When I found out that I was going on a breakfast date with Melanie Martinez to an ice cream parlour, I was chuffed. Not just because I would be living everybody’s childhood dream by stuffing my face with sugar-laden balls of frozen cream before the sun had risen properly, but because Martinez always struck me as an intriguing character. Despite having a devout online following who she shares her every move with (she currently has nearly two million followers on Instagram alone), she still seems largely unknowable. She's an enigmatic paradox in the form of a popstar, and one I wanted to find out more about.
After being voted out on the fifth round of The Voice in 2012 at the terrifying age of 16, she gave a metaphorical shrug and started working hard on her own material. During that time, she pulled a slew of favors to create the self-made video for her track “Dollhouse.” When it was finished, she slung on a necklace made from creepy doll parts, rearranged her black-and-blue hair, and stormed into the offices of Atlantic Records to show them her creation. In the end, the label were so convinced that they signed her on the spot.
Since then, Martinez has stayed true to herself in everything she’s done: she writes her own music, designs her own album art, and usually directs her own videos too. Last year, she released her debut album Cry Baby. The music itself is 100 percent pop, although there’s a creepy edge that simmers beneath the surface, and her pastel-colored, cutesy aesthetic is vaguely fetishistic, like a twee, Tumblr-fed lolita. Lyrically, she never holds back; her music is peppered in themes, from broken families to her own insecurities and anxieties, making her hugely relatable to her largely teenage girl fanbase (a fiercely loyal following who she has nicknamed her “cry babies”).
When I arrive, I am immediately drawn to Martinez's never-ending collection of multicoloured tattoos—she has ice-creams, lollipops, bunnies, headless dolls, carousels, and gumball machines dotted all over her body. She’s also dressed in head-to-toe baby pink and gingham, making her resemble a real life doll. In many ways, it’s hard to tell where Martinez ends and her music persona begins. Before we launch into conversation, our waiter brings over a selection of tiny ice-creams in a multitude of flavors, from salted caramel to hazelnut and chocolate to strawberry cheesecake—although after sampling all of them, we decide that ice-cream for breakfast is a bit much, and order croissants and coffee instead.
Noisey: So this your first time in London. What are your plans while you're here?
Melanie Martinez: Later today I want to walk around and experience the city and go shopping. One of my favorite clothing brands, Lazy Oaf, is based here so I'm going to check out their store.
I read that you're planning to film a video for every song on your album. Are you going to film any videos while you're here?
I wish! We don't have time to do fun stuff like that this time. I'll be playing my first London show at Heaven, and I'm really excited because the venue is supposed to be super cute. I've brought my angel wings that I wore in the “Sippy Cup” video, which I thought would be appropriate.
The video for “Sippy Cup” is surprisingly dark compared to the playful, childlike sounds your music incorporates. What's the idea behind that?
I was very inspired by toy sounds making the album. For some reason, it was the only sound that I felt went with the melodies and lyrics I had. I was so used to writing songs on guitar, but I became sick of the sound; I couldn't work to it anymore. When I started co-writing and working with producers it was really fun because I was able to actually experiment, and that really inspired me to go in the direction of children's themes.
When I write music, I'll try to think of a list of things relating to a theme, then try to add an adult situation to give a contrast between light and dark. I really wanted all of the songs to have this honest, mature message, but while still keeping them sugary and sweet.
Let’s tell each other some secrets. I was an emo in my teenage years. I have a theory that you used to be a bit of an emo too, right?
Um...I dunno...not totally but...OK yeah. I don't know if Hot Topic is a thing here, but when I was 13 that was “the spot.”
When did you start dying your hair?
When I was 16 I bleached half of it blonde, and that was because my mum wouldn't let me bleach it. I was watching 101 Dalmatians and said to her, "How would you feel if I dyed half of my hair blonde?" She was laughing, so I went to the salon the next day and did it! She didn't talk to me for like a week—it was hilarious. I've kept it since then, with one side either blonde or colorful.
Do you get any comparisons to Sia now that she wears a wig with two colors on it? Are you ever sitting there thinking “I did it first”?
I did do it first! But I also feel like female artists tend to get lumped together over the most tenuous things anyway so it’s like “whatever.”
Who was your favorite female musician growing up?
When I was really young it was just what my parents listened to. I loved Brandy; she was my favorite. I also loved all the pop female divas like Britney and Christina obviously—who didn't?!
I was listening to “Training Wheels,” the last song on your album, and it feels like such an honest love song. Is there a personal story behind that?
I don't usually write happy love songs. I use music to process emotions that I find harder to deal with, like sadness and anger and insecurity. That was the first time I was able to write a song about feeling happy.
What's your favourite track on the album?
Probably “Mrs. Potato Head” because it was the hardest song for me to write. I had the title, but it was difficult to figure out how to write a story about plastic surgery without coming across like I was bashing it. It's not a negative take on plastic surgery; it's more of a personal song about feeling happy with what I look like, because at the time I was going through a lot of stuff and feeling really insecure.
I was looking through your Instagram before our date to get a better idea of what you're into, and you seem to love creepy dolls.
[laughs] Yeah, I'm obsessed. I collect vintage toys and my apartment is full of them. It's a cute colourful mess.
Does it not freak guys out when you take them back to your apartment?
My boyfriend helped me decorate so he knows what he's dealing with. I'm not really a one night stand kind of girl, but I can imagine that if someone came back to mine not knowing anything about me it would be really awkward.
What is your ideal date?
I like staying home at with my boyfriend—I'm kind of a weird homebody. Actually he’s right there [points at a table behind us].
I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that you brought your boyfriend to our date. Is he spying on me?
No definitely not!
What do you look for in a partner?
Everything that my boyfriend is.
He can't hear you. You can be honest.
No, he's incredible! It's so nice having someone that is not only your best friend but is a music partner—he's producing my next album. Writing with him is my favourite thing in the world. It's just really easy.
I was watching your audition on The Voice, and Christina Aguilera was the only judge that didn't turn around, which I thought was rude. Do you think it's because you auditioned with a Britney song?
I'm not really sure, but honestly, being 16 and on that show was really weird. Like I said before, Christina Aguilera was someone I really looked up to when I was younger. You know how they say '“don't meet your idols”? After that, I realized it was a very real thing.
You call your music persona “Cry Baby.” Can you tell me about her?
Cry Baby is a character that is based off of myself; it was a name that I was called when I was younger, and I wanted to change the name cry baby from an insult into a compliment.
Do you still cry a lot?
When was the last time you cried? Hopefully not today because it's only 10 AM and I think this date is going pretty well.
Not yet, but who knows? I'm just very emotional. People often see being emotional as a weakness, so I really wanted to write music that changed that perception, and made me feel strong. The album is about that, but through the life of Cry Baby. It's about how different experiences shape her, and help her become who she is, which by the end is someone who's crazy and emotional, but confident and comfortable in it. I think over time it helped me do the same thing.
How many tattoos do you have?
Off the top of my head, about 37. It's definitely in the 30s.
What's your favorite one?
I have a gumball machine on my abdomen, that one and these two big ones I have on my thighs.
What do you want to get done next?
I really want a Mark Ryden illustration tattooed. He has this series called “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” and I really want the “Sweat” one.
Are you a sweaty person?
There's a photo of you smoking on your Instagram and you've captioned it, "it's a joint not a cigarette for those of you wondering in the comments."
I get so many little kids in my comments being like "stop smoking you're going to get cancer and die" so I feel like it's important to make the distinction between marijuana and cigarettes. They're very different things.
I really don't know how I'd deal with that. I'd probably be @ing 12-year-olds like "do your homework you little shit."
Yeah, ride a bike! I do wish kids would get off the internet and go outside more.
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