Coming off the release of her 2015 debut studio album titled “Cry Baby,” art-pop singer-songwriter Melanie Martinez proved to be a distinct, new voice in the realm of pop music. The album, along with her overall aesthetic, was head-turning, to say the least. “Cry Baby” showcased themes of baby-like innocence with a hit of twistedness and disturbing wickedness. While this concept wasn’t for everyone, it surely garnered Martinez a dedicated fanbase.
However, one can’t bring up Martinez and her career without acknowledging the sexual assault allegations levied against her in late 2017 by a former friend of hers. This controversy thrust Martinez into the forefront of music news due to her response to the situation, namely her response track titled “Piggyback” where she seemingly addresses the allegations. Whether or not Martinez is guilty of these crimes, one can’t analyze her career without reflecting on this controversy.
On Friday fans were treated to Martinez’s second studio album, titled “K-12.” As the name implies, this project follows the themes of a childhood gone wrong established on “Cry Baby,” but places them in a twisted schoolhouse setting. While this concept does sound interesting and has compelling themes, when put under a closer lens, the execution and delivery of the whole project falls flat on its face.
It’s important to establish upfront that Martinez is far from an outstanding singer. She simply lacks range and a voice that commands attention. At no part in this album does the listener feel a sense of urgency or true passion from her singing. With this being her second album and it being seeped in a seemingly profound story, it’s odd to hear Martinez phone it in performance-wise. Songs such as “Show and Tell” show glimmers of vocal talent, but it doesn’t justify the other bland performances on the album.
When listening to the production — which may be the only decent element of this album’s tone — the sounds of plucky childlike pianos and xylophones can be heard in between somewhat gutless synthesized pop beats one would normally hear on the radio. Martinez’s aesthetic is what got her to where she is today, so for her to not use sounds of a schoolhouse to craft a unique lane for herself is strange. Her production choices also cause many of the songs to blend together, which can make the tracklist feel repetitive.
The sum of all issues stated previously comes in the form of the worst song on the project: “Nurse’s Office.” Not only does the production sound messy in general, but the choice to sample the coughing and sniffling of sick people makes one wonder how this is meant to be pleasing to the ear. Along with this, her line, “Give me your pink slip of permission,” just comes off as laughably clumsy rather than a line that builds on the record’s themes as a whole.
Martinez seems to completely discard lyrical quality on the next song on the tracklist, “Drama Club.” The repetitive chorus of “Never signed up for your drama club” drones on and on to the point where the theme of the song loses its impact. If Martinez was attempting to mimic a baby-like hissyfit with this track, she did it in the most uninteresting way possible.
The main issue with “K-12” comes down to Martinez’s talent levels and ability to craft a song on a technical level. On paper, her aesthetic and the ideas explored on this album can be genuinely compelling, such as “Strawberry Shortcake” touching on body-positivity issues and body dysmorphia amongst adolescent girls. However, Martinez lacks the ability to deliver these concepts in a likable way. Unfortunately, this album most likely would’ve been better if another artist handled it.
Contact Julian Denizard at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.