By Kiki Whartenby
On September 29th, electropop artist Melanie Martinez came to Memphis and performed at the New Daisy Theatre. Read more of this review in order to learn all about how she did during her live performance.
Having been a fan of Melanie Martinez since her debut on The Voice, it is extremely difficult for me to describe the fulfillment achieved from finally seeing her perform live. On Sept. 29, I stood outside the New Daisy Theatre, tickets in hand, alongside hundreds of fellow eager fans for nearly an hour waiting to be granted entrance. Although this felt treacherously long in the moment, as I look back upon that night I realize that it was well worth the wait.
Commonly categorized as dark wave or electropop, all of Martinez’s songs use childlike tunes to cover meaningful issues. Her album, Crybaby, includes great songs such as “Dollhouse,” “Carousel,” and “Cake.” It also features songs with a quirkier feel like “Mrs. Potato Head,” in which she preaches about the absurdity and sadness of plastic surgery. Before performing this song, Martinez talked about how special it was to her, demonstrating her adamant stance against allowing society to judge one’s value based on their natural physical features.
Her music also delves into darker topics: “Tag You’re It” centers around being kidnapped and abused. While some may find these subjects too raw, she brilliantly mixes specific details, like “rolling down your tinted window, driving next to me real slow,” with vague lyrics, including “grabbed my hand and pushed me down took the words right out my mouth,” which hints at abuse but leaves room for more than one interpretation. She also adds her childlike tune to hide the complexity and severity that lie within the lyrics.
As she sang during the concert, it seemed as if she was speaking directly to the audience, preaching with passion the words by which she leads her life. Many of her songs explain how being the odd one out doesn’t make you wrong or unworthy of greatness. She conveys this message in “Mad Hatter” when she sings, “So what if I’m crazy, the best people are.” Before performing the song, Martinez told everyone in the audience to put away their phones. The audience swiftly followed her instruction, and as a result saw her perform in a way that was uninterrupted and free of distraction. It forced people to, as she said, “use your actual eyes” as opposed to viewing the show through a camera lens. Saying these words in such a blunt manner brought to light how ridiculous it is that most people watched the concert through their phone for most of the night, and it caused the divide between her and us to vanish. It gave me a new perspective on Martinez, one in which she is a real person, equally as real as each and every person in the room.
The colorful, continuously changing lights complemented her music and drew attention to the stage. The lighting, spectacular alone, was not the only alluring aspect of her set. Scattered across the stage were items that reinforced her childlike theme, including a giant mobile, building blocks that spelled out “CRYBABY,” and a crib. These elaborate props let me not only hear but also visualize and feel her performance of each song. This set each song apart from the others, allowing me to appreciate how clever and complex the stories embedded within them are. The set was spread out, allowing Martinez to travel across all parts of the stage, keeping people on their toes and constantly engaged by both her music and the variation of her “toys.” The combination of her music and the set shined a light upon a new way of experiencing her art.
In a review of Martinez's performance at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan from September 2015, published by The New York Times, Jon Pareles writes, “Mrs. Martinez's voice — whispery, sardonic, tearful, furious — was joined by high-pitched singalongs, throughout verses and choruses.” Similar to this New York performance from nearly a year before, the Memphis performance was centered by a strong bond between Martinez and the audience. People all around knew every word to every song and belted out the lyrics with great passion. This concert establish a bond not only between the audience and Martinez but also among members of the crowd. At first, distant and mentally separated, with each song the crowd grew more comfortable and open with one another. People sang with strangers around them, danced as if nobody was watching, and greeted others with looks of understanding, as if they had known each other for their entire lives. After Martinez performed a last song and exited the stage, members of the audience began to fervently yell “encore” out of great hope that she would return and play one of her most popular songs, “Cake.” After much demand, she finally returned and began to sing this beautiful ballad, which truly touched me and instilled a peaceful bliss upon the crowd, calming and quieting the whole room, deeply and widely impacting all present. One member of this fandom was Jordan Gurley (10), who said “Cake” was his favorite song from the concert because it was the encore song and truly brought everyone together. Her passion to share her music with the audience set this concert apart from anything I have experienced, making me more appreciative of her than I could have imagined.