When I think of controversy in music these days, I immediately think of Billie Eilish. Her album was unique and her videos are provocative. Even the way she dresses has made headlines. But before Billie released When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, there was Melanie Martinez. She started as a contestant on season 3 of The Voice, auditioning with Britney’s “Toxic”. She didn’t win, but that appearance catalyzed a career that made it possible for artists like Billie to push the boundaries they do.
Melanie released her first album, Cry Baby, in 2015, then went on to direct and star in music videos for all 13 tracks. The album covers issues like abuse, alcoholism and kidnapping. You name it, Melanie has written about it. The album tells the story of a girl named Cry Baby and her childhood. It took me some time to get into her style – the original horror-trope filled pop, disguised in the color pink and cupcake frosting – but eventually, at the prompting of a friend, I bought the album. Melanie was accused of sexual assault in 2017, although not criminally charged. She was very quiet while all of this happening, leaving social media, as well as leaving fans wondering whether she would ever release more music.
This past May, she became active on social media again and announced that she was releasing an album/film combo called K-12. It would continue the story of her alter ego Cry Baby to a boarding school with ulterior motives. It was released to YouTube on September 6th.
The album opens with “Wheels On the Bus”. She talks about how adults don’t tend to take adolescents seriously and about some of the activities teens partake in, casual sex and drugs being her choice examples. This album is much more mature than her last album from a lyrical standpoint. She seems to have taken into account the sensitive nature of her lyrics and toned it down. She hits on a lot of heavy subjects, but none as violent as tracks from her last album like “Sippy Cup” or “Tag, You’re It”.
“Class Fight” is about bullying, but in the film, there’s a moment that starts to show the project’s true intent. The class is told to stand for the pledge and a young African-American boy refuses. He says, “You hear that? Liberty and justice for all? That’s BS.” His dissenting voice is quickly silenced by school authorities, and it’s a nod to civil rights and another stab at the idea that children aren’t as wise as the authority around them.
The girl, Kelly, mentioned in “Class Fight” is another antagonist in the film that serves to further the tracks about body image, “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Orange Juice”. The latter is a very poignant track about eating disorders. “Show and Tell” is about Melanie’s experience with fame, and the idea that she’s a person, not a puppet.
Each track is obviously pivotal to the film, but as an album, the project feels long. She sings about so many things that it can feel bombarding, and after a while (before watching the film), I didn’t really know which details to focus on. I’d much rather sit and watch the hour and a half long film. The album alone kind of feels like listening to The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack without ever seeing the Broadway play. The film is free to stream on YouTube, and with its beautiful cinematography and choreography, it’s well worth the timestamp, and ends on quite the cliffhanger. As for future plans, Melanie stated in an interview that she’s planning on producing two more films.
by Nadia Paiva
Nadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.