By Belinda Huang
Darkness exists until a light shines, and for 18-year-old singer-songwriter Melanie Martinez, her aim is to be that light—to expose the darkness of the world through her musical stories. Best known for her appearance on The Voice Season 3 on Team Adam, Melanie has made great strides since the show, touring the US, writing new music, and recording in the studio.
I was able to catch her sold out show at the Red Room on November 16 and chat with her beforehand. Being an avid fan of The Voice, I was interested to see how the contestants fared in the real world following the show. Upon meeting Melanie, I already knew she was something different—she was wearing her famous two-colored hairstyle and a necklace with two dangling eyeballs. Her demeanor was pleasant, yet there was a heavy, almost haunting aura about her. As we chatted, I was able to learn about the origins of her unique aptitude for dark songs.
“When I see horrible things going on like kids doing drugs and sex trafficking, it makes me wonder, why are these things happening? It inspires me to write songs about it and make people aware,” said Melanie. “Growing up, I’ve always been obsessed with carousels and merry-go-rounds, and I really like creepy sounds. You know those little girls in scary movies? I feel like I’m that creepy little girl.”
However, this dark side of Melanie was not always captured during her time on The Voice as she was often displayed as cutesy. She commented about the experience saying that she now wants to break away from it and really show her audience who she is as an artist.
“I feel like I am sacrificing my artistry when I am requested to do things from [The Voice],” said Melanie. “It’s really hard to see little girls at my shows because I talk about really dark things. I would rather have them wait until they are older to come to my shows.”
Being just 18, it was inspiring for me to see a young woman who is so mature in her art, craft, and message. Her confidence in her stories and lyrics clearly out shadowed her desire for more fame, and that’s quite rare in this day and age. So following the interview, I was interested to see what she would pull together in her show, if her artistry would actually break her away from her previous image from The Voice.
Mike Squillante, a pop/rock/alternative singer-songwriter and friend of Melanie, opened the show. He had the crowd grooving along to his uptempo songs, and he also had tender honest moments, which I appreciated. He was a pretty gnarly guitarist, piano player, and entertainer as he showed off some rock ‘n’ roll type moves on the stage, and it was a great way to amp up the show.
In stark contrast, when Melanie made her way on stage, she was armed with only an acoustic guitar. The crowd cheered loudly and consisted largely of teen to young adult women as well as some children and middle-aged adults. Her opening song was her famous chair-turning song, “Toxic.” During the song, she had the audience sing along with her, and even threatened them by saying, “I’m not gonna stop [playing the song] until I hear you guys sing.” After the song, she took off her high heels and threw them nonchalantly to the side saying that she loved those shoes, but they just weren’t working out for her tonight. I thought it was a quirky, yet bold way to make a statement.
She followed with an original song called “Birthing Addicts” about children doing drugs. She hauntingly crooned, “Mama’s don’t love their kids like they used to letting them smoke their herbs.” Her guitar playing throughout was very simple and all finger-picking, and it complemented the softness of her voice very well.
She went on to sing a slew of originals and covers from The Voice such as “Seven Nation Army” and “Too Close” in back to back order. While the audience was excited about singing along to the covers they knew so well, I was more interested in the originals. I wanted to hear the stories Melanie wanted tell. I was able to catch a few lyrics in her song about sex trafficking, called “Million Men.” She sang, “Why’d you have to sell me to those mean old men / they cut me up in places I don’t even understand / …I’m seventeen with a history of a million men.”
In another ditty called “Dear Porcupine,” Martinez talked about herself being bullied and teased her adversaries with her newfound position of fame. “I hope you all are watching my middle finger rise / to the bullies in the school yard, I know I’m on your mind / now you say love me, but what about before / when I was just that silly little girl next door.”
Pretty impressive. I admired her lyrical honestly painting vivid pictures of the darkness in the world. But at the same time, as the show continued, the pace slowed down. Because it was just her and a guitar, things started to get stale. Towards the latter end of the show, I found myself struggling to concentrate on her singing, let alone catch the lyrics. She made many attempts at involving the audience by having them sing along, but to me, that wasn’t enough. While the room was full at the start of the show, it was almost half empty by the end. And it was a shame because I really enjoyed Melanie and her artistry.
In the end, she made a solid effort to entertain her audience, but more importantly, she made a solid effort to tell stories through her songs. And no, she did not sacrifice her artistry. She told her stories well, but I’m not sure the audience was able to fully receive and capture them because of the lack of variation throughout the show. But at the end of the day, she is still a very promising artist with a lot of future and a lot to say. She told me in the interview, “I want people to pay attention to my lyrics and understand my stories—I want people to listen.” And at just 18, she already has the gathered attention of thousands across the country—you can’t argue with that, she’s got a great start.