Melanie Martinez was known four years ago from her alt-pop debut Cry Baby, a song that made her a cult hero, a figure who is greatly admired by a relatively small audience. She has recently released a musical film, K-12, which fuses the persona from Cry Baby into a story of a fantasy school, even so comprised of all sorts of issues we faced in our modern society.
K-12 began as a concept album but soon evolved into a full-length feature film, written, choreographed, and directed by Melanie Martinez herself. “It’s all of the videos together of the next record, all thirteen [songs], with dialogue and whatnot in between connecting all of them together,” Martinez explained to the Billboard in her interview, in 2017 when she first revealed about the project.
In this highly dramatized version of school life, filled with magical powers, and perfect doll dresses, Martinez plays the character of a sensitive girl, Cry Baby, with magical power, who goes through different obstacles within her journey in the school. Throughout the film, Cry Baby and her friends encounter issues like racial and gender discrimination, bullying, relationship stereotypes, self-harm, and insecurities. In addition, many metaphors are being visualized throughout the film to emphasize the importance of the messages.
The first song to the musical movie is called Wheels On The Bus: students dress by gender, boys dress in blue uniform, and girls in pink barbies dolls’ dresses. Cry Baby is riding the bus to the K-12 school while witnessing student’s bad behaviour, and two boys are bullying her. One of the lyrics goes, “I know the driver sees it. I know he’s peeking in the rearview mirror. He says nothing.” This statement is also a metaphor for the state of society in the real world. We humans, are the “bus driver”, seeing the desperate state today but still do nothing. The songwriter, Martinez, was saying that, if we choose to stand and watch the world’s issues without taking any action, it means we also refuse to help.
Strawberry shortcake, another example from the K-12 album, talks about insecurity and self-esteem. The lyrics go, “Got boys acting like they ain’t seen skin before Got sent home to change ’cause my skirt is too short.” In school, dress codes are normally enforced to cover up skin, and not be too revealing. Some girls have been taught that, if they wear revealing clothing, they are asking guys to be attracted to them. Society is so quick to blame women for what they wear and completely let men off the hook for sexualizing, harassing, or treating them in ways they’ve never asked.
The last example is called, The Principle, a metaphor for the current leader of America. In this song, Martinez described how she sees Donald Trump. “When you come and hurt us just so you can get your money.” This line stated many examples of how Trump “hurt us”: parents are being separated from their children in detainment camps, and Trump’s arguments are threatening the homophobia and transphobia saying that the Civil Rights Act should not protect LGBTQ+ from discrimination. The following lyrics said, “Forced to follow the leader who’s being possessed by demons.” Even Though this leader is evil, we’re still forced to follow his rules.
From concept album to a featured film, Martinez has truly delivered a message that extends beyond her fan base. “Even though there was the intention to help people heal if they resonate with it, it was really an outlet to express creatively or tell a story,” she explains to the Billboard. Surely, we can see that music has played a really important role to address social issues within Martinez’s K-12 album/featured film. Music is more than entertainment, it’s an eye-opener.
Written by: Soliday Yon