Melanie Martinez cloaks dark realities with bubblegum gloss
On Sept. 6, after a four year hiatus, Melanie Martinez released her sophomore album titled K-12 with an accompanied film of the same name. Expanding the world of Martinez’s persona, Crybaby, the album expands the world of Crybaby’s life from her domestic environment seen in Crybaby to her experiences in school.
The album upholds Martinez’s signature style of playful tracks such as “Wheels on the Bus” and “Show and Tell” that work as a bubblegum gloss to disguise the dark and stark realities of societal issues from the commercialization and pervasiveness of the music industry to problems with eating disorders like bulimia. Martinez remains in her comfort zone in terms of style with K-12 as each track displays her mastery in juxtaposing the childlike innocence of xylophone beats with lyrics that can be expressed as none other than adult nightmares.
For example, in the track titled “Strawberry Shortcake,” Martinez details being objectified as a woman and being blamed for the actions of men as she coos, “It’s my fault, it’s my fault ‘cause I put icing on top / Now, the boys want a taste of the strawberry shortcake / That’s my bad, that’s my bad, no one told them not to grab.”
Written, directed, and starring Martinez herself, the film provides celestial and witchy visuals to go along with the album, complete with Victorian-style costuming and cinematography, synchronized swimmers, and pink flourishing to add to Martinez’s pastel goth aesthetic.
Clocking in at about an hour and a half, K-12 (the film), follows Crybaby (Martinez) and her bewitching sidekick Angelita (Elita Harkov) on a mission to take down the suppressive Sleepaway schooling system of K-12. As the film progresses, audiences learn that Crybaby and Angelita are part of a divine prophecy as they encounter and befriend magical beings such as themselves under the guidance of the angelic spirit guide Lilith (Kimesha Campbell).
The school, however alluring it is, proves to be a grandiose façade harboring dark secrets such as forcible mind control and conditioning as well as teacher-student relationships. With disturbing scenes that include the Principal (Toby Edington) being torn limb by limb by a group of barbaric school children or Crybaby removing her eyes to give to another student, Martinez doesn’t leave out the gritty and supernatural details. However, Martinez taps into the core of present issues circulating in today’s society by tackling the rhetoric surrounding transitioning amongst the transgender community and the protest of systematic racism and what it means to stand for the national anthem.
Approaching the final 30 minutes of the film, audiences conclude with the remnants of the final track of the album titled “Recess” with the angelic hymns of Martinez’s voice accompanied by the soft flow of a harp as she sings, “People gonna say / If you need a break, someone’ll take your place / People gonna try / To tell you that you’re fine with dollars in their eyes.” At the same time, the final scene in the film shows Crybaby and her celestial friends leaving Earth after finishing their quest. Angelita asks if Crybaby is coming back with them to which Crybaby looks back, hesitant, hinting at a sequel to the film.
K-12, both the album and the film, is a beautiful and twisted curation that alludes to Martinez’s prowess in honing her craft in the world of alternative pop. While Martinez doesn’t stray much from her style and technique sonically, K-12 (the film) has established Martinez’s mark as a true creator.