Before she was old enough to vote, Martinez was a contestant on THE VOICE, and placed in the Top 6. Two of the studio versions of her songs cracked the Top 10 on iTunes, due in large part to her ability to modify popular songs into an ambient and somewhat uncomfortable sound. Martinez’s voice has a sense of childlike wonder while simultaneously presenting a sultry and mature tone quality. For those unfamiliar with her work, she created the promotional song “Carousel” for AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW.
Now, at only 21 years old, songstress Melanie Martinez is slowly become the pastel-goth icon that misunderstood girls are hailing as their queen.
Martinez’ solo debut is a concept album called Cry Baby. The tracklist sounds like something out of a nursery book with titles like “Alphabet Boy,” “Milk & Cookies,” “Tag, You’re It,” “Doll House,” “Mrs. Potato Head,” “Sippy Cup,” “Pity Party,” and “Training Wheels.” The album is about a character named Cry Baby (not to be confused with the John Waters film of the same name) an exaggerated and fantastical version of Martinez as a child. Martinez has gone on record saying that Cry Baby is representative of “a child who experiences adult things.”
The songs are catchy, but very uncomfortable. With juxtapositions like in “Sippy Cup,” Martinez hauntingly sings “Blood still stains when the sheets are washed. Sex don’t sleep when the lights are off. Kids are still depressed when you dress them up. And syrup is still syrup in a sippy cup” only to be immediately followed up with the musicality of water splashing around.
It’s pretty inspiring to see such a young artist tackle the difficulty of creating a concept album, but Martinez did so with ease and fits in nicely with other popular artists of her style like Lana Del Rey, Haley, Marina and the Diamonds, and Lorde. Martinez’ music feels like Lesley Gore for the new millennium.
Musicality aside, the videos for Cry Baby look and feel like Tumblr’s version of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK. Just as she juxtaposes her innocent sounding music with very serious lyrics, Martinez’s style combines easter-egg pastel imagery with dark and gothic surrealism. Human dollhouses with crying dolls, the Big Bad Wolf kidnapping a girl from an Ice Cream truck, and children holding knives in their high chairs offer some pretty horrific imagery. In her video for “Milk and Cookies,” Melanie depicts the victim of the Big Bad Wolf escaping and murdering her captor. In “Pacify Her,” Melanie showcases three giant dolls in an oversized playpen, with one of the dolls covered entirely in blue paint.
Perhaps what is most inspiring is that Martinez is responsible for conceptualizing and directing a majority of her videos. We’re at a point where it’s next to impossible to find an artist that hasn’t been told to change everything about their style and aesthetic if they want to be a successful artist. However, based on appearances from her auditions with THE VOICE and her appearances now that she is a successful solo act, Melanie Martinez seems to have never lost touch of what makes her special. Her style is scary and cute, spooky and childlike, traumatic and sweet, and I cannot wait to see whatever strange creations she comes up with next.
*All Photos: Melanie Martinez, Atlantic Records