The death of “Crybaby” and transporting through “Portals”: Melanie Martinez album review


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Managing Editor, Laken Kincaid, writes about Melanie Martinez’s latest album, “Portals.”

Laken Kincaid, Managing Editor

Melanie Martinez is one of the largest names in the alternative scene today even after a nearly two year hiatus from the music industry. Originally rising to stardom after making it to the top six in the third season of NBC’s “The Voice” as just a junior in high school, the singer/songwriter reemerged in the public eye with her third studio album “Portals.” 

The new collection, originally released on Mar. 31, is Martinez’s take on what it means to live: from a person’s birth to their death and back again to their subsequent rebirth. According to Martinez in a 2022 interview, the album was heavily inspired by her interest in “past life regression therapy and death.” This message is complimented by the marketing that preceded the “Portals” launch, much of which featured a tombstone that stated “RIP Crybaby,” symbolizing the death of her past personality that she cultivated through her previous work.

Undoubtedly, Martinez created a recognizable brand through her first two albums. Both “Crybaby” and “K-12” used adolescent themes to juxtapose dark ideas in her music like sexual assault, domestic violence and drug abuse. This combined with her juvenile costumes and babyish voice created an iconic visage of Martinez; she became an artist who was known for exposing society’s wrongs through meek and childlike eyes. 

However, Martinez strays far away from this theme in “Portals.” Apart from tracks like “MOON CYCLE,” which serves as a commentary regarding viewing women as weaker when they are menstruating, most of the tracks are internally reflective rather than the societal critiques that we have come to expect from the artist. While one could argue that “NYMPHOLOGY” is about the sexualization of female singers in Hollywood, the meaning seems to jump around depending if you are listening to the first or second verse.

Although there does seem to be an overarching narrative between each of the songs, the thread that connects each track is paper thin compared to “Crybaby” and “K-12.” Instead, the collection feels more like a hodgepodge of ballads regarding self-discovery without a detectable linear journey. The only factor that creates a bridge between each of the songs is how the tracks seamlessly bleed into one another, which is something this discography does particularly well. Kudos to the sound designer who created the transitions.

Her new appearance as a pink alien with long lashes and wings also seems to only fit into the story of the album when looking at certain faith-based theories that say that aliens take some part in the reincarnation process like the Heaven’s Gate cult. Other than that, her motif regarding extraterrestrials just convolutes the story even more and draws attention away from Martinez’s gut-wrenching voyage of learning who she truly is; it does a disservice to her music. 

Looking at life either through the metaphorical or religious lens of reincarnation, aliens feel a little out of place. While there could potentially be a deeper meaning behind her new look, like that Martinez’s true identity is something interstellar compared to the rest of the population, this connection is not made clear. This is particularly disappointing when one of Martinez’s strengths evident in her past recordings has been her ability to beautifully spin an anecdote with no loose ends.

Additionally, Martinez seems to lose another one of her mainstays in this album: her raw vocal talent. The vocal modulation on her voice is palpable in almost every track save for “THE BATTLE OF THE LARYNX,” the track that also happens to be my favorite. Albeit at some points it sounds like she is layering her vocal tracks in an attempt to harmonize with herself, other instances just sound like a child playing with a voice changer from Spirit Halloween (the best example of this is in “THE CONTORTIONIST”). 

Music-wise, the instrumentals of each song generally sound like a copy and paste of the one before it with a few changes regarding percussion or random sound effects (ergo, the heart beat in “DEATH”). Even if I listened to the collection five more times, I do not think I could tell any of the tracks apart until their respective choruses. In tandem, the lyrics are nothing to be praised either. They remind me of “deep” Tumblr poems that I read at 14 and thought “wow, that makes sense.” A great example can be seen in “NYMPHOLOGY” which says “you can’t even spell but you’re an ‘expert’ in nymphology. N-Y-M-P-H-O-L-O-G-Y, that’s nymphology.” If I may be cruel, it reminds me of the version of Taylor Swift’s “ME!” that shouts “hey kids, spelling is fun!” 

While I wish I had a better review of “Portals,” I sadly do not think this album is worth the listen compared to Martinez’s previous work. These songs take large turns away from the skills Martinez capitalized on in “Crybaby” and “K-12.” I hope the artist chooses to return to her strong points in the future or else I worry that she will continue to make her appearance or themes more and more extreme to accommodate for the blatant disregard of her natural gifts.