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Melanie Martinez's K-12 (2019): Frighteningly Motivational Visual Album

K-12 follows Melanie Martinez’s character Cry Baby as she navigates her way through the hellish landscape of school. Gabe discusses Martinez's lyrics that explore themes of bodily acceptance, the pressures of society, and how to learn to love yourself. When schools suck, but education is essential - Kat discusses our hidden capitalist agenda within our education systems.

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K-12 (2019) Director: Melanie Martinez & Alissa Torvinen

Summary by IMDB: A brave-hearted girl and her charming best friend make a bewitching pair as they embark on a mission to take down the oppressive schooling system of K-12.


Melanie Martinez's K-12: Bodily Acceptance, Pressures on Girls and How to Learn to Love Yourself

by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Visual albums have popped up all over. Remembering Beyonce’s Lemonade which told the story of her coping with a cheating spouse, going through the stages of grief. Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer tells an afro-futurist tale that criticizes present-day America and inspires a culture shift. Still, none seem to weave the visual with the music quite as well as Melanie Martinez has with K-12. Featuring songs titled Nurse’s Office, Teacher’s Pet, Recess, Detention, and Wheels on the Bus, Martinez’s film is fully realized and all-encompassing in its themes and goals. I set out to cover how horrifying music could be but stumbled upon Martinez’s film and fell in love. The film is not subtle in the least, the lyrics don’t shy away from relentless commentary and critique, and the songs are catchy as hell.

K-12 follows Melanie Martinez’s character Cry Baby, the namesake of her previous album. Cry Baby navigates her way through the hellish landscape of school - Kat will dive into why school is truly terrifying and oppressive. Martinez released the album all at once, premiering with the film - as opposed to releasing singles to garner interest. She begins the film with Cry Baby waking and getting ready for school. She has an internal monologue that immediately sets the tone - she is over gender roles and the pressures society puts on girls to look/behave a certain way. She remarks about the gap in her front teeth and ponders the name of Lillith (Adam’s first wife/mother of demons/feminine monster - see our She Never Died episode for more on her!). Aesthetically, the film plays into Martinez’s personal brand of pastel goth, lolita inspired. Pink, blue, lace, and floral surround us and play into every aspect of the film even the Versailles-Esque school she ends up in. This gives us a bit of a bourgeoisie feel which is appropriate considering the toxicity explored in the film.

We start with Cry Baby on the bus, getting a glimpse into the Seuss-like environment and fellow students. Girls wear pink dresses and boys wear blue - some are completely blue beings. She kicks off with Wheels on the Bus while her fellow students do coordinated hand-dances along to the tune. We get the first hint that Cry Baby and her friend, Angelita are not as plain as they seem - they sport black eyes and curse one boy who was bullying Cry Baby. Over the course of the film, more girls are revealed to be other, witch-like, and full of power waiting to be awakened.

The songs all feature some school-like themes but expand further by covering heavy and emotional topics. Martinez explores themes of bodily acceptance, the pressures of society, and how to learn to love yourself. In Show & Tell she covers a common issue for young people/students of being constantly surveilled and critiqued. Lyrics like “Show and tell. I’m on display for all your fuckers, you see.” or “Buy and sell. Like I’m a product of society. Art don’t sell unless you fucked every authority.” A common theme is loving your imperfect body, lyrics reference this throughout including in Show and Tell, “Why is it so hard to see/If I cut myself I would bleed/I’m just like you, you’re like me/Imperfect and human we are”.

During this part of the film, Cry Baby has been turned into a marionette, performing for her fellow students and controlled by the teacher. They laugh and gawk at her as she sadly performs begging them to see that she’s as real as them. I think this is also her attempt to explain the pressures of idol culture. “There are strangers takin' pictures of me when I ask, "No more" Martinez was on the voice at just 17 years old and has been in the public eye since that vulnerable age. It’s no wonder she feels like her whole life is on display and she’s being forced to perform as expected. This song reminds me a lot of Perfect Blue and how Mima felt she was losing who she was to the person she was on stage. (For more on Perfect Blue, catch our episode!).

The bodily expectations and pressures persisted in songs that truly got to me - the visuals were such perfect representations of the songs. In the song, Strawberry Shortcake, Cry Baby critiques her own small body while undressing in the locker room, expressing the need to police your own body (a constant problem for girls in schools regarding dress codes). “Feeling unsure of my naked body/Stand by watch it taking shape/Wondering why I don’t look like Barbie/They say boys like girls with a tiny waist.”

Furthermore, she addresses the problem with asking girls to watch what they wear instead of teaching boys to respect them. “Got sent home early because my skirt was too short.” Featuring Cry Baby in a large cake dress, she cries as boys zombie-like shamble forward and begin devouring her cake. She is terrified and clearly violated, she sings, “That’s my bad, that’s my bad. No one taught them not to grab. Now the boys want a taste of the strawberry shortcake.” and even calling it out plainly, “Instead of making me feel bad for the body I got

Just teach him to keep it in his pants and tell him to stop.”

There’s magic in the world of K-12 and Cry Baby finds more girls like her - magical demon-eyed defiers of the norm. In one scene, they discover that one of the “plastics” might be like them and is being smothered by her own friends, struggling beneath the shadows and expectations of her supposed friends. Cry Baby finds her in the bathroom as she is being forced to vomit up her small lunch of oranges. Here, Martinez takes time to discuss struggles with eating disorders like bulimia. This one hit me the most and is the one time we step outside of the school for the video and travel elsewhere. Lyrics like “Your body is imperfectly perfect.” and “I wish I could give you my eyes because I know yours aren’t working.” are potent and saddening as Cry Baby urges her new friend to accept herself. But this is from a place of understanding, not critique.

Where’s the horror? You may be asking. Throughout the film, there is violence, death, disembodiment, and even strangulation. It's not overly gory or frightening when placed upon the background of the pastel goth world Martinez built but it’s still unsettling. I can’t say enough how delightful and emotional this film was. I don’t know what I was expecting but I was more than pleasantly surprised by the film and the songs. It's expertly woven and learning that Melanie Martinez directed it is even more impressive. The characters are interesting and charming, the songs are bops, and the film is nice to look at. (One of my favorite songs/videos was Detention which still has the criticism but is also rather fun). I won’t spoil the ending but instead, encourage you to watch the film on Youtube and tell us your thoughts!


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by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.