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A Look Inside Melanie Martinez’s Beautifully Twisted World
Melanie Martinez is like a pop star plucked from the imagination of Dr. Seuss: The 21-year-old singer-songwriter wears oversize hair bows and a bright-colored lip, and she sometimes paints graphic teardrops on her cheeks. But there’s a complexity behind her baby doll aesthetic. Her music tells tales of drug abuse, depression, and family dysfunction through the optics of a wide-eyed teenage girl. Martinez’s debut 2015 album,
(which is also the name of the singer’s alter ego), details the existential crises that one faces at the brink of adulthood. The lyrics are a twisted blend of childhood naïveté, teenage angst, and adult apathy, all of which are sung over creepy synths and hard-hitting hip-hop beats.
It didn’t take long for Martinez to develop her fiercely loyal fan base, which is now millions deep. Her first and only album has been certified gold, and she has plans for a second tour in the fall. All in all, she’s come a long way since she stepped into Atlantic Records’s office wearing a necklace made of doll parts and hair dyed two different colors—an aesthetic she picked up from Cruella de Vil. We spoke to pop’s greatest anomaly a day before she played Lollapalooza about fantasy versus reality and what we can expect from her sophomore album.
I had the pleasure of catching your set at Panorama. Did you get to see anyone else play?
I didn’t really get to see anyone play at Panorama. I have really bad anxiety after I play and before I play. I just need to chill out and smoke some weed, or watch some cartoons. I’m not really much of a socialite when it comes to hanging out at festivals and stuff like that. But hopefully I’ll get to see a couple people play tomorrow [at Lollapalooza]. Kehlani is a good friend of mine. She’s playing tomorrow as well, I think at the same time as me on another stage, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to catch her set, which I’m really bummed about, because she’s incredible.
A lot of artists feel nervous before a performance, but you said you feel anxious after as well. Why is that?
I don’t know. I have anxiety all the time—like right now, during interviews. I just need to chill more often, I guess. After Panorama, it was just really hot that day, so I was focused on getting into air-conditioning, really [
You created a character for the first album named Cry Baby. How closely does this character resemble your reality?
Well, I knew for a while that I wanted to name my first album
. I didn’t really know why. At first I was just really into the name, and then I started thinking about it more and realized that I was called a crybaby and made fun of a lot when I was younger for being overly sensitive and emotional. Growing up, I feel like a lot of people are taught that being emotional is a weakness, and I really wanted to overcome my insecurities with feeling out of control with my emotions. I wanted to write a song that would help me deal with that, and “Cry Baby” was that song. I felt like that was me. It was just a self-description of how I’ve always felt my entire life.
Since the character is representative of you and your emotions, are the songs all based on your life as well?
I continued to write songs within the children’s theme, but also always making sure there was some sort of adult content behind everything, or an adult story or situation. There are some songs, like “Dollhouse,” “Tag, You’re It,” and “Milk and Cookies”—those songs I don’t personally connect with the actual subject. I have a great family life and my parents are super-supportive of everything that I want to do, and I’m grateful for that. But I had a lot of friends who had issues with their families, so I’ve always loved writing songs about things that a lot of people don’t usually write about because it’s an uncomfortable subject or just depressing or whatever. To me, I think it’s really important that everyone has music that they can connect to and music that will help them. Because music is therapy for me, and I always want my music to be that for other people as well.
“Mrs. Potato Head,” because that song is just about feeling the need to change how you look to fit a certain standard, but the idea came from the visual of a Mrs. Potato Head and how you can pull apart the pieces and change her face, and how that couples with plastic surgery. When I wrote that song, I was going through a lot of personal insecurities about how I looked, and it was a reminder that I’m beautiful the way that I am, naturally, even when I don’t feel like it. I wanted that to be the message for other women, as well, who are struggling with the same thing . . . there are still people in the world who need songs to connect to and help them with their everyday battles.
It definitely doesn’t go unnoticed. You have such an incredibly fervent fan base. Who do you think is connecting with your music?
I definitely have a good idea of who the people listening to my music are because I meet a lot of them on tour, and I’ve met people who have told me that they’ve been struggling with either depression or attempted suicide. You know, it gets really overwhelming and it’s definitely really emotional meeting people all over who are being helped by the music. They really are connecting to it in a deeper way that’s really . . . I mean, it makes me super-emotional because I know how it feels to . . . I just know a lot of the feelings that they have, so it gets me overwhelmed meeting them and sharing those kinds of feelings. It can be emotionally draining a lot of the times.
What does your average fan look like?
There are so many 13- to 18-year-old girls, but there are also a lot of older people who come with their children who also relate to the music but in a way that’s not . . . I don’t know how to explain it. There will be 8-year-olds who come to the show, and I feel like they’re super into it because of the aesthetic and the colors, or the story and the visuals, and their parents are there, and their parents might understand more of the lyrics than the kids do. So the parents can understand the more adult content behind it. That’s what they’re also interested as well.
Looking ahead, do you think you’ll always sing as the character Cry Baby?
Cry Baby is just so close to my heart in a way that I feel so connected to the character, or like I am the character. I really want to make sure that all of my albums connect and tell a bigger story in the end. I want this to just be the beginning of Cry Baby’s story. For the next album, I can’t say what it’s called, but it’s basically done as far as the songs go. I’ve written them, but it still has to be finished being produced. The second album is about the town that Cry Baby lives in. It’s about her experience in this place from beginning to end, and it’s also introducing other characters in that place. So I can’t say what the place is, but that place is the name of the album.
You have such a profound creative vision for your work, and you’re very hands-on with every aspect. Did you ever get any pushback on this vision?
There were obviously a couple of battles in the beginning just because as a new artist on any label, it’s going to be hard, whether you have a vision or not. It’s really hard to get people to understand things so they can see that there’s truth; that people actually care about the music and the art and the story. It just took a little bit for them to realize that I’m not the type of artist who can settle for just two music videos per album. I wanted to do a music video for every song on the album and tell the story on every song of the album, just like I do in the packaging and the visuals online. I’m just very particular about that kind of thing, so I think that they were just super-supportive from the beginning because they believed in it, and I’m really grateful for that.
Can you speak a bit more about your creativity as a child?
I was really in touch with my emotions as a kid, so I loved writing poetry just to help me get out my feelings. It was really important growing up for me to do that, and my parents were just super-encouraging. And then growing up, over time, I got really into photography, and I think that’s what sparked having a need for visuals to accompany music. I think that came from being a photographer and thinking about fun ways to shoot my friends and have them wear really cute, frilly, silly outfits. I don’t know. It was fun. My parents would let me make a mess around the house just so I could create. They wouldn’t care if I ruined something if I got a good painting out of it. They were just really supportive of anything creative. I’m really grateful, because I know that a lot of people don’t have that.
Do you play around with photography outside of this project, or is everything just focused on promoting
Right now everything’s super-focused on the character and the story. I’m going to have so much work to do. I have three more music videos to shoot [for the current album]. I just shot a double music video for “Tag, You’re It” and “Milk and Cookies,” and I just finished editing it. It has to go through color correct and all this stuff. It might take a couple of weeks, but once I’m done putting that one out, I’m going to have those next three. I’m planning on making a music video for every song on the next record, too, so that’s going to take forever.
Looking back at your work, what makes you feel the most proud?
I feel like this is such a good question for any human who is working in any field, really. It’s so interesting, because I don’t think that anyone ever thinks about things like this, but I feel like it’s just the journey alone. Every bit of it is worth it, because I get to express myself through art and music, which is crazy. That’s my job, to express myself through art and music. I’m so lucky that I get to do this. And I’m aware that I’m very lucky to be able to do this. So every day, even if I have shitty moments and feel like I’m putting all of this work into nothing, I know in the end it’s always worth it because I get to do something that makes me genuinely so happy. When I finished the
album, I just felt so good, because it took two years of writing and thinking about the music videos and how I feel after every single music video. It doesn’t matter if people like it or if they hate it. I got to express myself.
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