Review | Melanie Martinez’s “K-12” brings advocacy to foreground

Melanie Martinez was first introduced to the spotlight on the third season of “The Voice” in 2015. She’s since released two albums and is scheduled to begin her second tour on Oct. 13.

The alt-pop singer-songwriter has returned after a four-year hiatus to deliver a 13-track album that redefines her discography. Not only did Melanie Martinez compose a new album, but she wrote, directed and performed in an accompanying feature-length film. Embroidered in pastel colors and the childish flair Martinez has associated with her name, the hour-and-a-half long film was made available for viewing in select theaters across the U.S. – and 31 other countries – on Sept. 5, the day before her album was released worldwide.

It also premiered on YouTube on Sept. 6 at midnight EST and now has over 12 million views. The 24-year-old singer took center-stage as her alter-ego, Cry Baby, as she discovered what hidden problems lurk within America’s educational system. Her album, consequently named “K-12,” dives into the toxicity behind what these years of development can impose on the children. She brings dialogue to the hot seat by enchanting the listener with metaphors about how women are objectified as sexual objects, ultimately being blamed for the actions of men in songs like “Strawberry Shortcake.”

Martinez herself is no stranger to being under scrutiny when it comes to sexual misconduct. Timothy Heller, Martinez’s former friend, took to twitter Dec. 4, 2017 and accused the singer of rape. She was soon hit with a wave of criticism as the Me Too movement gained momentum. Almost three weeks later, Martinez released a SoundCloud single titled “Piggyback” – a song about friends using others for attention and fame – which fans speculated was in response to the allegations.

Other songs from her new album lift the veil on issues like bulimia in “Orange Juice” and being forced to memorize lines, stick to a script and fit into society’s gender roles in “Drama Club.” In the film, Martinez hyperbolizes her personal expectations as a celebrity in “Show & Tell” by transforming into a doll that’s puppeteered by a teacher, as she reveals she can feel like a replaceable “product to society.”

The movie also includes a misgendered female teacher who is fired for transitioning and a black student who is aggressively dragged from class when he refuses to stand for the national anthem.

Some people have asked me if I think Martinez intentionally taps into marginalized communities to gain attention, because they assume she wouldn’t have a fan base otherwise. But to that I say: let me know when you find someone else who can craft an argument in such an effortless fashion – one that bleeds with passion and authenticity.

I had so much confidence in her artistic capabilities that I purchased my concert tickets to her upcoming Nov. 9 Los Angeles show well before I even heard a snippet of her new music. After listening to this album, I’m so glad I had zero hesitation in doing so.

But one thing I wish Martinez had included in this album was the underlying anger and delicate cries of oppression that can be found in her first album, “Cry Baby.” With the use of synthesizers, xylophones and accordions, I was entranced by her haunting melodies that exposed how people put on a clean-cut dollhouse appearance, or how women are influenced to believe that “if you aren’t born with it, you can buy a couple ornaments” – alluding to plastic surgery as a solution to feeling unattractive.

One thing’s for sure: Melanie Martinez is not one to shy away from controversial issues. In fact, it’s what she thrives to uncover through her storytelling. I’ve been a quiet supporter of hers for years, but with an unwarranted fear that appreciating her style of music would outcast me from the in-group. But I’m proud of the topics she brings to the table and what she represents as an artist. As I’m sure she would tell me, what’s the fun in conforming to the in-group anyways?