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Artist Of The Month: Melanie Martinez

Melanie Martinez

(Bio From Atlantic Records)

Melanie Martinez’s Dollhouse EP is the perfect introduction to the New York-based singer and songwriter’s striking creative aesthetic. Like the two-toned hairstyle she favors, the 18-year-old enjoys exploring the contrast between light and dark in her music. Her debut single “Dollhouse,” which she wrote with Kinetics & One Love (B.o.B’s “Airplanes”), peeks through the window where a picture-perfect family lives and shows that all is not well. “Mom, please wake up. Dad’s with a slut and your son is smoking cannabis,” she sings over an eerie melody, toy sounds, and a sludgy beat. “Everyone thinks that we’re perfect; please don’t let them look through the curtains,” she pleads.

“My music has a strong connection to childhood,” Martinez says. “I’m drawn to using toy sounds and words that feel nostalgic. I like to tell dark, honest stories about things that people usually feel uncomfortable bringing up in songwriting, and give them a sugarcoated, childlike quality. I feel like a lot of pop songs are about having the good life and being wealthy. I want to write about what people who are not living the good life are going through.”

The songs on the Dollhouse EP are based on romance, “but disguised in weird ways,” she says. “Carousel” has a creepy carnival vibe and is based on a relationship Martinez had with someone she felt she was never able to reach. “It was always the same thing over and over, like being on a carousel and someone’s in front of you, but you can’t get to them and you’re going around in a circle.” On “Dead To Me” she deals with the aftermath of not being able to reach the guy on the carousel. “It’s like, ‘I’m done with this. The only way I can get over you is if I kill you in my mind.’” Then there’s ‘Bittersweet Tragedy,” which she says is about someone who is “like a sour patch kid. They’re sweet at one point, then they do something that is obviously sour, but you don’t notice it because of the sweetness. It’s the final song because I feel like it sums up the EP.”

Though she is drawn to writing dark-hued pop songs, Martinez describes her own childhood as happy, “which is probably why I want to relive it as an adult,” she says. Growing up in Baldwin, NY, Martinez developed her musical sensibility at a young age. Her dad played a lot of Beatles and old school hip-hop artists like Biggie and Tupac around the house. When she was old enough to buy her own music, she gravitated toward Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, and later toward such alternative individualists as Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, and Neutral Milk Hotel. “That’s what really drove me to continue to write songs and want to be an artist,” she says. “I like music that is a bit off-kilter, a little off-balance. And I really liked the way they told stories in their music.”

In addition to story-telling, Martinez was interested in word-play. “I really liked rhyming,” she says. “I used to write poems about anything I could think of.” She began writing songs at age eight, and then taught herself to play guitar at 13 as a way to accompany her voice. “I would put on this velvet dress and go down into the basement and sing,” she recalls. “I always sang in my basement because I was too scared to sing in front of my parents. They used to sneak up on me. They would hear me and record videos. There are tapes of me singing in my basement in my velvet dress.”

In high school, Martinez began taking photographs as another creative outlet. “I love conceptual portraiture and color, so I got really into photography,” she says. “I made friends that way.” She began showing her friends the videos she had posted of herself singing and playing guitar on YouTube. One day she decided she should audition for a singing show, which is how she ended up at an open call for The Voice. The blind audition, where her haunting acoustic version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” earned her chair turnarounds from Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, and her eventual mentor Adam Levine, was her first public performance.

Her quirky visual presence, memorable voice, and inspired song choices (The White Stripes, Young The Giant) earned her legions of fans as well as a deal with Atlantic Records, which will release her full-length album later this year. In addition to writing with Kinetics & One Love, she has also been working with RoboPop, who is known for his work with Kesha, Owl City, and Jessie J. “Working with co-writers was new to me,” Martinez says. “I usually just wrote by myself in the bathroom.”

Through her music, Martinez hopes to shine a light on the things people her age go through. “Everyone has problems and I want to sing about that,” she says. “Happiness is great, but I want to show how teenagers often feel because I still am one myself. When little things happen to teenagers, it’s a big deal. We feel like our world is falling apart even though it’s totally fine. I want to explore that more in my music.”

Melanie Martinez

“Dollhouse”

From Dollhouse EP

Atlantic Records 

Melanie Martinez

“Carousel”

From Dollhouse EP

Atlantic Records