Review: Melanie Martinez’s K-12 and the Darker Side of School

Martinez promotes her album with a 2 hour film


Juno Le, Staff Writer

Melanie Martinez’s reputation has always confused me. Martinez is known for her child-like, pastel aesthetic, through the themes of her music videos and her stage wardrobe.  After teasing her fans with snippets of the songs, Martinez released her entire K-12 album, which was also paired with a film that’s available on YouTube, directed by and starring Martinez herself.

To be honest, the K-12 film really turned my opinion on her around. The film follows a group of students (including Crybaby) who seemingly have demon-like souls and their bodies are one of many that they’ve inhabited. These protagonists find each other and use their powers to help them free everyone from the school, whose faculty is very clearly abusive and insidious. Numbers follow through with multiple faculty members who in one way or another do harm to their students.

Martinez’s film sets the story on the first day of school, where she attends Sleepaway School. Her bedroom scene nods toward her music video for her song, “Crybaby,” and the pink, pastel aesthetic stays just as classic and similar. The first song, “Wheels on the bus”, discusses how some administrators or school faculty members, don’t care or take action in situations students face during the day, such as bullying and harassment, whether they notice her or not. I find this message very straightforward with the help of the visuals and it gives fun and vivid representation of a student’s life and how it’s grown to be a lot harder. The repetitive pastel colors really add the primary school affect as they make there way to Sleepaway School.

The “Show and Tell” number by far has the most articulated choreography in Martinez’s film, sort of. She dances to similar motions of a marionette, her limbs being controlled by a teacher, to go along with the common abusive faculty thread. Scenes switch back and forth between an actual puppet and Martinez, to show the comparison. The addition of the dance pairs with the child-like theme of the song, as it escalates the heavily dark story line of the school.

Moving onto her more modernistic theme, “Drama Club” plays with the destruction of gender roles as Crybaby takes the role of a female housewife who deals with her husband when he returns home. With the feminist lyrics playing during her theater class scene, she destroys the incoming toxic masculinity. I feel as though this scene evokes so much more power into her words with the expressive act.

A fan-favorite as well as my own favorite, is “Orange Juice”, as Martinez sings “Your body is imperfectly perfect, everyone wants what the other one’s working,” she goes on to support and comfort a friend with bulimia. The slightly grotesque number is made up for by the exquisite costumes and choreography. The repetition of an orange breaks through as a symbol of the effects of bulimia, where people binge eat, leading to vomiting, as shown in the film. The scenes where Crybaby interacts with her friend, Fleur, are emotionally impacting to some viewers due to the commonality of lacking body positivity between many of her fans.

After her 13 musical numbers and the resolution of escaping Sleepaway School, Martinez leaves viewers on the edge as she nudges them toward the probable plot of her next film; what’s next for Crybaby?

The addition of the film to Martinez’s K-12 album seems perfect as it brings out the themes of her lyrics through the story line of Crybaby and her demon friends. The film ties together each individual song in a steady flow through the movie so that it’s easy to follow. With Martinez intending to create more films with her future albums, I’ll be waiting for them. For now, rewatching the K-12 film for another go is good enough.