Writer Xavier Barrios reviews Melanie Martinez’s newest release, “PORTALS.”
Melanie Martinez’s ‘PORTALS’ Takes Pop to a New Dimension
Four years after her last album and film debut with “K-12,” Melanie Martinez returns with the “Cry Baby” trilogy finale “PORTALS,” released March 31.
The continuation follows her debut album “Cry Baby” which used reflections on growing up to establish her character Crybaby. The second conceptual album “K-12” discusses societal issues and explores the pains of being human. Each song on “Cry Baby” was accompanied by a music video and “K-12” was released with a film about Crybaby heading off to school.
In teasers and performances, Martinez is dressed as her character Cry Baby’s reborn form — a pink alien-like figure. In the “PORTALS” announcement video, Cry Baby is shown breaking out of an egg and emerging as the pink creature.
The album feels split in two, one side focused on production and the other advancing Cry Baby’s story — rarely, if ever, blending. “DEATH,” the album’s first track, gives the listener sets the scene for Cry Baby’s reincarnation but leaves Martinez’s exploration with production in following tracks hidden. The surprise beat drop halfway through makes the song worthy of being an opening track.
“TUNNEL VISION” offers social commentary on valuing a person for their body alone.
“Tunnel vision, then dead me / Honeysuckle and fresh meat / But I’m more than that, more than that,” Martinez sings.
Pivoting from self-degradation, Martinez adds a semi-love song with “LIGHT SHOWER.” While familiar and reused production feels cloudy and repetitive, the flowery lyrics tug on the heart strings. A love song is unlike Martinez’s previous works, who usually uses lyrics to convey political or societal takes but shows a different side of the singer’s multi-faceted spectrum on life.
In the fourth track “FAERIE SOIRÉE” Martinez sings about the suppression of social conflicts with distractions. Rattling drums and sparkly guitar melodies put the listener into a trance with Martinez’s honey like vocals. The production and higher tone singing almost covers the deeper meaning of the song so choice seems intentional given the song’s subject.
“Lips of sugar, I’m breathing the pheromones again / Hands are tied and Miranda Rights don’t mean nothing / Led me astray to the faerie soirée,” Martinez sings.
The album shines in the second half, with the sixth track “SPIDER WEB” as Martinez brings back her ethereal production style. Angelic harps and playful lyrics return focus to the album, giving it a push over the midway lull. Trapping the listener in its musical web, the song relays the experience of being an internet figure. Once a person rises to fame, they become subject to public scrutiny.
Resembling “Show & Tell” from Martniez’s “K-12” album, “THE CONTORTIONIST” tells the story of finally breaking after being bent over backwards to please society. The song is interrupted by a taunting laugh in the chorus, a strange and startling testament to Martinez’s darkness.
The last four songs of the album feel like a cathartic purge of a previous relationship.
Starting with “MOON CYCLE,” Martinez sings about her menstrual cycle. The song is to “PORTALS” what “Mrs. Potato Head” and “Orange Juice” were to their respective albums — a taboo subject which should be discussed and destigmatized.
“I could win a fight on my period / Matter of fact, right now, I could build a pyramid / You messin’ with my cycle, that is dangerous,” Martinez sings, a lyric that could be a retort to her ex-boyfriend Oliver Tree’s misogynistic lyrics in his song “revival.”
“Stacking shit, like each brick on my pyramid / I’m angry and bloody like a bitch on her period,” Tree sings in “revival.”
Martinez continues to unpack her toxic relationship in “NYMPHOLOGY.”
In classic mythology, nymphs are spirit-like maidens tied to nature, according to Merriam-Webster. Martinez views herself as a nymph in the song, comparing her past partner to a god subjecting nymphs to inferiority.
“Call me your nymph / Praise me for martyr, praise me for sin / Call me your muse / A sprite or an elf you cry to then use,” Martinez chants.
With deep-cutting lyrics laid atop a pop-punk track, the penultimate track “EVIL” gives the album a much needed boost. Escaping from a toxic relationship that seems to be full of gaslighting, Martinez sings about choosing “evil” to protect herself.
“WOMB” brings closure to an album about the afterlife. Following the process of birth, Martinez gives the listener a chance to reflect on the theme of death and reincarnation.
“Feelin’ alive the closer that I get to my life / I’m pushin’ out the center, the core / I’m swimmin’ through the flower no more, no more,” Martinez sings.
The album deserves to be played on repeat but Martinez fails to live up to the bar of her previous conceptual album. While a few songs outshine previous work, the album feels disjointed, leaving the story underdeveloped without visuals.
“PORTALS” is available to stream on all major platforms.
Featured image courtesy of Atlantic Records.