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Melanie Martinez has intrigued most since she first burst onto the scene with her EP Dollhouse back in 2014. With her latest offering, her sophomore album K-12, she once again got me incredibly intrigued and convinced me to not only revisit her previous work, but to also reexamine my understanding of her work and the much deeper messages she is trying to convey.
On her 2015 debut album Cry Baby, we were introduced to Martinez’s alter ego and album namesake “Cry Baby,” a phantasm of a child like Martinez whose vulnerability lies in a disheveled and somewhat confused side of the singer. Fast forward four years later and on the K-12, we are introduced to a more adolescent version of Cry Baby, a character still firmly encased in childlike vocals and visuals, yet with messages completely adult.
K -12 is not for those that are one-dimensional or easily offended and this is never more prevalent than in the full length musical film that was released by YouTube to accompany the album’s release. The film ties in with Martinez’s penchant for pastels and childlike images, a stark contrast to the dark nature of what lies within the music. This can admittedly pose a challenge for the listener given that school shootings, sexualization of teens, bullying and domestic abuse are just some of the topics Martinez bravely conquers.
Listening to the album first was a mistake. In all of its beautifully dark contradictions, the film gives the viewer an almost Tim Burton-like vibe and takes you on a journey that not only encapsulates the viewer, but provides a deeper visual explanation for those that may be lost. Returning to the audio album, songs like “High School Sweethearts” and “Lunchbox Friend” take on newer, more profound meaning. Martinez is authenticity personified and wants us all to be the same.
Each of K-12’s thirteen songs ties in with the next and although the visual album concept started with Queen Bey back in 2013, Martinez has managed to expand on this concept giving the listener an alternate vision, hers to be precise. “Strawberry Shortcake” is a prime example of where the visual is not only an incredibly beautiful addition to a delicious song, but essential in order for the listener to fully understand the body positivity message Martinez wants to get across.
Martinez has managed to address the complexities of being a young person in this world on K-12 in a way that is both confrontational and unconventional. The messages are varied and sometimes heavy, but that’s life. Melanie Martinez has been criticized for her childlike visuals, but I am guessing that it’s these very people that refuse to acknowledge what Martinez is trying to achieve here: conversation. Complicated conversations at that.
Melanie Martinez is an incredibly talented young woman and someone that has a vision and depth well beyond her years. K-12 (both the album and film) demonstrates this talent in bucket loads and whilst it is a continuation of Cry Baby, K-12 not only expands on the character and her growth, but the album most definitely stands on its own two feet as one of 2019’s standouts.
Notable Tracks: "Detention" | “High School Sweethearts” | "Lunchbox Friend" | “Strawberry Shortcake”