Melanie Martinez’s new album K-12 lacks originality despite tie-in film

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Sven Larsen

Four years since her debut and an absent online presence, Melanie Martinez released her sophomore record, K-12 alongside a full-length movie of the same name. 

The Queens-born artist has been known for her concept projects in the past, yet she fails to creatively continue any interesting story on K-12.

K-12 wasn’t supported by any singles, something both odd yet fitting for the record as it’s rare for an album to not have any singles, but K-12 lacks any individual song that can muster up any hype or interest for the record.

The 13 songs bleed into each other, falling victim to an overly specific and exhausted theme that Martinez revisits.

This isn’t Martinez’s first trip back to childhood. Her debut record Crybaby retrospectively
plays with similar themes with tracks like “Tag, You’re It” and “Sippy Cup.” 

Accompanying music videos from Crybaby pictured ice cream trucks, oversized cribs, elementary schools, pacifiers and other juvenile paraphernalia that go along with the focuses on growing up and needing someone. 

Martinez has long-established that this is her aesthetic, and although a recognizable style is increasingly important for modern-day pop musicians, failure to deviate at all from one proves disastrous.

She fails to mature at all from Crybaby and doesn’t graduate onto greater themes or ideas on K-12.
If anything, Martinez has regressed. The allure of her particular style doesn’t stick its second landing, falling over to clichés and easily expected song titles and themes.

Whereas the production on Crybaby looked towards unique references and samples like an actual carnival for “Carousel,” K-12 samples gross sounding sneezes and sniffles on the production for “Nurse’s Office.” 

The obnoxious and obvious choice for the background of “Nurse’s Office” soils the already pointless track, making it an uncomfortable listen.

Aside from the failed sonic choices, K-12 also hammers in its main theme without ever going anywhere.

Martinez employs a group of characters, including her titular Crybaby, to be students in a school and bases the songs around their interactions, but aside from the creative choice to curate characters, Martinez just resorts to the predictable melodrama of fictional schools.

A student-teacher relationship transpires on “Teacher’s Pet.” Bullies harass others on “Drama Club.” Two characters fall in love on “Highschool Sweethearts.” She fights for her crush on “Class Fight.”

Each story is completely detached from one another, yet Martinez makes it a pattern to have a cliché concept, washed down production and far too faint vocals on every track.

The lack of individuality for each track creates an over hour  long listen of the same noise.

The movie of the same name features the songs in a musical-like setup, but without a clear narrative within the songs themselves, it still feels boring.

The movie was released in select theatres across the United States. It has so far earned 6.8 stars out of ten on IMDb and 91% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film is now available in its entirety on Martinez’s YouTube channel.

The choice of a school and her past affinity for childhood often gets juxtaposed with the adult themes and lyrics, with fails to creatively utilize these themes without sounding awkward.

She sings on “Drama Club” that “you can keep your costume and you can keep your mask/I’ma take a bow so you can kiss my ass.”

On “Detention,” she calls out to a love interest that “Baby, can you meet me tonight in detention?”

Martinez repeatedly falls on the school metaphor to put an interesting twist on her music, but the idea itself is not creative enough to save the record.

Concept records and a heavy focus on the visual aspect of albums have become more popular. Fellow artist such as Beyoncé and Green Day have done so in the past.

Beyoncé released Beyoncé and Lemonade with music videos for each song. Green Day’s American Idiot follows the character of Jesus of Suburbia as an anti-hero in a “punk rock opera.”

K-12 serves as a lesson for what concept records should be in pop music. A strong focus, clear ideas, and a great execution all matter when employing this ambitious style, but Martinez fails at all three with her sophomore record.