Performing and writing as a character is something deeply embedded into the persona of Melanie Martinez, who released her debut album 'Cry Baby' just last year - an album based around the life of Cry Baby; a character Melanie sees as part of herself.
The album is both vulnerable and empowering at the same time - from the love story in 'Training Wheels', to the Lesley Gore inspired 'Pity Party', to a song about the inner beauty in people; 'Mrs Potato Head'.
While in Auckland opening up for Adam Lambert's tour, we spoke to Melanie about songwriting, love, and pop narratives…
COUP DE MAIN: I love 'Cry Baby'. In the title-track you sing, "You seem to replace your brain with your heart." Do you tend to make decisions based on your head or your heart?
MELANIE MARTINEZ: Definitely my heart. I think that every decision I make in my life is based off of an emotion - and it definitely hurts me in some situations, and helps in some situations, like obviously writing and stuff is my favourite thing to do because I get to use all of my emotions and express them in that way. Obviously in more professional situations, I have definitely noticed I am very passionate. So if I'm fighting with someone I'll be SO super loud and aggressive, and make sure that my point is heard. That's also just from being super emotional and wanting to get it all out. So, definitely my heart.
CDM: Cry Baby is a really empowering character, especially for young women who've experienced the same as you - being seen as over-sensitive. And the idea of 'Cry Baby' also reminds me of the saying, “you cry like a girl,” a phrase used to tease young boys about their sensitivity. Why do you think there's such a portrayed negative relationship between sensitivity and femininity?
MELANIE: Honestly, I think it's because if you're emotional and a little bit-- I think, being emotional is this thing that people think you're not strong. They don't look at you as a strong person, and it's weird 'cuz honestly being emotional has nothing to do with your strength. It shouldn't be associated with each other, but it just is. That's always how it has been, and it sucks. I don't know, that's just how it is.
CDM: 'Training Wheels' is the only love song on your album. Do you think that love is something you have to learn, just like riding a bike?
MELANIE: I think love is something that-- there are a lot of people who go their whole lives without truly knowing what love is, or ever experiencing that. I think it has a lot to do with multiple things. I think people say that it's how you were raised, like if your parents show you a lot of love, you'll know how to love. Or a lot of people say if you can't love yourself, then you can't love others. It's always different, but I definitely have loved a lot in my life. I definitely fall in love quickly, and I'm very in love with being in love. But it is hard for me to write about love. I think, 'Training Wheels' was the hardest song for me to write, because I'm not used to writing about happy emotions, I'm just used to pulling from my sad or angry - happy emotions are very hard for me to portray in music. But 'Training Wheels' was the only exception.
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CDM: The album's narrative follows Cry Baby through love, heartbreak, to eventual craziness - and contentedness with this craziness. I find it interesting to think about how women are traditionally represented in pop music (often as apologetic or playing the victim). Being so closely connected to your young fans and also being a young woman yourself, do you find it frustrating that so many pop music narratives represent females so narrowly?
MELANIE: Yeah, I mean 'cuz again, it's the same thing as being emotional means you're not strong. I definitely feel like if I put out a song that was like me being super vulnerable, people would look as me as weak. I don't know if that has to do with me being a girl, or if that really has to do with anything, but I'm sure. Again, I don't really know. I definitely have worked trying to create music that inspires girls to feel confident and strong, and feel like they can do anything. Aside from girls, anyone. So I don't know - I never really think about girls specifically. 'Mrs. Potato Head' is a good example on the album, it's one of my favourite songs because it was something that I felt strongly about. My intentions were never to bash people who get plastic surgery, it was just to help people to understand that they're beautiful naturally. That was something that as a kid growing up, I've had so many insecurities, and am still getting over a lot, but I think 'Mrs. Potato Head' is a song that I needed to write for myself to feel confident and feel like, 'I don't need that.' I'll always definitely strive to write songs that are going to help people feel confident in themselves.
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CDM: You're heavily involved in the art direction and treatment of all of your music videos, and the aesthetic of each of your videos is so distinct. Is the idea of continuity in terms of the mise en scène in each video something that adds to the overall narrative of Cry Baby?
MELANIE: Yes, for sure. Cry Baby is just a character in this world that I'm trying to create, and the music videos are really important to me, and I've fought to obviously get all of them approved. It's very hard to be an artist, on my first album, and I'm like asking for money for a music video for every song - it's so hard to do. You have to pick your battles for sure, but I definitely want - and I've always worked to make it all connect - for all of it to feel cohesive. I'm putting out a music video soon, I don't know when, I'm still in the editing process, but I just shot it. It's the beginning of the story and it's really important. I feel like with this piece, it will help a lot of people who haven't listened to the album or don't really understand the story, it'll make a lot of sense once they see the beginning. And then they see 'Dollhouse' and 'Sippy Cup', in order - I think it'll really help people understand the story of Cry Baby.
CDM: You've said your next album will be a continuation of the Cry Baby story, in terms of the neighbourhood/world that she lives in. Have you planned an entire narrative for more characters in this world, or is it something that is constantly developing?
MELANIE: I think that the next album is specifically for sure from Cry Baby's perspective, but it's not necessarily about her family-life or her love-life, or anything like that, it's more about this place in this town. The place has different characters in there, so in every song there's gonna be different characters that appear. Some of them are weird, low-pitched vocal versions of myself that I'm naming a certain character. So it's stuff that is very fun to do, but as far as-- a lot of people ask, 'Oh, are you gonna change your character?' That's never gonna happen, 'cuz I am Cry Baby.
Melanie Martinez's album 'Cry Baby' is out now - click HERE to purchase it via iTunes.
Watch the 'Soap/Training Wheels' music video below…