Melanie Martinez’s album ‘PORTALS’ puts the fun in funeral

April 4, 2023

The alt-pop singer-songwriter Melanie Martinez is “back from the dead” and has let us into her world one final time in her third full-length LP, “PORTALS,” released on March 31.

Martinez debuted in the music industry with her monumental 2015 concept album “Cry Baby.” The album introduced Martinez’s alter ego Cry Baby, a fantasized version of the artist in her adolescence. Each track is named after words or phrases associated with childhood and every song carries a deeper meaning that is self-aware, adult and more complex than what’s on the surface. 

Her 2019 LP “K-12” is the next chapter of Cry Baby’s story. An hour-and-a-half-feature film of the same name accompanied this album. The film shows Cry Baby’s journey through a dysfunctional school system outside her family and other relationships expressed in the “Cry Baby” album.

In February, Martinez shared a 30-second visual of a foggy, dream-like forest on Instagram with a close-up of “RIP Cry Baby” carved into a giant mushroom surrounded by candles, introducing what is seemingly Cry Baby’s final chapter in “PORTALS.”

In “PORTALS,” Martinez trades her baby doll aesthetic encompassed in “Cry Baby” and “K-12” with a pink-skinned, four-eyed creature with fairy wings stuck between earth and what meets her on the other side of death.

“I hope the weight of mortality that society has placed on people becomes lighter. I hope grief becomes easier for people while listening to this record,” Martinez wrote in an Instagram post. “That they can enjoy this life to the fullest knowing that we’re all just here to grow, create, feel, and have shared experiences with one another to help each-other evolve.”

Though the album is connected to her previous two LPs, it strays from the signature indie-pop sound fans like me have grown accustomed to. She instead experiments with pop-rock and lively drum beats with each track. This move into a new genre for Martinez aligns perfectly with the theme of death and the album’s overarching messaging of rebirth and growth. 

Death is a sensitive and taboo topic often avoided in mainstream pop music. Pop fans are used to artists singing about straightforward subjects like love, relationship failures and sex. Still, Martinez takes a risk for the better, taking concepts about what is known of the afterlife and introducing it into Cry Baby’s complex world and version of reality.

The album’s first song, and my favorite, “DEATH,” speaks on the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. The song’s haunting melodies and thought-provoking lyrics allow listeners to think beyond what’s right before them and ponder their very existence, accepting that death isn’t the final chapter. 

“DEATH” is significant for me because death admittedly is a scary concept for me to accept. However, the song puts a positive spin on the subject and provides a glimmer of hope that death may not be the end. 

“I don’t wanna be carrying the weight on my shoulders/ Death has come to me, kissed me on my cheek, gave me closure/ Immortal by design, I’ll be meeting you here every time/ Back from the dead, back from the dead/ I’m back from the dead.”

I certainly hope I get to evolve into a pink fairy-like creature like Martinez after I die. 

Another song that hits home is the 12th track, “EVIL.” The song takes a different approach to one of the themes of growth or rebirth. It speaks about how she is done with toxic relationships and is overjoyed to have left them but now has to deal with a narcissist who views Cry Baby as evil for seeing through their facade. This track relates to my experiences with toxic relationships and being seen as the bad guy for not accepting toxic behavior.

“If you bite my hand again/ I will never feed you/ You can call me evil/ Take it to the grave if you wanna play pretend/ I won’t be mistreated/ Please call me conceited/ Took me way too long to put this to bed/ Lovin’ you was lethal, guess that makes me evil.”

The album is full of Martinez communicating her messages in a symbolic and fun way, pushing you not only to enjoy each song for its unique sound, but to also ponder the deeper meaning that is intertwined within. 

The upbeat song, complete with spine-tingling instrumentals, “SPIDER WEB,” is about how society is merging with the internet, or “web.” Next, the blood-curdling “THE CONTORTIONIST” is about bending over backward for someone. Lastly, the harmonic “NYMPHOLOGY” is about embracing being feminine. These three tracks are standouts of the album because of their brilliantly quirky melody, and I can relate to their buried messages wholeheartedly.

After a four-year hiatus, the 13-track LP finishes with “WOMB,” a metaphor for her rebirth in the music industry. The album illustrates Martinez’s remarkable ability to use her storyteller and visual artist talent to tackle complex topics. Martinez has come a long way since her short time on “The Voice” in 2012, much to Christina Aguilera’s dismay, and I’m excited to learn of Martinez’s next chapter as a visual and music artist. 

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