Deciding what type of artist you want to be is no easy task. While you may think you can just default to, “Oh well, I’ll just be myself.” you still have to determine which version of yourself you want to throw out into the universe. It’s a mixture of anticipating what the audience wants and what you can stand to become over the foreseeable future. Melanie Martinez decided on the persona of Cry Baby, a beautiful hyper-conceptualized version of herself that seamlessly blends together the idea of childhood innocence and adult frustrations. Martinez has been able to execute a very complex and layered story in an edgy, pop manner. Everything about Melanie Martinez is interesting. Her debut album Cry Baby weaves together coyness and sass, alternative and bubblegum, folk and soul. There’s a bluntness about her music that leaves you feeling emotionally exposed. She sings the hard, dark truths of life and doesn’t apologize for it.
“No one will love you if you’re unattractive”
It’s hard to not want to know everything about Martinez. While her music is painfully honest, it still hides behind this character she’s created. Though obviously inspired by her own experiences and traits, Cry Baby is still a work of fiction. After talking with Martinez, there’s one known fact: she knows who she is, what she wants, and what she needs to get there. Damn, I wish I had that when I was twenty.
“I always knew the album was going to be called Cry Baby. I knew what the album art was going to look like,” Martinez explained. “’Dollhouse’ was a turning point for me and I started writing down titles that were childhood themed and related them back to adult situations. It wasn’t until I put the track list in order and saw the themes and how similar the character was to myself. It was like piecing a puzzle together to fully realize the concept I had created.”
And Martinez has developed this world of make-believe so fully that lines between it and reality are blurred beyond recognition. Her reality is Cry Baby, a Lolita type persona that is meticulously crafted to every last detail by Martinez. The creation is so elaborate and actualized, it’s hard to tell if the visuals inspired the music or the vice versa. Highly influenced by Tim Burton and visual artists, Martinez rarely grabs from other musicians saying that her inspiration has always been more visual than oral. That shines through in Cry Baby where she paints the story vividly, adding sound effects that stimulate the listener. The melodies are whimsical and vibrant with dark undertones that perfectly match Martinez’s look of pastel colors, Peter Pan collars…again with dark undertones. She’s a cross between Wednesday Addams and Rainbow Brite, Regina Spektor and Lorde, childhood fantasies and adulthood nightmares.
“Everyone thinks that we’re perfect / Please don’t let them see through the curtains”
Ultimately, Cry Baby and Martinez’s tale is about self-discovery and self-acceptance. Everything you experience in your childhood that seem to define you the most. You start the journey with Cry Baby and as you make your way through the album, you witness the loss of innocence and the formation of a confident woman. The end result is clearly Martinez’s official welcoming into adulthood. A meek, soft-spoken teenager on reality show The Voice three years ago, she has come into her own as an artist with a sharp vision. It was through the making of this album where Martinez began to believe her own hype and go forth with it, holding nothing back. “I realized how important Cry Baby was to me. I eventually want to make all my albums in the world of Cry Baby and continue to tell her story.”
At the end of our conversation, I pointed out to her that her signature two-toned hair seemed to act as a balance between the two versions of herself: Melanie and Cry Baby. “I never thought of it that way,” she laughs. I asked if she ever thinks Cry Baby would fully take over Melanie. She responded with the most logical answer. “I physically can’t. My hair would fall out.”