrical content.

Musically, the songs have no great novelty inside and outside the Melanie Martinez discography. “Wheels on the bus” sounds ingenious for using the basis of a children's song, but it’s no surprise if it comes from an artist with an aesthetic of a five-year-old girl. “Class fight” has a soft beat that approaches hip-hop which we would like to highlight more, as well as the distorted voices that also sound “The Principal”, but have already been used in Cry Baby. On the other hand, although “Show and tell” sounds like Melanie's classic, it unites sweetness with some sensuality, something that we hadn’t seen before. In this project, novelty and evolution are presented in small doses. K-12 has a sound similar to its predecessor, childish pop that moves between electronics, doo-woop, hip-hop or soul in very soft slopes. Luckily, the album can support all its weight in the powerful lyrical content, since each song hides great meanings that, transferred to the film, show a successful and sinister cartoon of our society. Numerous metaphors about the problems a teenager faces bloom here with youthful curiosity. Issues friendship, acceptance, LGBT rights, mental health or bullying add to those already mentioned. Subtlety has no place here and Melanie is judicious and relentless, also mentioning toxic masculinity, anorexia or the evolution of the female body. With “Nurse Office”, Melanie envelops us in a circus and sick environment to talk about mental health and feel different. For its part, in “Drama club”, Melanie reaffirms herself with that uniqueness she owns and claims not to be one more sheep and feel proud of being different. One of the most powerful songs of this project and closer to its debut. Related directly to “The Principal”, Martinez also makes it clear that she does not intend to follow any evil leaders between children's choirs and increscendo melodies. “Strawberry shortcake” is intended to speak, and very rightly, of sexism and how women have always been the shadow of men and who have been blamed for his impulses. “It's ’It's my fault, it's my fault 'cause I put icing on top / Now, the boys want a taste of the strawberry shortcake”, sings. She will look like a child, but Melanie is showing that she knows very well what she is talking about.

In such darkness an end of light.

The next three songs present the high light of K-12. In “Lunchbox friends”, Melanie Martinez deals with falsehood among friends and feeling betrayed, all this through lunch in the school canteen and sitting or not with the popular group. A song that flirts with electronic touches and that gives absolute prominence to those distorted and genderless voices that already appeared at the beginning of the project, giving a vindictive and dark touch to the song that contrasts with its pleasant and fresh rhythm. And here is where we see our protagonist, has been the precursor of artists who create their own worlds and exploit through their music. Some of them, like Billie Eilish (as I said in her narrative) or, to a lesser extent, Halsey. After this, we get to the best song on the album: “Orange juice”. A pop ballad compositionally identical to the previous song (the distorted voices return to the chorus) that deals with the canons of beauty and bulimia. With an ingenious refrain (“You turn oranges to orange juice / Enter there, then spit it out of you”), Melanie aims to fight the body-shaming with a nice message that says at the end of this song: “Want to know something I learned about our bodies? They’re temporary and don’t matter”. It should be noted at this point the repeated use of sounds and onomatopoeia in all songs, which helps the listener to face the different situations that the singer describes. The high part of the album ends with “Detention”, where the synthesizers reign while the song takes on a more soulful atmosphere, always within the children's environment. We are entering a darker phase of the project, and Melanie talks about being a role model for many and feeling that she cannot make any mistakes. This darkness culminates in “Teacher’s pet”, where Melanie becomes sinister and creepy in a well-achieved song. This dark aura is related to the issue to be addressed: the abuse of power and sexual abuse. A sensitive issue, where Melanie treats those who abuse others as evil tales. The atmosphere calms down, giving way to the ballad of the album: “High school sweethearts”. A song about, obvs, high school sweethearts; with heavy weight in K-12, as it serves to sweeten our ears among so much social denunciation. Relaxed and simple, it offers a kind of climax that will prepare you for the final moment. And is that in “Recess”, all the darkness and injustices turn pastel pink and fill with sugar to finish this project in a positive and relaxed way. Melanie tells us that, despite all the issues discussed throughout this project, you can still meet good people.

Two parts that do not work without the other.

There is a lot of cake to cut here. Melanie Martinez has returned with a project of the most ambitious and well achieved that manages to get closer to the inner world of the artist and her peculiar vision. Film and album are supported side by side and complement each other, getting a good gear that supplies the shortcomings of each. The mega video has been presented as a huge cake, cared for and pampered to the millimeter. With huge ornaments and stylistic details and genuine special effects, music being the icing on the cake. Oh, wait ... here lies the problem: the album is intended as the BSO of the movie, and this makes part of the musical work lose meaning without the movie. Let's not forget: the video helps and supports the song, but it must stand alone. K-12 songs can be saved individually, but the plot thread as a whole gets lost in some section of the album when we separate both parts. And if we focus only on the album the problems appear: Melanie has continued with her peculiar and childish sound, which is her personal signature. OK, but far from offering evolution, she gives us the same cake, but with a different shape. This project sounds like Cry Baby, and it seems that we are listening to a second part of it without almost five years between them. Once lost the surprise effect of her debut, K-12 leaves wanting to see new horizons in the Martinez world. If this were her first album, I'm sure it would surprise us, but it's not like that. The singer continues with her contemporary pop, and her innate ability to give personality to what she sings, using thousands of resources such as onomatopoeia, noise, distorted voices, etc. And yet K-12 does not reach the level of its predecessor. There are no such unexpected turns, rhythm changes or active or passive aggressiveness. We did not find a powerful “Cry baby”, or a very tender “Training wheels” here, if not, little brothers of these (“Drama club” and “High school sweethearts”) instead of older brothers. Even so, we find small brushstrokes of novelty that give a small hope: to the pop rhythms are added hip-hop, doo-woop and soul, giving greater importance to electronic sounds, always enhancing the duality between light and darkness, sadness and happiness or the spooky and the childish. However, it should be noted that Melanie's style is so marked, and her fans so devoted, that a cake with a different mold is still just as sweet. And this is added to the fact that the singer seems to have decided to focus on another point: the meaning is where the full weight of this project lies. Analyzing lyrics and visuals, something that can be seen with the naked eye, either with the use of ingenious metaphors or with the most typical clichés, Martinez becomes a kind of justice ready to denounce all the issues that affect society. The girl has grown up and, as a teenager, faces new problems, but is now ready to fight them. It is here that the American takes her most sadistic and sinister (and also imaginative) side to denounce in a very successful way issues that concern anyone today, even positioning themselves without any fear. Demonstrating an amazing ingenuity (the metaphors used in “Orange juice” are simply brilliant) she is able to hit the table and show that far from her image of an innocent and helpless girl, Melanie has a lot of head, reason and heart. Melanie returns in a powerful way but not 100% as we would have liked, but she makes something very clear: her world does not only stick to a musical style, but it extends to a personal universe with a thousand recesses that she is able to control and that It is yet to explode for us. She owns her character and aesthetic, and reigns without this universe without anyone looking at her from above. Despite her age she has everything spinning and leaves nothing to chance. We will see what happens when, in her next album (which is already on the way), the teenage Cry Baby finally becomes an adult.