Melanie Martinez just dropped a visual album, “K-12.” The film, essentially a sci-fi musical, is over an hour-and-a-half long. It’s a continuation of her first album, “Cry Baby,” which is the introduction of the persona of Crybaby. Her style is very unique and specific — cute and creepy, a theme of childlike innocence mixed with adult context. Her music tackles serious issues with a splash of creative imagination. It has been four long years since her previous album but it was certainly worth the wait.
The story starts with Crybaby waking up in her bubblegum-pink home and preparing herself for the very beginning of her school years that will take her from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Crybaby looks in the mirror and brushes her half-black-half-rainbow pigtails. Heading into the kitchen, she pours cereal and is pleasantly surprised to see her pet spider fall out of the box.
The pink school bus scene is when her first song plays, “Wheels on the Bus.” Crybaby is getting bullied and feels anxious about making friends. But she has already found herself sitting next to a girl she seems to have already clicked with, and they share their fears about not fitting in. A boy walks onto the bus and they smile at each other, but he has been snatched by an aggressively jealous mean girl.
Now they have arrived to the school building, which looks like a beautiful haunted mansion. Ghosts fly by through the hallways. Crybaby and her new friend head to class, located in room 222. It’s time to say pledge of allegiance but one boy refuses because he’s angry at this country, so a group of people barge in and take him away.
At recess, “Class Fight” plays. The jealous girl from the bus ride attacks Crybaby and cuts her. This somehow “activates” Crybaby’s powers as her eyes turn black and the two girls float above the ground, and then she chokes her with her hair. This song is about the difficult feelings that come with jealousy, questioning if you should give the person up or fight harder for them.
The class fight causes the girls to get sent to the principal’s office. “The Principal” is about blindly following a leader who abuses his/her power. The students wait outside the office while a teacher is getting fired for being transgender. After the students enter, the song plays, and the scene is set like a traditional courtroom mixed with a ballet dance floor.
Later we see the principle drinking a mysterious substance that causes him to pass out, then a group of people with rabbit heads come in and stick him with a needle. If you haven’t figured it out yet, by now we can clearly see that something is very wrong with this “school.”
Crybaby returns to class for “Show & Tell” and every person in the room turns their head and stares her down, conveying the feeling of being watched and judged, causing one to become controlled. By now we are around the age of third grade, generally the time when a child becomes much more self-aware.
“Nurse’s Office,” plays as evil nurses drug the students with needles that causes them to go crazy. This represents reaching puberty and becoming flooded with hormones. After being locked up by the evil nurses and rabbit-head people, a magical goddess-like figure appears out of nowhere to save them and offer deep words of wisdom.
“Drama Club” is about the roles we are expected to take on, especially as men vs. women. “Strawberry Shortcake” is about body issues that come with puberty and will follow for the rest of your life. It also covers how women are expected to cover up and feel ashamed of their bodies because of how men might react. Both tracks do a great job at addressing sexism.
“Lunchbox Friends” deals with navigating friendship and surrounding yourself with supportive and open-minded people. During lunchtime, Crybaby goes to the bathroom and discovers a classmate with bulimia, then goes onto comfort her with “Orange Juice.” Both tracks deal with social pressures.
Next in the film, a food fight breaks out and the principal’s son has the rabbit-head people send Crybaby to “Detention.” The evil nurses are back to once again stick the students with needles. Crybaby is dragged onto a stage where she is forced to dance with two other girls. She then seems to have used her “powers” to cause the principal’s son to set her free and she successfully escapes detention. The girlfriends gather together and make a plan to set the students free from school, but the son is spying on them and listening to their every word. On another note, Crybaby find a love letter in her locker.
A student falls for a teacher as “Teacher’s Pet” plays, yet luckily Crybaby sees that this girl is being controlled and comes to her rescue. “High School Sweetheart” is a very sweet love song. Crybaby sings it while gracefully dancing around the school.
The film wraps up at the school dance. She is asked to go with the principal’s son and only accepts his invitation in order to help with the plan to get free. Unfortunately it was too late for the other boy who genuinely adores her. But she ends up taking down the principal’s son, gaining access to the loudspeaker so that she can tell everyone to exit the building immediately. “Recess” is about running away and breaking free.
Finally, Crybaby unites with the boy who had been originally planning on asking her to the dance — who confesses to writing the love letter — and the two of them blow a conjoined spit bubble which causes the school to blow up. FREEDOM!!! A magical portal opens up, and Crybaby hesitates to enter, and then the screen goes blank!
I was blown away by “K-12” and all the symbolism and metaphors that came with it. Not only does it cover the joys and challenges of our childhood school years, it also emphasizes the fact that we never truly graduate because life itself is school. The traumas from our early years follow us into adulthood. That inner child sticks with us, for better or worse. Adulthood still comes with insecurities, peer pressure, authority figures, and drama. Most importantly, we must wake up to the injustice of the world and realize our own power.