Melanie Martinez releases new album “k-12”


@littlebodybigheart / Instagram

Britni Dunn

Melanie Martinez returned from a four-year hiatus with a bang: a full-length feature film on YouTube, an album, and a multi-country tour. Martinez, an alumnus of “The Voice,” released her first album “Crybaby” in 2015 accompanied by music videos to each song that follows a singular storyline.

Both of Martinez’s albums are based on the same character, Cry Baby, a metaphorical representation of Melanie as a child. Her first album focuses on Cry Baby’s childhood from her earliest stages and lays out the family dynamics and abusive relationships that prove to be formative.

On Sept. 6, Martinez released “k-12,” a whole new installment in the Cry Baby concept and visual world. The story follows Cry Baby through her school years or what she calls “what will inevitably be the worst years of my life.” She is sent away to an evil sleepaway school in which adults medicate, manipulate, and torture children. The album and movie are metaphorical for broken systems in America and the oppression of women, children, and basically anyone who is not in power.

The YouTube film written, directed, and starring Martinez showcases how she feels about the world through a pastel screen and childhood themes. Throughout the film, multiple political and social statements are made. For example, viewers are introduced to Miss Daphne, a menacing older woman with devil-horned shoulders, snorting cocaine from her massive acrylic nails; one of the many authorities in the movie that should not be in charge of children. The Pledge of Allegiance begins and an African American boy refuses to stand up while Miss Daphne threatens him to stand multiple times. Before two guards come to apprehend the boy, he says, “liberty and justice for all? That’s bullsh*t.”

An even more apparent example is when a teacher at K-12 comes out as a transgender woman, asking the principal to now refer to them as “Miss Harper.” The principal mocks her and simply states “Mr. Harper, you’re fired.” This cuts to the song “The Principal,” an ode to the men who run society while simultaneously ruining it. Melanie strongly sings: “I’ve tried to make you listen / But you won’t, it’s your way, right? / Killing kids all day and night / Prescription pills and online fights / Shooting at the angels while / Claiming you’re the good guy.”

This alludes to mass shootings, social media’s detriment, and the faults of America’s capitalist system. Martinez throws fans even further into the conceptual world she created with her first album. This particular set of lyrics and visuals deals with even more adult concepts than her previous work. “Orange Juice” is a song directly about bulimia—the film showing girls throwing up oranges, while Cry Baby is shown in a breathtaking black and orange wig with a whimsical green dress dancing in a field with an array of other women. In the film, Cry Baby tells a girl with bulimia that their bodies are temporary and that “everyone is deserving of love. Everyone.”

The film costed Martinez’s record label, Atlantic Records, $6 million and a 31 day filming period in Budapest, Hungary. Quite a bit of money, time, and effort were put into this body of work and it is clear through listening to the production value of the album and watching any scene of the film.

The concept of “k-12” gives listeners and viewers some frightening or unsettling images. “Show and Tell” is probably the most disturbing moment of the film—Cry Baby is strung up like a puppet, dancing for her class. The class stares at her with vacant expressions, clapping like maniacs. The students are only comparable to animals as they scream and jump for Cry Baby’s puppeteered performance. Throughout the film, the children vacantly staring and smiling is a common theme due to the “spell” put on them by the school administration.

The album and film have been incredibly well received with over 30 million views on YouTube. Atlantic Records strategically did not put out a single for the album before the full work came out—this way they can view listening trends and find the song that suits the radio best. After four years of little to no music from Martinez, fans eagerly have taken all of “k-12” in. The album has been fully complete for over a year, but not a single snippet was released until this summer. This is most likely due to the fact that in 2017 Martinez was accused of sexual abuse by her friend, Timothy Heller. The news surfaced and deeply damaged Martinez’s image, but as of the new album coming out it seems as if her brand is still as strong as ever. While she did release a short statement at the time, she has not said much during her hiatus, possibly giving people time to deal with the accusations or simply forget.

University sophomore and Arts and Entertainment Management major, Shelby Pickelny, said the break was “a good move for Melanie Martinez for social reasons, she needed to wait for the rape allegations to clear up and be questioned before it was a good idea to put out her new material.”

“K-12” is a creepy, intoxicating, and beautiful portrayal of societal issues without being preachy or overbearing. Through childhood themes and sounds, Martinez is able to build upon the world she has already created in a meaningful way that fans are responding very well to. It is not far from the realm of possibilities that this album could have the young singer’s breakout hit. Although shrouded with controversy and mystery—Martinez is an artist with unique ways of touching her fans’ hearts.