Singer-songwriter Melanie Martinez returns after a four-year hiatus with her new album and accompanying film, “K-12,” which was released on Sept. 6. The album highlights many of the struggles we face during our rudimentary years through a feminist lens. Meanwhile, the hour-and-a-half film offers stunning visuals and choreography.
Released four years after her platinum-certified debut album “Cry Baby,” “K-12” improves upon Martinez’s dark alt-pop music. The album is an improvement, both in terms of sound and production quality. Lyrically, the songs may seem simple but contain a lot of figurative language that lends to Martinez’s many metaphors in her music.
In the album’s fourth track, “Show and Tell,” Martinez uses imagery of her character, Cry Baby, as a puppet to delve into the singer’s problem with being idolized and forced into the spotlight. She sings, “There are strangers takin' pictures of me when I ask ‘No more’ / It's really hard for me to say just how I feel / I'm scared that I'll get thrown away like a banana peel,” to illustrate her fear of being criticized for not feeling comfortable with always being the center of attention.
The fifth track, “Nurse’s Office,” touches upon issues of harassment, beginning with the sounds of coughing and ripping band-aids in the background. In the pre-chorus and chorus, Martinez sings “I'm bleeding, Band-Aids won’t heal it / ’Cause they hate me, so I'm fakin’ / All, all, all this so they take, take me / Take me home,” to show the problem with bullying and how it can cause students to feign illness in order to be sent home. In the film, this track features some of the most impressive choreography with a group of fiery-haired nurses.
Starting with the sounds of a locker room, gym class and zipping of a backpack, the album’s seventh track “Strawberry Shortcake” explores the objectification of women and the ignorant mindset that “boys will be boys.” To emphasize how society often places the blame of women’s objectification on the victim, the chorus goes “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 taught them not to grab,” and in the second verse, “Gotta make sure that my legs are shiny / Hot wax melting, burn my skin / People all around me watching closely / 'Cause it's how I look and not what I think.” In Martinez’s film, the men act and look like beasts when surrounding Cry Baby and, quite literally, eating her cake. There are also some impressive scenes of synchronized swimmers and the set and costume design of this particular song is visually appealing.
One of the most popular songs off the album, the ninth track “Orange Juice,” discusses the topic of eating disorders, specifically bulimia. The imagery of “You turn oranges to orange juice / Enter there, then spit it out of you,” references the act of eating and then purging. Martinez tries to send a positive message through her lyrics with “Your body is imperfectly perfect / Everyone wants what the other one's working,” and “Ooh, I wish I could give you my set of eyes / 'Cause I know your eyes ain't working, mmm / I wish I could tell you that you're fine, so fine / But you will find that disconcerting.” This song has received a lot of praise from fans across social media but has also been met with critique, specifically on Reddit, saying that the song is merely exploitative of people with eating disorders and their struggles.
The film itself has fantastic visuals and a beautiful aesthetic, further proving just how good of an art director Martinez is from her previous music videos. Even though Martinez took it upon herself to direct, edit, write, costume design and star in the film, there are some obvious shortcomings. When examining the film as a whole, it feels like a string of music videos with an incoherent storyline and shoddy acting trying to piece them together. Some songs, lyrically, seemed like they didn’t entirely belong in the context of the film.
Martinez’s film also stretches itself too thin by trying to explore too many themes at once, many of which only appear in a single scene. Right before the second track, “Class Fight,” there is an attempt at political commentary when a black student is dragged away by security for refusing to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and calling it “bulls**t.” This issue isn’t brought up at all for the rest of the film and only serves as a filler scene to make “K-12” seem more socially conscious. Before the third track, “The Principal,” Martinez tries to illustrate the issue of transphobia with a scene depicting a teacher being fired, misgendered and ridiculed for transitioning. Instead of developing upon this issue, the character is neither mentioned before or after this scene which makes viewers wonder why it was included at all.
Despite the four-year wait, Martinez proves to her fans that it was worth it in the end for a stellar album and an artistically impressive film. If you are or were a fan of Martinez’s music, the film is definitely worth watching at least once and the album definitely has some replayability with each song being its own success.
Feature image courtesy of Instagram / @littlebodybigheart
Brandon Barzola is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.