K-12: Show and Tell

Melanie Martinez speaks out against the education system with her new album


Photocredit- https://www.altpress.com

This summer Melanie Martinez released her school-oriented album K-12. This album piggybacks off the ideas brought by her first piece Crybaby, which was released almost four years ago. The album expresses the stress put on impressionable teens and brings awareness towards several social issues.

Bailey Christensen, Assistant Broadcast Editor

Four years after the release of her debut studio album Cry Baby, former Voice contestant Melanie Martinez strikes again with a new album proving her distinct, unique style in the realm of pop music. The album, K-12, brought more of Martinez’s wicked spin on the innocence of a child growing up in this corrupted world.

The alternative pop songstress crafted a colorful world around a character—a version of Martinez reimagined-known as Cry Baby. Differently, to the first album which focuses on the internal struggle of broken family life and broken dreams of romance, K-12 pulls back the curtains to reveal more social issues on the outside of a family home and within the depths of the school experience.

On Sept. 6, the childhood gone wrong themed album was released in the fashion of a feature film. The hour and a half video began as a concept in 2017. After two years of hard work and dedication, it came to life as a visual dream world due to the 24-year-old’s own making. The 13-track album redefines her discography as Martinez wrote, directed and performed within the film presenting a mix of pastel colors, flailing dresses and child-like behavior within every scene. The album picks up from where her debut album Cry Baby left off. The parallels between the two are undeniable as K-12 seems to be a closened version of concepts Cry Baby briefly discussed. Throughout the film, Cry Baby and her fellow classmates encounter gender and racial discrimination, intense levels of bullying, oppression and the facade of social norms. K-12 is a visual metaphor of how impressionable our minds are growing up and that the world we interact with shapes us along the way.

To capture Martinez’s aesthetic of childhood innocence, the sounds of high pitchy toy pianos and xylophones can be heard followed by beats one can hear regularly on the radio. The production choices cause many of the songs to blend together, which can make the tracklist feel repetitive, however, in my opinion, it made the album flow together nicely and merge from one story to the next as we follow Cry Baby through her daily routine.

The school-centric theme opens with “Wheels On The Bus.” The song starts initially with the rhythm of the original nursery rhyme, creating an aspect of childlike innocence. The darkness evolves in the lyrics of the song at it speaks tales of the pervy driver, bullying and drug use within the bus. This song initially blew up finding itself on Tik Tok and other social media platforms for dancing purposes. The song strikes classic Martinez with the gloom and reality that comes with simple aspects of just sitting within a school bus.

Once arriving at school, Martinez begins tackling more common student issues. “Class Fight” begins with a tune similar to the tapping of a pencil. Waves of clapping follow around with the echo of children’s voices. This story, along with “Drama Club” articulate the hate children project on to one another. The line “The teacher broke us up after I broke her / And my one true love called me ‘a monster’” shows the nestled hate and selfishness that consumes school-agers as two of the girls fight over the love of another boy, a common school conundrum. 

K-12 challenges the trust in authority within the education system in “The Principal”. Martinez calls out the school’s institutional failure to protect children from gun violence and destructive dealings established within the school. Lines such as “Killing kids all day and night / Prescription pills and all that fight / Shooting at the angels while claiming you’re the good guy.” show an attack towards the lack of protection of children within the school systems across the nation. Martinez calls out those more so aimed towards the financial benefits than the education of the next generation.

The ideas that drive the creation of each song within this album are compelling, such as “Strawberry Shortcake” which touches on body-positivity issues and dysmorphia amongst adolescent girls due to social normalities. Her breathy voice starts the song in the mindset of a young, insecure, oversexualized girl torn between becoming picture perfect and fitting in and self-preservation. It starts “Feeling unsure of my naked body / Stand back, watch it taking shape / Wondering why I don’t look like Barbie / They say, ‘boys like girls with a tiny waist“. Martinez continues to express how girls are told how to dress in order to not give boys the wrong idea and that the world pressures everyone to look a certain way. The song seems to ring that women have been blamed for being treated this way are due to the way they dress.

In the film, Cry Baby portrays a topless, figure sitting atop a giant strawberry shortcake dress while pointy-toothed boys crawl toward the cake and begin taking pieces off to eat. The point of this scene was to express how the female body has been oversexualized, instead of being viewed as the art it truly is.

One of Martinez’s most captive pieces is “Orange Juice,” which displays her perspective of having an eating disorder. In it, Martinez sings of a bulimic, assuring that despite what the world displays as perfection, “Your body is imperfectly perfect/Everyone wants what the other one’s working.”

The film inserts different sections of conversation that express points that lyrics could not make. The movie includes a misgendered female teacher who is fired for transitioning and not abiding the school’s rules. Black right’s also appear as a black student is aggressively dragged out of his chair and away from the class when he refuses to stand for the national anthem. 

Another issue Martinez highlights is the importance of feminine hygiene products: Angelita, one of Cry Baby’s friends, gets her period and the school provides a lack of resources, leaving Angelita embarrassed and resorting to having to cover herself up.

The next unsettling song “Teacher’s Pet” starts up. Martinez uses a slower, deeper pitch to explain the seduction between a student and faculty member. “If I’m so special why am I a secret / If I pass this quiz will you give me your babies? / Don’t call me crazy / You love me but you won’t come save me” shows the obsessive relationship a minor develops for someone who uses her throughout the song. Effects within the song features a maniacal laugh track that seems to display the abuse of power with the impulsivity found in adolescents.

Similarly, on “Lunchbox Friends” and “High School Sweethearts,” Martinez captures devotion that surrounds young people when they form intimate connections, whether friendship or romantic, without having a grasp on their own worth. She sings “Come to my house / Let’s die together / Friendship that would last forever” and “Don’t waste your time with me / If you’re not down to bleed” showing the depths of feeling people develop with one another, causing a dependency on another person for happiness.

Within songs like “Nurse’s Office” and “Show & Tell,” Martinez displays the love and hate relationship we have with our self-image when she sings “If I cut myself, I would bleed / I’m just like you, you’re like me / Imperfect and human, are we / Show and Tell / I’m on display for all you f***ers to see.” This song serves as the ultimate message for self-empowerment and shows how we are all the same underneath our looks; we are all human. “Nurse’s Office”, Choreographed by Brian Friedman, presents evil nurses who band the students, drugging them which leaping over props such as stretchers. Martinez hyperbolizes her experiences as a celebrity, always in the eye of media, in “Show & Tell” by transforming into a puppet held up by the strings of a teacher, revealing the vulnerability Martinez feels as a replaceable product in modern society.

Martinez brings her passion of slapping the world with her message of social change and justice to the table with these 13 tracks. The execution of the film itself was extremely impressive and greatly captive towards the audience. The songs then increased the intensity, making Melanie Martinez’s second album K-12 a memorable one.