Billboard is a media brand publishing news, videos, reviews, charts, and more. They have done various interviews, photoshoots, and performances with Melanie Martinez. Martinez was nominated in the Top Soundtrack category for her sophomore studio album K-12. On October 14, 2020, the winners were announced, and Frozen 2 won over K-12. The Show aired on NBC where Melanie made her debut on The Voice in 2012.
Written Interview #1
Atlantic Records Group chairman and COO Julie Greenwald says she won't forget the day she met singer/songwriter Melanie Martinez. "She walked in and she was wearing this baby-doll dress, her hair was two different colors. She was wearing a crazy-looking necklace made from doll parts and she had made a video for her song "Dollhouse" by pulling in every favor she could get," the executive says. "It was such an impressive commitment, and it was all her vision."
Martinez could sing, too, as she had demonstrated as a finalist on the third season of The Voice in 2012, and Greenwald says that her "amazing voice" and well-defined "point of view" convinced her and Atlantic co-chair Craig Kallman to sign the then-teenager to the label. "We wanted to give her the resources to go out there and build a real foundation," she says.
Now 20, Martinez, who is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent and a native of Baldwin, N.Y., worked with the songwriters Kinetics & One Love, and in May 2014 released an EP called Dollhouse, which contained the title track and "Carousel." Martinez says the latter song is about an ex-boyfriend, and, perhaps in a bit of poetic justice, was used by Ryan Murphy as a soundtrack to a trailer for American Horror Story: Freak Show. Martinez then went to work on a full-length album, Cry Baby, which was released on Aug. 14, and although "Dollhouse" and "Carousel" make repeat appearances on the full-length release, the album is a fleshed-out expression of her dark, hyper-sensitive take on the underbelly of American life. (Her point-of-view could be called Lynchian -- although she tells Billboard, she has not seen David Lynch's breakthrough film, Blue Velvet. She does watch a lot of Law & Order, however.)
While Cry Baby has its critics, the record has resonated with the record-buying public. With no radio play or national TV appearances by Martinez, Cry Baby debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart dated Aug. 5 and currently resides at No. 26, having moved 54,000 units, according to Nielsen Music.
The singer-songwriter is currently out touring behind her new music, and her manager Ron Shapiro, who worked closely with Tori Amos and Jewel during his tenure as an executive at Atlantic, and Regina Spektor, whom he managed, says demand for tickets has been such that he is having to upgrade to larger capacity venues. Meanwhile, Greenwald says the label is taking the single "Soap" to alternative radio, where Martinez is getting some play and is in the process of looking for TV appearances and other promotional opportunities for her. Martinez took time out from her touring schedule to talk about her new album, the persona she's created with Cry Baby, and fans who show their appreciation for musical artists in rather bizarre ways.
Have you ever seen David Lynch's Blue Velvet?
No, I haven't.
There's a pretty iconic scene at the beginning of the movie where the camera opens on a beautiful, well-manicured suburb. The sun is shining and the grass is really green, and then bad stuff starts happening, the camera descends beneath the grass, and there are all these insects and creepy things slithering around. Your music struck a similar chord with me: The songs have these child-like titles and elements, but then you listen closely and the lyrics are brutally frank and really dark.
Well, thank you.
You're 20, but your music makes you sound like you've lived a lot longer than that. Is that what it's like being a young adult today?
I don't know. I guess. I feel like, growing up, I've always felt things a little bit harder than most people. Working on this album has been very emotional and super personal, and creating this character Cry Baby helped me deal with my own insecurities. I was able to throw it all on to Cry Baby instead of myself, which really helped me. It's definitely been a process.
When you say the album is super personal, have you lived these songs?
The song "Carousel" is about a boy that I dated. That was a personal one. And the first track on the album, "Cry Baby," is too. Cry Baby is basically me. I've been called cry baby, like, my entire life, and, growing up, I thought of it as an insult. I was super insecure about it because I did take things too personally, and, in the music business you can't be soft about things. I've definitely gotten better with that, but I think it's been very hard for me because I'm very emotional. So, writing this album and creating this character, I think, was me trying to turn the words "cry baby" into a compliment.
You embraced it.
I realized that over time. Cry Baby goes through all these things, and some of the things I've been through, and some I've obviously made up because I love writing stories and making stuff up. Towards the end of the album, Cry Baby evolves into someone who's very comfortable in her skin, and I can definitely say that I have had the same kind of change within myself. I'm a lot less insecure, and I have embraced a lot of the things that I hated about myself before.
You came of age at a time when pop music was mostly about singles, and yet, you've put out a collection of songs that holds together as an album. What are some of the albums that inspired you?
I love The Idler Wheel... by Fiona Apple. It's one of my favorites. I love every single album that Cocorosie has put out, and I love the last two albums that Ariana Grande put out. When I listen to an artist, I listen to albums. Obviously, the label's going to push a certain single, but you don't know if that's what the artist really wants or what they're trying to do with their music. It's always important, I think, to listen to the hidden weirder tracks on the album in order to know what the artist is really about.
In the liner notes to Cry Baby, you thank "anyone who made me cry, broke my heart, made me angry, or made me feel anything at all." As a songwriter, do you feel the need to go out there and get your heart scuffed up in order to write authentically?
I don't write as well when I'm happy if that's what you mean. It really does suck. I can write about something that someone else has been through, whether it's someone I actually know or a story I've made up. I have a pretty good imagination, and I watch a lot of Law & Order [laughs]. But I definitely feel more connected to the music that I'm writing when I'm in that actual place, and I'm genuinely feeling what I'm writing about. So, yeah, that's what I prefer. It's a blessing and a curse because I find myself wanting to be more sad in session so I can write more. It's really messed up, but it's the truth.
So where does your dark streak come from?
I don't know. Really.
Listening to your lyrics, you seem anti-alcohol and drug and, judging from the song "Mrs. Potato Head," anti-plastic surgery. Do your lyrics reflect how you really feel about these subjects?
I'm definitely not anti-alcohol or drugs. I smoke weed, and I drink occasionally, but I'm like any normal human being. I'm not anti-anything, really. I just think that these subjects can be used in songs in ways other than, "I'm gonna like party all night and get fucked up." I'd rather talk about those subjects in a more meaningful way. But the plastic surgery thing, yeah, exactly. "Mrs. Potato Head" was something that I had in my head for a long time. I liked the visual of being able to pull apart pieces off of a toy's face. It's interesting how that can double as a metaphor for plastic surgery. It took a while to put on paper, though. That was the most challenging song to write, but it was worth it.
So, you've created the persona of Cry Baby. Do you envision yourself as an artist like, say, David Bowie, where you will change personas as you move through different periods of your career? Or is Cry Baby going to be around for a while?
I'm not sure yet. Cry Baby is me, so it's kind of hard for me to let go of a character that really isn't a character, you know? I'm still figuring it out. The couple of songs that I've written for my next album -- if I was to stick with the Cry Baby character, I could definitely continue the story in some way. But if not, I still want what I do next to be in the same world. If you were looking at it like a movie, Cry Baby is a girl in town and now that I've told her story, I'm next going to talk about her neighbor. I still want it be connected in some way.
You do seem to have created a world around Cry Baby. You conceived of the packaging for the record as a kind of "See Dick and Jane Run" reading primer for messed-up people.
I wanted it to be like a baby board book for adults, and my friend Chloe Tersigni -- she's like 19 years old and incredible, and she illustrated all of it. She was able to like bring everything that was in my head onto paper, and I'm so happy with it. It's my first album, it's like my baby, and to have someone who I love as an artist draw the entire thing -- it's just a great feeling.
You also conceive of and star in your own videos. You built the sets for "Dollhouse," did the wardrobe and now have directed your last three videos for the album, "Pity Party," "Sippy Cup" and "Soap." What's it like for a very independent, self-directed artist to work with a major label that is used to leading when it comes to shaping and marketing artists' work?
I'm always going to have my ups and downs, but so far, it's been pretty incredible how much control Atlantic has let me have in the past year or so. I get to direct my own music videos now. I wasn't able to do that in the beginning, but I did write all the storyboards for the videos for "Dollhouse" and "Carousel." Obviously, someone else directed them because I wasn't really confident enough to feel like I could take on that role. But once I told Atlantic that I was ready, they were, like, "Okay, let's do this."
I realize it's a little early in your career to be asking this, but do you see yourself eventually working in film or television? I mean, this fall, Lady Gaga will play a substantial role in Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story: Hotel.
I would definitely love to dip my hands in whatever I can. Right now, I'm just so focused on writing music. I'm on tour, and all I want to do is write. But I do want to make a music video for every single song on my album and connect all of them and tell the story of the album visually. I know it's going to take a while, but that's something that I'm just willing to go broke for, you know.
Are you funding these videos yourself?
Some of them, yeah. "Dollhouse" was fan funded. "Carousel" and "Pity Party" were done with the label. But there are definitely times when I've been like, I'm going to pay for this if no one will because I really need it. I'll just do an extra show or whatever to make sure that I get it done. I actually paid for the physical copies of the album -- the storybook -- because it's so detailed and cost so much to produce the extra pages. I did three VIP shows because I really wanted my album to look like that.
Speaking of performing, you recently had your purse stolen at a show and then wrote an interesting Tumblr post addressing the trolls who responded to your attempts to get it back. I know that you've moved on, but I'm wondering if your post had any effect on the fans who call you "Mom" and otherwise behave like tools.
I hope it was, because it has been something that's been on my mind for a while. I'm sure that it's on every artist's mind 24/7 and it's really hard for us to speak up about it because we're judged so harshly. I would like to live in a world where artists and fans can have a better relationship. Fans are always reaching out and asking for a better relationship. They say, "I want to be your best friend," but they don't really make you feel like you can open up to them, you know? Because if you were really friends with someone you wouldn't judge them. You express anything to them, and they'll know everything about you and they're fine with that. I would like for that to be how people treat me.
Taylor Swift recently weighed in on fans calling her "Mom," too.
They may think it's endearing to call you "mom" and "queen," but it actually puts so much pressure on you to, like, stay perfect and to be someone that like they can look up to. And like that's not why I make music. I don't care to be anybody's role model. It's just something that I've been thinking about for a while, and I really wanted to express how hurt I was because someone had taken something so personal to me. I mean, that's so illegal, too.
Was it a fan that stole your purse?
Yeah. I've gotten stuff stolen before. On one of my tours, I wore a vintage robe onstage that my friend let me borrow. I took it off onstage, and when I walked offstage, someone climbed up onto the stage and took it. Security was not very good that night.
That's pretty brazen.
That's why I was even crazier this time. But I was able to get the robe back by going on social media. Someone told me, "My friend has it, but he's too scared to talk." So I was able to get his address and we drove to his house. And even then, he was so rude about the whole situation. I told him that I was personally going to come and get it, and there was this whole thing about, "My mom doesn't want you to come in, and she's sleeping and blah blah blah." I was like, "I don't want to come inside your house. I don't want to meet your parents. I just want my robe back. You have something that doesn't belong to you." So, the kid put the robe in his mailbox, and my drummer went out and grabbed it. We saw the kid watching us from the blinds the whole time.
That experience could be a song.
Yeah. You saw his little eyes peeking through the blinds. So, my drummer got the robe back, and then the kid wrote all over Twitter, "She didn't even come herself. She sent someone else to get it." And I wrote back, "No, I was there. I was in the car, and I saw you hiding behind your blinds." It's so funny. You get your stuff stolen and then somehow they love to twist it and like make it about how you did something wrong. You're like not treated like a human being.
I hear you're a fan of horror movies. What are some of your favorites?
The Shining is my like favorite classic horror movie. I'm trying to think. I hate that my brain just goes into stealth mode when I like try to think of my favorite things. I'm going to stick with The Shining.
I realize that The Voice is long behind you, but I'm wondering if you learned anything from that experience that you still use today in terms of your music and performances?
I definitely learned a lot about the whole behind the scenes of TV, and I'm definitely not like, 'Oh, everything is so perfect, and I'm having such a great time it's so perfect, you know?' When I was 15 that's obviously what I thought. And then when I auditioned when I was 16, I realized that it's actually very crazy behind the scenes. I'm definitely more comfortable in front of a camera because of it. Which is cool because I was not before that. I was very awkward. And I definitely made a lot of great friends that I'm still friends with today.
The tour is going well. You're selling out a lot of dates and in Nashville, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Minneapolis, they're having to find venues with larger crowd capacities to meet ticket demand.
I didn't think it would happen so fast, but I'm really excited because we have these huge Cry Baby blocks that light up and stuff and didn't fit on some of the smaller stages. So it's cool that we can actually use them now.
What's the age range of the fans that are coming out to your shows?
If it's an all-ages show, it'll be literally all ages. There will be really weird creepy, like, 60-year-old male humans who come and then there will also be 9-year-old girls there and everything in between.
Very confusing [laughs].
Written Interview #2
On this week’s Billboard 200 albums chart, Melanie Martinez’s debut LP Cry Baby comes in at No. 153. More notably, the album celebrates its 104th straight week on the chart, a two-year run without ever slipping off the tally. The fact that the album -- which has not produced a Billboard Hot 100-charting song -- has persisted on the albums chart following its August 2015 release is a testament to the connection Martinez has developed with her listeners.
“I can’t believe it’s been two years -- it’s really surreal,” Martinez tells Billboard. “The whole experience of putting out this record has been really magical, and the people that I’ve met are really special."
The 22-year-old also recognizes how rare it is to release a debut pop album with no radio hits and still sell an impressive amount of copies. Instead of relying on hooks designed for Top 40, Martinez has found an audience by combining dark alt-pop, vulnerable storytelling and a penchant for striking audio-visual ideas (each song on the album has received a video treatment). Her committed aesthetic has helped Cry Baby, a concept album about the perils of growing up, grow from 40,000 equivalent album units in its first week of release -- good enough for a No. 6 debut on the Billboard 200 -- to 1 million units to date, according to Nielsen Music, with 388,000 in traditional album sales.
Melanie Martinez photographed on July 28, 2016 at Lollapalooza in Chicago. READ MORE Melanie Martinez: The Billboard Photo Shoot “My whole mission in general, ever since I was fourteen, was to write music that would help people heal,” Martinez explains. “Music is like therapy for me, so I wanted to do that for other people or be that for other people. I’m just grateful that it’s resonating with that many people. I could not be more grateful, really.”
Martinez also isn’t finished with Cry Baby just yet: a video for the album’s final song, “Mad Hatter,” was put together three weeks ago, and Martinez describes it as “the finale” of her debut album. “It’s a lot of CGI animation stuff,” she says, “so right now they’re working on the effects and hopefully I’ll be able to put that out by end of September.”
Meanwhile, Martinez is deep into her sophomore album, saying that her standard track list is being mastered and that she’s finishing up the bonus tracks now. But the music is only one part of Martinez’s next audio-visual experience: instead of releasing a new video every few months (as she did with Cry Baby), Martinez will release a feature film to accompany her second project, a musical that weaves all of her new songs into a storyline.
“It’s all of the videos together of the next record, all thirteen, with dialogue and whatnot in between connecting all of them together. and I’m directing it and writing it and styling it and doing the makeup,” Martinez explains. “The film is really a huge priority of mine, because it’s really important to me that people can truly understand the sentiment and the story when they hear the record for the first time, and I really want people to be able to follow along properly. … I have such a clear vision in my head, but it’s always about the execution. I’m a perfectionist, and even if something comes out great, it’s still not perfect, you know?”
While Martinez can’t share any details of the movie, the album and the story that connects the two, she does confirm that the concept will be reflected in her live show as well. “It’s basically going to be similar to the way a ballet is set up, with an intermission and stuff,” she says. “There’s going to be a lot of choreography. For the first time I’m doing choreography, which is also something I have to work on -- you know, exercising and eating right, all that stuff. I have to stop eating so much grilled cheese and chocolate chip cookies* and start really working on everything!”
Because she’s been so busy wrapping up her first album cycle and poring over her second one, Martinez says that she hasn’t had the time or energy for social media; in fact, she doesn’t have Twitter or Instagram on her phone anymore. “I don’t think I’ve posted in like three months,” she says with a laugh. And because she’s so focused, Martinez didn’t realize the two-year anniversary of Cry Baby was approaching until her manager reminded her.
“It’s just been an insane journey so far,” she says, “and [I’m] just working on growing every day and really finishing up this next record, so that I can go back out on the road and do it all over again.”
Written Interview #3
Melanie Martinez possesses one of the most daring visions in modern pop, not only as a singer-songwriter but as a hands-on visual artist who turns every new project into a visceral multimedia experience. Her second studio album, K-12, was released last year and accompanied by a film of the same name, which Martinez directed; last month, she unveiled After School, a 7-song addendum to K-12 highlighted by the eye-popping music video for “The Bakery.” It’s no surprise that Martinez has stayed busy while quarantining in 2020, delivering After School to fans while dreaming up the next phase of her career. Martinez answered Billboard’s 20 Questions about the beginnings of her artistry, how she looks back on K-12 one year after its release, and what fans can expect from her in-the-works music.
1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
When I was 16, I bought a record player and a bunch of vinyl with my own money. Some of those records were by CocoRosie, Neutral Milk Hotel, Patsy Cline and Fleet Foxes.
2. What was the first concert you saw?
I saw Florence + the Machine with a friend who had tickets, but the first two concerts I bought tickets to were for CocoRosie and Lily Allen.
3. How did your parents shape your musical taste?
My mom didn’t really listen to a lot of music growing up but my dad played a wide range of music around the house. He loved R&B, hip-hop, rock, singer-songwriters, as well as pop and Latin artists. I was very inspired by everything he played. Every genre had an element that I loved within it. I think that’s why my music is a melting pot of all different influences from growing up, as well as the music I liked listening to from ages 13-18 like Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor and Bjork.
4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
My parents were very encouraging from the start. My dad always wanted to learn how to play guitar and never got around to it, so when I showed interest in music he got me a guitar and I taught myself by looking up chord diagrams online & through YouTube tutorials. My mother always encouraged me to write poetry, paint or take photographs. I think that’s why I became so obsessed with art and music, because it was all I did. I was able to play electric guitar all night till 6 in the morning if I wanted to, because my parents understood inspiration strikes at different times for different people.
5. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
Finishing writing the script for my next film as well as finishing writing my next album. Then a poetry photography book and designing a line of clothing.
6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
Because I was pretty miserable there, it made me more passionate about my purpose in life so I could get out of my small town and go on to fulfill my creative dreams.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
“I Know,” Fiona Apple.
8. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
Bjork or Fiona Apple.
9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?
Someone had an epileptic seizure once toward the end of set. I stopped the show to get them medical attention and told everyone to go home.
10. How has the pandemic affected your creativity in 2020?
I’ve been in a bit of a writing block when it comes to music the past month or so. I am just getting out of it now. But when it comes to visual/film making/music video stuff I feel like my well of creativity has been endless. Something about spending so much time at home and not around people has made me more eager to hone in on my creative endeavors.
11. What compelled you to release the After School EP as an addendum to K-12?
I started writing After School in 2017 with the intention of it being connected to K-12 as a little bonus thing but I kept writing and so the 3 songs I intended on releasing ended up turning into a 7-song EP.
12. How would you describe the seven songs on After School as they relate to your artistic evolution?
The After School EP sonically has elements of K-12 within it, as well as elements of new music that is yet to come. It kind of is a transitional piece that is much more personal and less tied to Crybaby. It’s a marker for my growth in life. It’s like standing on a bridge between my old self and my new self, understanding that what’s on the other side of the bridge is brand new territory.
13. How did the video for “The Bakery” come together?
I made a storyboard drawing first of the whole video, then sent it in to Atlantic [Records]. They approved the budget then me and my producer Seth Josephson started working on all the nitty gritty details we needed to figure out to make sure we could execute it properly. We went back and forth with Kendra Bradanini, the set designer, on details for each room making sure that each room looked right and within budget. I designed the costumes in the video which entails not just drawing it all out but getting the right fabrics that will hold certain pleats or be structural enough to hold the scallop shape I needed, taking some of the fabrics to a dye shop, searching downtown endlessly for the right trim, ribbons, pearls, gold charms and chain I needed to string together and then hand sew onto trim that I then gave to Karina Malkhasyan (the seamstress) to apply. I sat with Brian Friedman one night and showed him some dance moves I was thinking of doing for the video, and he helped me refine certain moments like the back bend part. Scott Hove came in to make this epic cake sword and to consult on the cake canoe design. I directed on our shoot days, then we quickly had to edit it and lockdown picture. Then I got edits back with more and more of the [visual effects] being applied each time and approving things/changing things around until finally we reached the end result. Lastly, we did a color session through our computers in “real time,” which entails going frame by frame and changing the colors of any little detail that isn’t within the palette. And then we released it three days later!
14. A little over a year removed from K-12, how do you look back on that project?
I am incredibly proud of my baby K-12. The process of two months of pre-production, directing a 31-day shoot in Budapest, no sleep, 3 AM call times, two-hour airbrush tattoo removal every day, dealing with men on set trying to step on my toes and belittle me, building genuine friendships with the cast, gaining confidence as a director, actor, and dancer etc., and just overall learning so much has me determined to do it again but differently. This next time around I can’t wait to apply everything I’ve learned.
15. What can fans expect from your in-the-works music?
A completely new dimension of the world I’ve created thus far.
16. What’s your karaoke go-to?
I don’t really karaoke ever, but If I were to duet with a friend I’d pick “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy & Monica. If I were to do it alone I’d probably pick a Fiona Apple song.
17. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?
Songs that make me cry:
“Lark,” Angel Olsen
“Love Ridden,” Fiona Apple
“Like Someone in Love,” Bjork
Movies that make me cry: Up Room Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
18. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
I am the most overly critical person of myself. I peel my cuticles when I’m anxious, I have to hold my nose when swimming underwater, I love psychological thrillers and scary movies but If there’s too much gore I become very nauseous because I’m a highly sensitive person.
19. If you were not a musician, what would you be?
Probably the other things that I also do lol: Designer, Photographer, Film Maker, Tarot card reader.
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Be more eager to learn Spanish or you’ll regret it.