Four years ago, rebellious young teens listened to singer Melanie Martinez’s debut album, “Crybaby,” on repeat, catapulting her into stardom. Her moment of fame included creepy music videos, multiple tours and iconic fashion paired with her music.
This fall, Martinez finally released her new album, “K-12,” along with a 90-minute movie music video. Although Martinez lost her cult-like following a couple years after her moment of fame, this new album was an opportunity to gain her fans back.
Unfortunately, “K-12” has not had the same impact as “Crybaby.” Firstly, rape allegations against Martinez destroyed her following of casual listeners. Secondly, the lack of proper advertising has buried this album since its conception. Few who religiously listened to her in middle school even knows this album exists.
However, it is worth it to take a look at the movie and listen to the album. Some aspects of the movie and album are strange and unlike Martinez – such as political references to gender, race and reproductive rights – but the focus on childhood has stayed the same throughout both albums.
The new album itself has a completely different and more mainstream style than “Crybaby.” Although pop has changed in the past few years, Martinez chose to adhere closely to the boring and common beats that you would find on today’s Spotify Top 50 list.
The lyrics and tweenage school concept behind the songs bring the beat to life, but the new sound is definitely disappointing, especially because Martinez pioneered a new direction in dark and twisted pop music in 2015.
The album starts with “Wheels on the Bus,” which is probably one of the worst songs on the album in terms of excitement and quirkiness. Most of the following songs have a similarly uninteresting sound but are accompanied by cool dance scenes in the movie. There is not a set storyline or plot in the movie, but Martinez has superpowers during her experience of going to school.
As she goes throughout her day in the US education system, Martinez uses her powers, seemingly telekinesis, to harm and save specific people that are symbolized in her album. Songs like “The Principal” and “Nurse’s Office” pair concrete people and places with epic dance routines and costumes.
The movie is well-produced and matches most of the songs. Unfortunately, the songs are underwhelming and don’t offer much for the movie. “Lunchbox Friends” and “Orange Juice” are horribly-made songs with throaty voices altering in the chorus, but the movie’s scenes for those songs make the pain worth it.
The best scene in the entire film is the one for “Teacher’s Pet,” where one of the side characters almost gets dissected by an attractive science teacher. It is impossible to look away because of the naughty and horrific implications – and that is the pizzazz of Martinez’s older work.
“Crybaby” twists and rips apart the most innocent and pure stage of humankind – infancy – with an artful and disturbing tone, while “K-12” resembles only a criticism of the US education system. Although the social commentary on “K-12” delves into the nuances of systemic oppression in this country, the album lacks the same intense despondency and emotional purging of “Crybaby.” Simply put, “K-12” is merely political while “Crybaby” enters a different world that explores depression.
The opposite stylistic choices would have been better contrasted if Martinez hadn’t made the general concepts so similar. The title “K-12” and its track names are on par with “Crybaby,” so fans expected the second album to be a continuation or next stage of the first album. However, the limbo of the albums being too similar and too different makes the pairing awkward and disappointing.
Although the project works well on its own, the new album cannot compare to Martinez’s first. The movie and album shift her work to the mainstream and will likely not bring back the old stardom that Martinez enjoyed in 2015. Hopefully, Martinez doesn’t go overboard and continue the saga with an album about college.