The Changing Faces of Melanie Martinez

The stage was set for Melanie Martinez at the KIA Forum, L.A., on Wednesday, May 15. Openers Beach Bunny and Men I Trust had warmed a ravenous crowd up to a deafening level. Turf had been laid across the stage, creating a sort of country party-vibe. The lights had gone down and, somehow, the screams had gotten louder. Giant bunnies had marched out like we were in a creepy Easter parade. Martinez appeared at the back on a raised platform. She raised the mic to her lips. And then...


The sound failed her at the vital moment. With the beats to opener "Cry Baby" relentless, the dancers doing their work admirably and seamlessly, the lack of vocals could have killed the momentum so meticulously generated. But Martinez's loyal fans wouldn't let that happen. Oh, hell no. Rather, the crowd took it upon itself to take Martinez's place and sing every lyric full-voiced. What could have been a disastrous intro to the show turned out to be one of its more inspiring moments. These people will carry Martinez on their backs if they have to. And for three quarters of that first song, they did.

This is Martinez's Trilogy tour, as she celebrates all three of her studio albums (2015's debut Cry Baby, 2019's K-12, and last year's Portals. It's incredible that it's been nine years since the debut, and since this writer sat down with her to discuss her post-The Voice career.

"I worked so hard after the show to show that I’m a songwriter and an actual artist, and not just someone on a singing show," she said back then. "At first, that is what people saw me as and it was really hard for me to prove that. I’m happy that my album’s out now because I’ve been working on it for almost two years and really putting together the concept. It’s great to be seen as an artist, because I worked for that."

Nearly a decade later, and it stands as a testament to Martinez's career that many have completely forgotten she was ever on The Voice. It really is a good thing that she didn't win. Here she is in 2024, headlining an all-arena tour, and the three albums that she showcased at the Forum prove that she's played the game her way.

She tackled the three albums in the order that they were released in L.A. Which meant Cry Baby first, and the title track. For "Carousel" she was sat on a giant, fluffy carousel before that exploded. For "Pity Party," inflatable birthday candles appeared before they were unceremoniously extinguished. "Mad Hatter" was a highlight -- rage and melody colliding in spectacular fashion.

That was her vibe for the first two albums -- the darkness of childhood. Taking traditionally sweet memories and amplifying the twisted side. She's the yin to the yang. The broken glass in the ice-cream.

For the sophomore K-12, she was a marionette for "Show & Tell" while "Teacher's Pet" detailed a very illegal and exploitative relationship. And for "High School Sweethearts," giant candies were revealed to feature messages such as "Die Slowly" and "Ur Gross." These lyrics are complex and quite devastating. We can often forget just how tough school can be, and Martinez reminded us, and then some.

The Portals album offered the biggest change of the evening. If the first two saw her progress from early youth to school days, Portals sees her move to another dimension entirely--that which exists between life and the afterlife. Martinez takes on the persona of Cry Baby, a four-eyed fairy-like creature with fins for ears.

This part of the set, like the album, began with the song "Death," which serves the theme--a constant cycle of life and death. This is clearly the headspace that the artist is currently in. Portals sees Martinez enjoying a creative freedom not seen since she first emerged, and the Bjork-esque pixie-ness of these songs is quite dazzling even if they aren't always as instant as those which came before.

"Tunnel Vision" is blessed with a rare intensity, while "Faerie Soirée" is delicate and mildly orchestral. As the set continues to single "Evil," we happily embark on Martinez's journey as we're forced to face our mortality, confront our behavior, examine our expectations.

And all that from a former reality star!

Photo credit - Ashley Osborn / Kia Forum Photos. 

Melanie Martinez Setlist Kia Forum, Inglewood, CA, USA 2024, The Trilogy Tour