In 2015, the music world was shaken by a young woman moving up the Top 40 with several hits featuring both a whimsical sound and a daunting message. After her time on season three of hit televised singing competition show The Voice, Melanie Martinez began to emerge as her own artist and was signed by Atlantic Records so she could “put out original music and play original music” (“New Noise: Melanie Martinez” ). After a few singles and her EP Dollhouse was released, Atlantic Records produced Melanie Martinez’s debut album Cry Baby in 2015. According to Atlantic Records, Melanie Martinez is signed as a pop artist, thus making Cry Baby’s genre officially pop (“Atlantic Records: Melanie Martinez”). However, the public seems to associate the music with the Indie and Alternative genres (“Cry Baby 2015”). This disagreement on the album’s genre appears to stem from the uncommon style of the songs, which are heavily influenced by vintage toy sounds that inspired lyrics and melodies (“About”). Her album and music style is entirely her own and difficult to fit into a single genre.
Martinez is very well known for doing everything herself. She writes her own lyrics and is the director of all of her own music videos. In an interview with The Aquarian Weekly, Martinez stated “I always know what I want to do” in regards to her artistic freedom (Ciccone, 2016). Cry Baby, being her first album, is filled with intense, raw emotion revealing much of the pain she suffered as both a child and a grown adult. The album embraces child-like themes and connects all of the songs together like a dark storybook all under the title “Cry Baby” from a torturous nickname Martinez carried on from her childhood of bullying. Essentially, Melanie Martinez’s debut album, Cry Baby, is a unique music type of the artist’s making that juxtaposes childish themes with adult content to reveal the trauma she and many others faced in her youth as well as the pain of trying to find love and acceptance in this world.
As aforementioned, Cry Baby’s musical style that combines vintage toy sounds and child-related themes to communicate more adult associated experiences. While this style choice seems like Martinez chose it to showcase her debut album simply for her love of vintage toy collecting, she actually saw the style as an untapped potential to send her message in a way that wasn’t straightforward. She also stated in her interview with NYLON Magazine, “I love the contrast between adult situations and the kid themes. It just shows it can all come back together” (Manders, 2015). Martinez’s purpose for the album was not only to express deeply buried pains but also to let other girls know that they are not alone. Not everyone has a picture perfect childhood and love life, and this can often cause young women to be very insecure and uncomfortable with themselves. “I want it to help anybody who felt like they were a crybaby growing up,” Martinez said on her official website. “Writing this album made me more comfortable in my own skin. Through the process I accepted myself and who I am. I hope it can do that for someone else when they listen to it.”
According to Martinez’s official website, Cry Baby is a story that is both fiction but also about herself “in a way that’s somewhat exaggerated and darker than reality.” In this album, Cry Baby is a character that mirrors Martinez and her experiences and is learning to “be more comfortable with who she is.” So, what is Cry Baby’s story that this album is centered on? Martinez wrote a short storybook with four lines per page to describe each of Cry Baby’s 13 tracks to answer just that. The storybook’s track explanation goes in the same order that the tracks appear on the album, starting with “Cry Baby” and ending with “Mad Hatter.” According to the storybook, Cry Baby is a young girl who grows up in an imperfect home and keeps having her heart broken. Eventually, Cry Baby is kidnapped and poisons her kidnapper to escape. After the trauma of this ordeal, Cry Baby stopped trying to be perfect and allowed herself to be “imperfect, insane, and emotional” because that is what makes her feel safe (“Cry Baby”). As a result of this encompassing story for the album, there is heavy symbolism found throughout Cry Baby’s tracks as well as several recurring patterns both lyrically and visually displayed in music videos.
Some of the patterns and symbols found are a result of the chosen childhood theme such as nursery rhymes, sweet treats, and music video imagery revolving around toys, pastel colors, and whimsical friends. However, the most powerful and recurring patterns are centered around violence, substance abuse, and rejection. Children often do not have to experience stabbings, alcoholism, and manipulative games, yet Cry Baby’s character is constantly faced with such horrors for a child. In the song “Dollhouse” listeners are introduced to Cry Baby’s homelife that consists of a picture perfect family on the outside, while no one listens to her say “Mom, please wake up/ Dad’s with a slut, and your son is smoking cannabis.” Immediately following “Dollhouse” the track “Sippy Cup,” tells the story of Cry Baby’s mother murdering her father after bringing home another woman. While Cry Baby watches from the shadows, she is traumatized by her father’s death while her mother tries to drown the memories in alcohol. Unfortunately, Cry Baby reminds her that “He’s still dead when [her mother] is done with the bottle” and that her “kids are still depressed when [she dresses] them up.” After several tracks that depict Cry Baby’s failed romances and feelings of heartbreak and anger, Cry Baby throws a party that no one attends in Martinez’s track “Pity Party” where Cry Baby’s character is overcome with anger and becomes violent herself, expressing that she will “cry until her pity party’s in flames.” After “Pity Party” the remainder of Cry Baby’s songs are sprinkled with violence such as murdering her kidnapper (“Tag You’re It” & “Milk and Cookies”), implications of murdering the girlfriend of a boy she is interested in (“Pacify Her”) and substance abuse to cope with her traumas (“Mad Hatter”).
Ultimately, all of the Cry Baby album’s tracks are unified under the album title coordinating with the first track of the same title tells the story of a girl who is tormented by her feelings and made fun of by those who don’t understand. Cry Baby’s “heart’s too big for [her] body” and her tears spill out where everyone can see, and that’s why “they” call her Cry Baby. Martinez’s character has a journey from track one to track thirteen that Martinez calls her own coming of age in which Cry Baby’s experiences mirror some of her own. Cry Baby’s story is how she has come to terms with how traumas have shaped her into a”Mad Hatter” that can share her story with those who can relate. Although Martinez’s work in Cry Baby can seem unnerving due to the horror elements being juxtaposed by childish sounds and elements, this was essentially the reaction that Martinez aimed to evoke from audiences. While her work is partially a creative outlet for herself, Martinez crafted songs that others could relate to and enjoy despite the dark messages they hold. Her final goal of exposing the traumas that many faces in childhood and showing how they can shape someone through Cry Baby’s story was very well accomplished in the work as a whole.