Andrew MacLean

Melanie Martinez and the Dynamics of her Cry Baby Trilogy

Music Scene Media
Apr 14, 2024
5 min read
PHOTOS VIA: @littlebodybigheart

Melanie Martinez appeared on the show The Voice back in 2012. Covering songs from iconic artists, such as auditioning with Britney Spears’ song “Toxic” and performing Young The Giant’s track “Cough Syrup,” Melanie made a mark with her unique style and voice even before she emerged with a music career. After leaving The Voice, Melanie quietly worked on a debut album, which featured more acoustic and soft alternative sounds than what we’re used to from her today. Things seemed to change when producers Kinetics and One Love met up with Melanie and created what would officially become her debut single “Dollhouse.”

“Dollhouse” was the start of something big. It transformed Melanie’s sound and it put her career on a new trajectory, but she also started a journey of something not often seen in the music industry. If you're a fan of the dystopian classics that took movie theaters by storm in the early 2010s, then you’d know the book series The Hunger Games and Divergent. Like these book trilogies, Melanie created a trilogy, but in the form of music. The first instalment was released on August 14th, 2015, and was titled Cry Baby. Cry Baby was named after the main character created for the album and was inspired by what schoolyard bullies called Melanie in her younger years. Cry Baby introduces us to the complexities of the character and her life, showing us her broken family, her longing for love, and all the perils that lurk in the character's world.

PHOTO VIA: @littlebodybigheart

Although the story is set up for the character, Cry Baby transfers to real life. Many people have broken families that can be related to the song “Dollhouse,” and many of us can vouch for each other when we may have said the wrong things at the wrong time, as explained in the song “Soap.” I have related to many of the themes on the album, especially with the title track, “Cry Baby,” since I tend to let my heart speak for me more than my brain and end up getting hurt in the end. We also see the darker sides of this world on “Tag, You’re It,” when Cry Baby finds herself abducted, and with “Sippy Cup,” which explains the tragedies families face with parental drug and alcohol abuse. One track that hits home for a lot of Melanie’s fan base is the track “Mrs. Potato Head,” which explains how the media manipulates people to look a certain way and makes them feel unhappy with themselves. The moral of the story is finding your beauty within and letting that flourish. Melanie was very visual right out of the gate with Cry Baby, allowing the characters she created to come into our lives. With the release of its final music video “Mad Hatter,” we see Cry Baby’s eyes filled with black in the last seconds as she wakes up in her bedroom, signaling the end of the first era.

4 years after Cry Baby, Melanie Martinez released the follow-up album K-12 on September 5th, 2019. K-12 picked up right where Cry Baby had left off, showing the character getting ready to go off to the “K-12 Sleep-Away School.” From here, Melanie explores themes of hardship that people face growing up in school, which can also apply later in life. “Class Fight” is about being bullied in school and instead of letting it get to you, you stand up for yourself and fight back. “Strawberry Shortcake” takes a jab at the strict rules given to female students and how they must act and dress, due to male students not being able to control themselves. A very real track for me is “Lunchbox Friends,” which talks about fake friends in your life only being there when you’re needed, but giving you the cold shoulder the moment you’re not.

SOURCE: Melanie Martinez - "Strawberry Shortcake" Music Video

This album saw further development in Cry Baby as a character, along with the feature-length movie that came with it. We see her ability to grow as a human, but also in the supernatural sense. This was when Melanie started to pivot to more spiritual themes, bringing in magic, sorcery, and spirit guides to add a spin to the story. Besides the perils we learned about on Cry Baby, Melanie introduces more in K-12, showing a corrupt dystopian government-like system in the school. Teachers brainwash children, controlling their every movie and telling them how to act. This is something that Cry Baby learns about fighting back and taking control, even the song “The Principal” is a jab at a certain former President.

As Melanie continues the story with K-12, at the end of the album’s film we see Cry Baby’s spirit guide save her from the school and take her through a portal to safety. On March 31st, 2023, Melanie released the final instalment of the Cry Baby trilogy with the album Portals. Portals saw the end of the line for Cry Baby in life form, as the opening track “Death” reveals that Cry Baby passed away shortly after going through the portal. We are now offered a different point of view as her character moves through the afterlife, growing with her spirituality. No longer do we see Cry Baby with her split-tone hair colour and pastel dresses, but we now see her with light pink skin, green hair, medieval-like clothing, and 4 eyes. Melanie reveals to us that this is Cry Baby’s true spiritual form as the visual themes become more fantastic.

SOURCE: Melanie Martinez - "DEATH" Music Video

The themes and topics surrounding Cry Baby (now also known as The Creature) are still present but lean towards an adult point of view, rather than the nostalgic reflections of the previous 2 albums. We see songs like “Tunnel Vision,” which deals with empowerment and self-worth, and “The Contortionist,” about bending over backwards for people who do nothing for you in return. Another topic can be seen on “Evil” about realizing a relationship is toxic and leaving. “Battle of the Larynx” is also a track about standing up for yourself and not letting anyone belittle what you have to say or believe.

We are still in the Portals era, and we won’t be seeing the end of Cry Baby any time soon as Melanie has said we are getting music videos for every song on the album. Currently, 4 music videos have been released with more already in the post-production CGI stages. Portals ends with the song “Womb,” metaphorically signaling Cry Baby’s reincarnation. At this time, it seems the next album will introduce a new character and perhaps be the start of another visual trilogy in the world of Melanie Martinez. Only time can tell though as we still have 9 more music videos to come out, which may take some time since Melanie’s Trilogy Tour kicks off next month. The world of Cry Baby, with its real-life perils and spiritual elements, has made for unique conversation, heartfelt times, and very relatable music. It’ll be interesting to see where Melanie goes after Portals and what character she has in store next. 

If you’d like to follow Melanie along on her creative journey, then this is the order in which you can follow the Cry Baby saga:

-       Dollhouse – EP (2014)

-       Cry Baby (2015)

-       K-12 (2019)

-       After School – EP (2020)

-       Portals (2023)

You can stream Portals by Melanie Martinez below:

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