K-12 by Melanie Martinez

Reviewed by Kinjal Bhardwaj, BBA, Batch of 2025, Kirit P. Mehta School of Law

Melanie Martinez, an indie, creative, storytelling artist released her second album ‘K-12’ in 2019. From her half-dyed hair, to unique style choices, to creating songs in a story format through creative words and visuals; it was assumed that she would have a skyrocketing career after being discovered on The Voice. Not only did she release a 13-track album, but she also directed, starred in, and wrote a one-and-a-half-hour film with stunning visuals and a complex storyline to go with all the newly released songs. The album has more powerful messages and visual effects compared to ‘Cry Baby’, her debut album, and introduces the music industry to new sounds and choreography. The artist’s musical comeback shares a very similar sound and style to that of ‘Cry Baby’. Electronic pop mixed with haunting vocals and deep messages are prominently featured in both of her works, thus establishing a niche of her own.

In this album, one can recognize and hear more maturity and vulnerability in her voice, which leads the way to the second part of her story. In the film, Martinez creates a storyline by having us follow her character ‘Crybaby’ (an updated and adapted character from Martinez’s first album) as she enrolls in school. For those unfamiliar with this world’s protagonist, Cry Baby is Martinez’s alter-ego: a trastornated, insecure girl with a family full of flaws but one that tries to conceal them to all strangers, and hence leaving Cry Baby with a sense of fakeness in her own life. This helps us give a more graphic view into how twisted Cry Baby’s life is, the society she lives in, and her own mind.

The school theme connects all of the tracks together perfectly, expressing Martinez’s opinion on how schools treat their students, social life for students, and overall stress to fit in with their peers.

The morals are represented in the film throughout: Crybaby experiencing control by teachers, discovering teacher-student abuse, helping a friend through bulimia, along with facing many other issues that are typically considered uncomfortable. ‘K-12’ shall reign as lyrically strong for young, developing girls and all those still in school systems. Something that shows the author’s attention to her music is how lighthearted and even childish it seems to be, especially considering the darkness of the subjects she touches. The track titles, the innocent tunes proper of child lullabies, and even Martinez’s own light and sweet voice helps to deceive the listener, and hides the depth ‘K-12’ actually has.

“Shooting at the angels while claiming you’re the good guy,” and “By the separation in this place that you’ve created,” certainly are two of my favorite lyrics from this album, and both belong to the third track, ‘The Principal’. Another one of my personal picks ‘Show and Tell’ touches upon authority figures misusing their power and taking advantage of the people under their authority with lines like, “Art don’t sell until you’ve wrecked every authority.” ‘Show and Tell’ also talks about being made to pretend to go with certain gender stereotypes and to act the way the public wants you to, as do songs like ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ and ‘Drama Club’. ‘Orange Juice’, one of the most popular songs of the album, is about eating disorders, and ‘Nurse’s Office’ talks about harassment, whereas ‘Highschool Sweethearts’ offers the sweetness of love. Martinez certainly doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, and she is not afraid to talk about anything.

All in all, ‘K-12’ is very well put together and successfully gets across its numerous messages to the audience. Martinez has definitely made her audience feel understood, assuring them that surviving school is surviving life.

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