RIYL: Lana Del Rey, Marina and the Diamonds, Halsey
In what seems like the most unassuming way possible, 20-year-old Melanie Martinez has seemingly taken hold of the alt-pop world. Her debut LP, Cry Baby (Atlantic), was released on August 14 and almost instantaneously gained notable attention — reaching number one on the Alternative Album charts and number four on iTunes in its debut week. What’s more, the singer had competed on NBC’s The Voice in 2012, but was eliminated after the Top 6. Who needs TV shows to prove their worth? Certainly not Melanie Martinez.
Following The Voice and preceding Cry Baby, Martinez released a four-track EP, entitled Dollhouse, in 2014. It achieved notable success, reaching #4 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart less than a month after its release. And for good reason, too: The Dollhouse EP was a haunting, enticing preview of what was ultimately to come from the young muse.
Cry Baby is an invariably addictive alt-pop treasure, akin to the likes of Lana Del Rey and Marina and the Diamonds, the reigning alt-pop princesses. Martinez’s unique voice–one that sounds quite sultry, but sometimes turns almost baby-like–overlays punctuating instrumentals, which seem indicative of the album’s overarching theme: a haunting blend of both unassuming innocence and poignant lyricism.
Martinez experiments with the themes of her songs, often singing about deeper, darker subject matters like dysfunctional families, self-image issues, and bullying. They are starkly relatable topics, particularly to her fan demographic: young adult females close to her age. Certain songs sound like an apathetic ode to life, while others seem to yearn and lament for stereotypical topics, like love and acceptance.
And it’s all fun and games, ’til somebody falls in love…
The track titles are completely aligned with the album’s youthful theme, but don’t let that fool you. Take, for example, the seemingly innocent “Mrs. Potato Head”:
Oh Mrs. Potato Head tell me,
is it true that pain is beauty?
Does a new face come with a warranty?
Will a pretty face make it better?
Oh Mr. Potato Head tell me,
How did you afford her surgery?
Do you swear you’ll stay forever,
Even if her face don’t stay together?
Listen: “Mrs. Potato Head” – Melanie Martinez
Nearly every track on the album follows a similar pattern: diffident title; dark and disturbing lyrics; remixed instrumentals that sometimes sound reminiscent of childhood depending on the song. Martinez’s vocals are sultry, while still sounding somewhat childlike. Think: Lana Del Rey.
As enrapturing and addictive as Cry Baby is, it still doesn’t feel wholly unique. Songs like “Dollhouse,” “Training Wheels,” and “Pacify Her” sound like they could be cut-and-paste on to any other alt-pop princess’ album, though that’s not to say that none of the tracks aren’t distinctive to Martinez. “Pity Party,” “Soap,” and the album’s title track, “Cry Baby,” allow for Martinez to develop an idiosyncrasy that should not be ignored. They emulate alt-pop perfection as it should be: charming, catchy, and captivating.
Though Melanie Martinez has just entered her 20s, it doesn’t seem like she will have any real difficulty achieving success in the music world. Since she is still so new to the scene, it seems as though she is still trying to figure out who she is and what her sound should truly be. As she continues to progress and grow as an artist, it will be interesting to see how she will shift into newer, hopefully more individualized styles. But make no mistake: she is undoubtedly the new alt-pop princess, and we should all bow down.