A Look Inside Melanie Martinez's New Album: 'K-12'

*TRIGGER WARNING: eating disorders, sexual assault*

At midnight on September 6, 2019, Melanie Martinez released her sophomore album K-12 after a three-year gap following the release of Crybaby, her original album. Known for her creepily cute demeanor, her past songs like “Pity Party” and “Mrs. Potato Head” have used child-like experiences to allude to concepts that girls grow up dealing with in the present state of society.

Her lyrical style is very metaphorical and requires only a couple of listens to truly recognize the hidden undertones over the cheery melodies and themed sound effects. The two albums revolve around a character named Crybaby, who serves as both the narrator and main character as she goes through childhood to her now-teenage experiences. 

While her past album came with the release of individual music videos, this album came with a particularly new take for the music industry: an hour plus-long feature film wrapping all the songs together in a pink bow. 

Staying up until the midnight release, I was thoroughly curious as to how the storyline and style of her music would be reflected through the album and the film. Melanie released 20-second teasers for each song up until the week it was to be released, so it was possible to have a glance into what each song sounded like. After viewing and listening to the content in full, however, I can truly say that I am blown away at the magnitude of her message and growth, as well as the strong political messages about growing up in the school system.

The storyline follows Crybaby as she enters school for the first time and shows the metaphorical journey and insecurities that young girls face as she gets “older.” While certain songs like “Wheels on the Bus,” “High School Sweethearts,” “Nurse’s Office,” “LunchBox Friends” and “Class Fight” served as more mature versions of mundane school situations, the majority of her songs reached a deeper level of topics.

“Strawberry Shortcake” and “Recess” focus on  body image and how the school system tends to blame girls for being “distracting,” rather than teaching boys to respect their boundaries and to be mature in how they handle impulsive behavior. It also speaks out on the dilemma that young women face about the ways they should present themselves to the world: Dress to impress or keep it hidden?

“Orange Juice” is an airy ode to the topic of eating disorders that can come with trying to measure up to the societal standards of beauty. In the film, Melanie “gives” her eyes to the character that is having trouble seeing her already-existing beauty, pleading her to reconsider how she views herself.

“Teacher’s Pet” also talks a lot about sexuality and the messy situations that can come from teenagers navigating intense hormone influxes. She also creates a narrative about more political topics in “Drama Club,” a jab to the climate of being sensitive towards opposing opinions and how people are so easily able to make a scene about her art “behind a mask,” much like how social media is a mask that people use to be hurtful towards others.

“The Principal” and “Detention” truly encompasses certain lingering flaws in school systems, such as prioritizing making A’s, bringing in profit rather than truly caring about the troubles of students and being at bay of the higher authority, whether good or bad. Wrapping it all up with a personal memo titled “Show and Tell,” it left me wanting to pick apart the meaning of the lyrics to truly understand her messages.

Standout lyrics

From “The Principal”: Can’t you see that we’re all hurting/ If you’re not teaching, we’re not learning/Excuse me, how much are you earning?

A verse voicing the struggle that kids face when the education system doesn’t prioritize their well-being and provide constructive student-faculty relationships.

From “Nurse’s Office”: I’m pale as the loose-leaf paper they grow/ From hollowing out all my lungs in the snow

In my opinion, this is the most impressive lyrics of the whole album. “Hollowing out” her lungs is another way to describe a coughing fit, presumably from the colder weather. The carbon dioxide from exhaling helps the trees grow and produce the referenced loose-leaf paper they use to write office passes referenced multiple times in her songs.

From “Strawberry Shortcake”: That’s my bad, that’s my bad, no one told them not to grab/ Now, the boys want a taste of the strawberry shortcake

This one reinforces the societal excuse that “boys don’t know better” when sexualizing girls, usually blaming the girl for their behavior even when there was no intention of that.

From “Orange Juice”: Ordering oranges off the menu/ Stuffing up your mouth with t-t-tissue

This one alludes to the “Cotton Ball Diet,” which is what people suffering from eating disorders do to give the illusion of feeling full. Soaking cotton balls and tissues in different beverages like the aforementioned orange juice, it’s an extremely dangerous practice for trying to not gain weight. 

The accompanying feature film provides the visual connotations that truly tie the music and imagery together. I highly recommend watching the film before audio itself, as it introduces the music the way the artist intended it. I hope this opens your eyes to a new rising artist and allows you to see the abnormally beautiful side of her music.