“The album is basically just a storybook. Each song leads into the next, and it all tells the story of this girl Crybaby’s life… it’s kind of like the transition from her being this emotional vulnerable girl to being comfortable with being absolutely insane… kind of unapologetic for being crazy, because she’s embraced that.” Twenty-year-old alt-pop singer Melanie Martinez’s art has imitated her life. She recently released her debut major-label album, Cry Baby, after starting out by writing songs in her bedroom. Quite the transition indeed.
Growing up listening to hip-hop and The Beatles, Martinez eventually started writing and recording her own work. Her tinkering would eventually lead to her securing a spot on season three of The Voice. “I saw an ad online and I literally wasn’t doing anything at the time other than school… I loved writing and singing, but I didn’t really show anyone any of my music. My best friend and I would post videos on YouTube occasionally, nothing too serious. I just went out on a limb and went to an open call for it. I kept getting further and further, and it was very unexpected.” She was chosen as a member of “Team Adam,” and despite making it through several rounds on the show, she was eventually eliminated. This wasn’t the end however. It was just the beginning of what would become a defining music career.
Martinez’ full-length debut Cry Baby is an emotional ride that offers a glimpse into her soul. “Especially being a girl, I am just absolutely insane sometimes. We have hormones and shit. Cry Baby is definitely a reflection of emotion and being okay and comfortable with yourself.” Her song, “Carousel”, a melodic track featuring swooning accordions, was also featured in promos for American Horror Story, which landed the single a Top 10 spot on the iTunes Alternative Chart. “The contrast is interesting because it’s all these titles based on childhood themes, but the content of the songs is that they’re all really dark and mature and honest.” Her music video for her single “Dollhouse” is a visually arousing experimental piece, in which Martinez plays a doll in a little girl’s dollhouse surrounded by other plastic figurines. She sings, “Everyone thinks we’re perfect,” as if reassuring her younger self that it’s all an illusion. “A lot of people are kind of blinded by the fact that just because people are in the spotlight doesn’t mean that they don’t have emotions and they’re not real people. I want to be able to tell people how I feel and show them that I’m a real human being and that I have a heart.”
Melanie Martinez is currently on the road with her major North American headlining tour, “Cry Baby Tour 2016.“
Read the full interview for The #GirlPower Issue below and don’t miss our behind the scenes video with Melanie on set with The Untitled Magazine:
The Untitled Magazine: So have you always wanted to be a musician? Do you come from a musical family?
Melanie Martinez: My mom and my dad don’t really have a musical background but my dad always played a lot of music growing up. He was into every single genre. He played all sorts of stuff, a lot of hip-hop and a lot of Beatles. I feel like that kind of influences my music now.
UM: If I’m correct your family is Dominican and Puerto Rican. Do you find that your heritage inspires your music?
MM: Not really, but I think it is important just to be aware of your culture and where you’re from. I don’t think it has anything to do with my music but it definitely is cool!
UM: Absolutely. So tell me, what inspired you to audition for The Voice?
MM: I saw an ad online and I wasn’t doing anything at the time other than school. I just loved writing and singing and I didn’t really show anyone any of my music. My best friend and I would post videos on YouTube occasionally, nothing too serious. I kind of just went out on a limb and went to an open call for it. I kept getting further and further. It was very unexpected.
UM: How was your experience actually doing the show?
MM: It was really cool. It was definitely a great learning experience. I learned a lot, mostly from the contestants on the show and all the really great friends that I made. It was definitely a good experience and shaped me as a person. It’s easier for me to do interviews and be in front of the camera and on live television since I went through that.
UM: How was it working with Adam Levine?
MM: It was really cool. He’s a goofy guy. He’s really cool.
UM: What would you consider your most challenging performance to date?
MM: Honestly, “Dollhouse” is so hard for me to perform. It’s weird because you wouldn’t think that it’s a hard song. There’s nothing crazy happening with the vocals, but for some reason it’s just hard for me to stay in that one constant range.
UM: I could see that. So tell me, what musicians inspire you? Who do you look up to in your industry?
MM: I really have a love and appreciation for every kind of artist and musician. It’s interesting because I feel like there are so many artists and musicians out there and no one knows about most of them. It’s a very small world, but also a very big world because there are so many people working to do what they love. I guess I have a love for all of them, but I think Bjork. There’s a lot of really interesting people! I really like Father John Misty a lot. I have a lot of favorite artists so it’s really hard for me to name all of them. I like CocoRosie a lot.
UM: So how would you describe your sound in your own words?
MM: I feel like every album is kind of a phase in every artist’s life. This first album that I’m putting out is it’s own little world. I kind of played around with the contrast between little kid themes and adult situations. The contrast is interesting because it’s all of these titles based on childhood themes, but the content really dark, mature, and honest. It’s like pop, but it still has this sway to it, and it has a lot of hip hop influence for sure. And a lot of toy sounds!
UM: Sway to it, I like that. Am I correct that you played a ukulele? What inspired that?
MM: I actually have not played the ukulele in years, but I used to play a little bit, not a lot. I play guitar more than anything. I like picking up whatever I can and hearing things. I’m not really an experienced musician at all, but I can definitely write on a few instruments.
UM: I’d like to ask you about your style, you have such a unique personal look. What inspires the two-toned hair and dramatic makeup?
MM: Well my hair was kind of me rebelling against my mom. She never let me bleach my hair when I was younger, so when I turned 15 or 16 I just went for it. I was watching 101 Dalmatians and I was like ‘Mom I’m going to dye my hair like Cruella de Vil’ and she’s like ‘No you’re not, you’re lying.’ I went to the salon and I came back with half black hair and she was like, ‘what is going on.’ She would not talk to me for a week. Now she likes it, but it’s just so funny because I wanted to do something different with my hair and I wasn’t allowed to bleach it, so I kind of went all out in that moment. I love it now though.
UM: It looks great. You can certainly pull it off. What about your personal style, you like to wear a lot of vintage. Who selects your clothing, do you have a stylist or do you do it yourself?
MM: I definitely do it myself. I never really worked with a stylist; I’m very picky and particular about things. I love vintage. Lately I’ve been into vintage jackets, gowns, and petticoats. I love the 50s era, I love all that, like 50s lingerie. It’s weird because I’ve clung to a lot of pastels and really pretty light and fragile fabrics. I like things that feel like they will break if you mess around with them. More recently I was really into Lolita clothing. I feel like I have little phases inside of the bigger phases. I go through different things. I love pastel colors because it reminds me of my childhood and kind of fits with the music.
UM: So after The Voice you were signed to Atlantic Records; did you expect your career to explode so quickly?
MM: It definitely took a while, in my eyes, but I can see how other people would see that it was very quick. It was definitely interesting. I love everyone at Atlantic and I just felt so at home. I feel like it was definitely the right decision as everyone is so supportive of my ideas. Everyone is just super helpful. It’s been great so far. It’s super exciting and I’m really excited for things to keep moving.
UM: Speaking of, will you tell us about your EP, Dollhouse, and what the inspiration was behind the name?
MM: The Dollhouse EP was the start to this whole thing that is basically the album. “Dollhouse” was the first song that I wrote with Kinetics & One Love. That was the first session that I had with them, they’re really amazing dudes. I did most of the album with them, but it was kind of the beginning of everything. I was really inspired by toy sounds and it led into this childhood kind of world. It’s really interesting. I love playing around with titles. I wanted to write a song called, “Carousel,” because I loved carousels growing up. I took different things from my childhood and tried to use them to relate to things that I was going through now, as a young adult. “Dollhouse” is the main song on the Dollhouse EP. It’s kind of a small collection so I didn’t really know what it would lead to when I started writing the album, but it was definitely the start of everything. It’s really cool that people have been connecting to it. I’m super thankful for that.
UM: Will you tell us about the Dollhouse tour?
MM: There were three [tours] of the new EP, they were all really unique. The first one was really cool because it was just us getting to know each other, me and the band. The second one, we were a little bit closer and got the gist of things, but the third one was really stressful and crazy. So the first and second ones were cool because they were so new to us and everything was lighter. We didn’t have too much stuff going on. The third one was super stressful and crazy because we had radio stuff as well as the tour, so everyday was like an adventure. They were all really fun and exciting. I love just seeing people react to the songs. The songs have been out for a year, but it’s cool that people were singing along and stuff. It’s really exciting for me because I just love that, that people connect with the music and put so much into it. That’s the greatest feeling ever.
UM: Were there any performances that really stood out from the tour?
MM: I think it was the third one, we did Lincoln Hall in Chicago and that was definitely a standout trip. I love Chicago so much, it was so fun. My tour manager/sound guy is from Chicago so he got to show us around and we stayed at his parent’s house. The show was really awesome. The venue was great. That was a really great night. Bowery Ballroom was also big because it’s home.
UM: Can you tell me about the story behind your debut album, Crybaby?
MM: The album is basically a storybook. Every song leads into each other and it all tells the story of this girl Crybaby’s life. She’s a little girl, but she’s going through very adult situations. It’s very dark and I’m super excited about it because it’s taken about a year to write. It definitely has evolved into different things. It’s always been about the themes, but I think the story has really evolved and it’s kind of like the transition from her being this emotional, vulnerable girl to being comfortable with being absolutely insane, and being unapologetic for it. She’s okay with that and she’s embraced that. It definitely is like a fairy tale version of me. There are some things in the song that would obviously never happen to me, such as getting kidnapped, escaping, and poisoning someone with milk and cookies. But it is a fairy tale version of my life for sure…the things that I’ve been through in the past couple of years.
UM: Are there any collaborations on the album that were really stand-out for you?
MM: There aren’t any features or anything like that. Just me on them! I co-wrote the songs with amazing writers and producers. It’s definitely been the most fun working with these people, it’s just been a great time.
UM: What about any tracks on the album that you’re particularly excited about?
MM: There are a few that are cool for me because I’m not used to writing really happy songs. There’s one song that’s my version of a love song, it’s called “Training Wheels.” That one is kind of special. I actually have never written a love song for anyone, but this song is like a love song for my boyfriend who is my drummer and very special to me. I’m excited for people to hear that one. There’s other songs that I’m excited for but I don’t want to say…I don’t want to give too much away right now!
UM: I saw that you once posted on Twitter and said that “Crybaby is about having emotions and going through shit. Feeling everything and being real. Being comfortable with being insane.” We’ve talked about this a little bit, but could you expand on what you meant by that?
MM: That was part of a bigger rant that I went through on Twitter. It’s really hard; just because people are in the spotlight doesn’t mean that they can’t have emotions and they’re not real people. It sucks. I think that there are a lot of people who are used to artists not showing emotions and trying to be perfect. I feel like that’s not being a good role model, you know? I don’t understand why acting perfect is taken as being a great role model. If anything you’re hiding so much that you’re not telling your fans how you feel. You’re basically telling them that you have to try to be a robot. That’s not cool. I want to be able to tell people how I feel and show them that I’m a real human being and that I have a heart. It’s crazy to me that people think that I’m being a bad role model by being honest, it doesn’t make any sense. If anything I’m just teaching people that they should be real and they should be honest. It’s really hard to get that across sometimes. Crybaby is definitely about having emotions. Sometimes your emotions take control. Especially being a girl, I am just absolutely insane sometimes. We have hormones and shit. It’s crazy. Crybaby is definitely a reflection of emotion and being okay and comfortable with yourself.
UM: That leads into the next thing I wanted to ask you about. Have you had to overcome any issues with haters or negative attitudes towards your work?
MM: I haven’t had any negative press that I can remember. If I have any negative feedback on anything I try to use it as fuel. I will write if I’m frustrated about something because it’s therapy to me. I feel that’s how I get everything out the best. I definitely deal with haters for sure, just internet trolls. I don’t really think too much about it. I get more upset when people tell me that I can’t be honest. That pisses me off more. I guess you can tell how I deal with that, I Just respond to them on Twitter and don’t really give a fuck. It’s good to just use that negative feedback and turn it into positive energy, to be inspired by it and create with it. At least that’s what I try to do.
UM: This is our “Girl Power” issue, do you consider yourself a feminist?
MM: Of course, I think all ladies are feminists. I’m very new to this whole world, I don’t truly know the ins and outs of being a feminist because it’s this whole movement. It always should be a thing. I’m so proud to be a woman and I love women and I think that we just fucking rule. We’re awesome! But I also think guys are cool too. I think guys and girls are equal, I don’t think girls are better than guys and I don’t think guys are better than girls. We just all should be appreciative of each gender. I think it’s cool that every person is unique. I guess I’m like an everybody-ist!
UM: You have sort of childlike look, have you had to overcome any hurdles in regard to that? And do you feel your style will adapt as you get older or is that look going to be signature?
MM: I don’t know. I feel like artists go through phases and I’m not really sure yet if this is just a phase that I’m going through cause I go through a lot for sure. I definitely think that this is an interesting thing to play around with. I love the contrast between adult and child, but I also don’t want people to think creepy, weird, pedophile. That’s the one thing that I don’t want to happen. I definitely love the contrast between light and dark and I feel like that’s kind of what it is. Something about the innocence of a child and not really having to be aware of adult situations is interesting. I think that a child who knows about adult situations and is mature enough to deal with it is an interesting concept. I love telling stories, like a little kid telling the story as a little kid, but she’s telling it as an adult would. I just love playing around with that…I think it’s interesting. I think it’s cool because I treat it like art. I just like playing around with it. I’m sure that people are not going to be used to it and they’re going to judge it immediately. But I don’t really care.
UM: Do you have any sort of personal motto you live by?
MM: I don’t know if I have any motto. I probably should think of some right? I guess being comfortable with yourself is so important to me because I dealt with a lot of insecurities growing up. Being comfortable with who you are is so important because you are all you really have in the end. I feel like it’s important to just be happy with the skin that you have and to love yourself.
Melanie Martinez photographed by Annabel Mehran for The Untitled Magazine’s #GirlPower Issue
Stylist: Melissa Infante
Hair by Mark Anthony
Make-up by Georgina Billington
Photographed at Max Fish
Interview by Sophie Saint Thomas
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015), pick up a copy of issue in our online store.