K-12: A combined album and movie review
September 14, 2019
K-12’s music was horrific and mesmerizing
For four years I waited in an uneasy anticipation, wondering if the wait would be worth it. By year three I had almost forgotten all about it, until the snippets of K-12 began to release, the long awaited album by Melanie Martinez. I couldn’t tell much from the 15 to 20-second long clips of songs, but I was getting excited. Now, after its release on Sept. 6, I can say that the wait was worth it.
Like honey, her melodies cling to every fiber of my being, not letting me go until they are finished. I was completely enthralled. It was intense and haunting and strangely beautiful — it was everything I had wanted from her album.
Yet, when Martinez originally hit the alternative pop music scene with her unique concept album Crybaby, I was not an immediate fan. I brushed her off as a strange new artist and not much more. But, over time, I began to listen to her more, focusing on her dark and thrilling lyrics, and eventually I found myself hooked.
K-12 is a continuation of her story with Crybaby, now set years later as she creates a wonderfully horrific story of high school.
She mixes fun and poppy melodies with a sense of impending doom and chaos in her lyrics. For example, in her song “Show and Tell,” she sings about being displayed like an inanimate doll for others to gawk at, and yet when I listen to it, all I want to do is dance. She is incredible at creating a false reality for her listeners, forcing them to listen closer for the real, darker meaning in her words.
That type of contrast of a pastel pop melody with dark, grim or vulgar lyrics is the definition of beauty in my eyes.
I will say with full confidence that every song in K-12 is beautifully done, and most, if not all of her songs, have a politically and/or socially charged message. One politically charged song is “The Principal,”which deals with issues in corruption and abuse of power, and also lightly challenges the authority of those who run American schools and what their incentives are.
Then there is “Orange Juice,” which is equally as charged but much less accusatory. It centers on the issue of eating disorders, specifically bulimia, and unhealthy relationships with one’s body. It is one of the first songs about an eating disorder that I have heard that properly sympathizes with the ill person without romanticizing the illness.
The only drawback in Martinez’s album is its violent and sometimes vulgar nature. However this can be expected since the lyrics are based in a pastel and dreamy nightmare world.
But if you like dark themes or influence of horror K-12 is perfect for you. It exquisitely showcases the sadness, fear, hope, and triumph of life, and even high school.
The movie K-12 was cinematic but lacked smooth plot flow
After four years of what felt like an eternity of radio silence, Melanie Martinez made her long awaited comeback with the release of her second studio album and her first movie, K-12.
The movie follows the main character from Martinez’s first studio album, Crybaby, and her gang of friends that she acquires throughout the duration of the movie. Martinez’s acting in the role of Crybaby was not bad considering this was her first experience with a full length movie, but in some places felt a little stale due to the overall abstract nature of the film.
The main antagonist appeared to be the Principal, but his early downfall made it very clear that Martinez wasn’t going to follow the usual cookie cutter format of storytelling. Through Crybaby’s interactions with other students at the boarding school where the film takes place, it is revealed the antagonist of could come from anywhere, be it tradition, a son out for vengeance, the popular girl trying to keep what power she thinks she has or conformity.
The way K-12 presented controversial topics was only blatantly obvious when necessary. The concept of racial inequality in America and transgender rights were adressed within the first 15 minutes. I wish there had been more time to flush out these scenes, but the overall plot of Crybaby and her friends taking down the figurative patriarchy was the main plot, and therefore needed the attention.
Other topics such as eating disorders, gender stereotypes, society oppression the marginalized and the concept of adults abusing their power over children are shown with a mixture of intriguing gorey imagery, the haunting dance numbers, and each individual character’s personalities.
Despite this, I felt that by using the music videos to push the plot forward, it felt like portions of the movie stayed in one spot for too long, leaving less time to flush out character interactions and the importance of certain characters that just seem to pop up. The flow of the movie left me feeling like there were parts missing that would have been crucial for a major film. However, I felt that the way the movie presented the story behind the songs, the most crucial pieces to the film, didn’t take attention away from the importance of the music and the themes they were conveying.
K-12, like Martinez’s prior album, tackles mature subjects through its visuals, song lyrics and movie dialogue. The whimsically eerie tones that Martinez established with her first studio album back in 2015 are the most effective storytelling devices the artist used when writing the film, and have contributed greatly to her unconventional storytelling abilities. Seeing the students be affected rather than adults, really put into perspective how anyone could face these challenges, and being able to talk about them is the next step towards freedom.
I won’t lie, seeing some of these topics not only mentioned but shown in original and disturbing ways hit me hard to a point where I had to pause the movie three quarters of the way through. The use of body horror and dark imagery was, in an odd way, both intriguing and effective in getting Martinez’s message across without graphically depicting the real life situations. Taking the term “teacher’s pet” literally and using the metaphor of orange juice for eating disorders, were some of the more effective and controversial methods Martinez used in order to portray these sensitive topics.
K-12 was not the perfect movie, nor did it set out to be. It was originally intended to get people talking, discussing these issues that people, especially children, have the misfortune of experiencing every day. People often have to grow up and mature too fast due to events that most of society deems taboo to speak of. Martinez’s work is full of this message in all its forms.