Melanie Martinez On Concept Albums & The Future Adventures Of Cry Baby: Idolator Interview
At a time when pop albums are being dumbed down and diluted for mass consumption, Melanie Martinez’s Cry Baby is unapologetically complicated. The 20-year-old’s debut documents her emotional ups and (mostly) downs through the filter of a fictional child — a concept that comes to life through the wildly eclectic music and accompanying visuals. There’s even a story book to add another dimension to the experience.
I recently caught up with Melanie to discuss the birth of Cry Baby and her lingering obsession with childhood. The “Pity Party” hitmaker revealed that she is working on another concept album and gave some insight into the future adventures of her musical avatar. We also spoke about upcoming videos, navigating the choppy waters of social media and her most-hated Christmas carol. Find out more below.
Cry Baby is so brilliantly conceived, from the artwork to the music. It all hangs together so perfectly. Were you conscious of that from the beginning? Yes. I’m very particular about what kind of art I want to be representing with which kind of music. When I’m writing music too it’s very visual. In my head, I see it as painting a picture rather than writing a song. It’s like, “Do I see a music video to this song? Can I take a photo or a concept that can best represent this song?” I like when things go hand in hand, rather than just one part of it. Everything has to be perfect. I’m just a weird perfectionist.
How did you settle on the overarching narrative? I originally was really inspired by toy sounds. After I wrote Dollhouse I got into a habit of just having song titles that related to childhood and then relating it to a situation that I was going through as an adult. Over time, after writing with that in mind, I realized that there is a main character. The character is Cry Baby and Cry Baby is actually me.
It’s weird. I realized a lot about myself after writing the album and putting it together. I was like, “Wow, I went through a lot of crazy emotions throughout this past year and a half.” It’s really crazy to see that in front of my face, because, while it’s happening, the only way that I’m able to let it out is by writing these songs. I’m not really talking about it with my friends, I’m not really absorbing the actual situation. I just write a song and then I get over it.
You know, it’s the weirdest thing. After it was all done, I realized it told a story and I’m hoping to continue the story from her perspective for future albums.
What is it about childhood that fascinates you so much? I honestly don’t know. It’s really hard to explain. I collect vintage toys from the fifties and sixties, and when you go to my apartment it’s literally baby pink walls in the living room and AstroTurf as the carpet. It looks like a little kid’s nursery just spit up everywhere. There’s a vintage mobile from a crib hanging off my fan in my living room. It’s just all kind of like that. I don’t know why, I just like it, you know?
How did you settle on the sound? It encompasses so many pop sub-genres. I didn’t really think about what it was going to sound like. I just picked out sounds that I liked with producers and just worked with them to make stuff I liked. I just thought of melodies without thinking, “This is really this,” or “This is really that.” It was just something that I was writing. I didn’t really think about a genre or anything specific, really.
I was always very inspired by hip-hop, because my dad played a lot of hip-hop when I was growing up. I think that’s why I was so into the hip-hop drums and percussion. I think that’s why that’s like that in my album. The toy sounds, because, obviously, I was just really inspired by toy sounds. I think that it’s pop music ultimately. Why limit yourself to who’s listening when you can tell a story and really share messages or say things you want to say to a bigger audience?
Given your love of all things vintage, the Lesley Gore sample on “Pity Party” makes perfect sense. Was that your idea? I love her. We were listening to songs from the ’50s and ’60s in the studio, and I had this idea for a song about nobody showing up to my birthday party. We were going through songs from the ’60s to see if we could sample anything and that song came up and we were like, “Are you kidding? This is just so perfect.” So we were just like, “Why not? Let’s have fun and use it as inspiration — breathe new life into something that’s incredible.” You know what I mean? I wanted to do it in a fun, dark way because it’s a sad song.
Is “Soap” the official follow-up to “Pity Party”? “Soap” is the single currently.
Can you talk about the bubble drop? The producer made the bubble drop. It was very brilliant. At the time, we were like, “You literally nailed it.” Yeah, he killed it. It was just so perfectly fitting with the subject of the song.
What was it like working with Babydaddy on “Training Wheels”? It was really awesome working with Scott [his real name]. It was really, really awesome. He’s really cool and “Training Wheels” is a very important song to me. Just because that was the first time I genuinely was able to write about being in love and being happy. That was such a rare emotion for me to express, because the whole album is very… I was feeling a little bit sad. I think “Training Wheels” is the only genuinely happy love song.
You also worked with Chloe Angelides, Phoebe Ryan and Emily Warren. Those sessions were set up when I was writing the album. I was just meeting new people and new writers. At the start, I had never co-written with anyone. I was always just writing in my bathroom on my own. I had a few sessions and really fell in love with collaborating with people. I just started working with new people. They were some of the newer people that I’d met in LA, we just really hit it off and wrote some really fun stuff together.
You mentioned earlier than we might hear more from Cry Baby on your next album? When I’m 60, I want to look back on my music and have it tell the whole story from beginning to end, you know? All of the albums together. Cry Baby is really just the story of Cry Baby and Cry Baby is me. It’s basically who she is and what’s going on with her. For the next album, I have an idea but I don’t want to say exactly what it is… so I’m just going to give you a general idea.
It’s about a place within this creepy town or world that she’s in, and it gives her perspective of this place. But it’s not about her. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know how to explain it. Some of it is about her, but it’s also… other characters will be brought to life on the album. I want to create more characters and do that whole thing.
Your concepts are so intricate. Did you worry that people wouldn’t be able to follow? Yes, but that’s why I also worked really hard to make sure that there were a lot of visuals and that the album is an actual storybook. Those things were very, very important to me. So I was very stubborn. I needed to have an actual, physical book telling the story of the album, because I feel like I just wanted to show people it as a story and not just an album. Not singles or songs, just the full thing.
The album is doing so well. How are you dealing with everything that comes along with it? You’ve spoken out about online trolls and that purse snatching incident. People are weird, but I’m dealing with it by just reacting to it naturally — making sure that people understand how I’m feeling. Because I feel like if you don’t bring attention to it, and you just let it slide, then it happens more often. I feel like, when you say, “This is wrong. I’m a human. Stop,” then people start listening more. I always want to be honest and real with people when it comes to stuff like that.
I never want to hide how I feel just because I’m afraid that they may not like me for it, because that’s kind of silly. I’m just naturally reacting however I react to it, and that’s really it. I’m still doing my thing, and I’m fine. I don’t know. My purse got stolen, but it’s fine.
That was the worst. Why would you take a bag? My passport was in it. That’s identity theft. They stole my passport, it’s so illegal.
Someone is probably bragging about having your passport. They made an account on Instagram and wrote something like: “Follow me if you want to see what’s inside Melanie’s purse.” They didn’t even have it, it was fake. It’s so funny.
Blogs and social media have a strange habit of pitting female artists against each other… particularly female artists making “dark-pop.” I think it’s really annoying, and it sucks because no artist is looking at another artist like, “I hate them.” Every artist is focused on themself. To pit artists against each other is so wrong on so many levels, because they could not even be thinking about each other. It’s so stupid.
It’s so high school. Exactly. With anything, social media, and Twitter, they are just a bunch of eight year old trolls. You can’t really think about it too much, but it is annoying that people put other artists against each other, it’s wrong.
It seems to be specific to a certain kinds of artists too. It’s very specific — young, females who make pop, but not really, really “pop” pop. Something a little bit weirder. It is true.
And everyone gets compared to Lana Del Rey even if they sound completely different. It’s true! It’s so, so true. It’s very strange. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s just a weird thing.
What are you listening to at the moment? The current album I’ve been putting on every day is Ego Death by The Internet. It’s a really good album. I’ve been diving into that album the whole week. It’s so good.
What’s the next video you’re filming? Well, I’m making a video for every song on the album. I have a double one coming out soon [“Soap”/”Training Wheels”]. The other ones, I’m really excited to do are “Cry Baby” and “Mad Hatter.” That one is going to be crazy. I have so many ideas.
Is it going to have an Alice In Wonderland type theme? It’s funny. I have Alice In Wonderland ideas, like as far as the aesthetic, but not really in direct correlation to the plot of Alice In Wonderland.
It sounds like the concept for your next album is taking shape. Have you started recording songs? I’ve written a few songs. I don’t know if they’re going to be on the album, I might change my mind. I have a rough idea of what I want the next album to be like, but I still haven’t really dove deep enough into it to really say that it’s exactly what I’m doing. So far what I’ve been writing is a lot more, it’s a little bit more wordy, and a little bit more lyrical, and almost hip hop-ish. Still within the sound as Cry Baby, but it’s a little bit more dirty.
One last question. What’s your favorite Christmas carol? I could give you the one that I hate.
Please do! My most hated Christmas song is… I don’t hate it, I just can’t listen to it because of experiences when I was younger — just hearing it over and over again in elementary school, the whole choir would sing it, and it was like, “Oh, my God, it’s just too much” — is “Walking In A Winter Wonderland.” I can’t do it.
Who has ever been in a winter wonderland? Exactly!
I don’t like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” because I know I’m going to be depressed. It’s true. Do not tell me to have a merry Christmas.
It’s been such a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you so much!