Music Feature: Melanie Martinez finds duality after The Voice comes hauntingly easy for the polarizing talent

Music Feature: Melanie Martinez finds duality after The Voice comes hauntingly easy for the polarizing talent

MusicNovember 04, 2014

Soul-wasting and ostentatious singing competition television shows have shaped, for better or worse, the way future historians will look at our musical achievements, and they continue to erode the creativity of youthful determination.

Most contestants fizzle behind clicks of the next salacious gossip. Some, however, take the shows and wield the fixed crowd to their advantage. Melanie Martinez, the mystifying indie-pop contestant of “The Voice” in season three is doing just that.

“People think that you go on the show, and that there’s a high chance you can win,” she says. “Then you win, and you’ll get a record deal. They don’t realize that it usually doesn’t work out that way. Usually you go on the show, you make it as far as you do, you use it for what it is, then come back to your hometown, and you have to work your ass back up again.”

She says she hasn’t spoken to anyone from the show since the third season’s finale in December of 2012, and that the struggle is real just like any other aspiring artist.

“You have to keep working,” Martinez says. “You don’t stop. It doesn’t get easier if you go on a singing show. It’s hard, it’s tough, but you have to look at it the right way.”

On the show, Martinez captured a supportive audience by donning a unique style complemented by her quiet, childish demeanor. She was only 17 years old when the show was taped, after all, and her young presence twisted in contrast to her surprisingly developed voice that wavered between innocence and mystery. It was creepy, in a fascinating way.

Her devoted following phoned in enough votes to keep her on the show until the fifth week, landing her fifth place overall.

It wasn’t until months after being eliminated when she would surface again, this time on the ’net with new songs and material in tow. She released her debut EP on Atlantic Records in May, which was far from what fans had come to expect from the innocuous talent. Her single, of the same name as her EP “Dollhouse,” is a story told through the eyes of a toy figurine watching a seemingly perfect household crumble in the face of alcoholism, drug use and a father’s infidelity.

“My originals have always been like that, just to a different degree,” Martinez says.

When I was 16, I started writing songs about sex trafficking and domestic violence and shit like that. That’s always how it’s been; it’s just in a different aesthetic now.

It’s an ongoing concept she says presents a logical approach to her creative output, providing themes that match up in her art.

“Now it’s these more mature subjects, but they’re covered in childhood themes,” she says. “It’s a different approach to what I’ve always been doing. It’s just in a more cohesive way. Now everything in my life is wrapped around my childhood, whether it’s my style, my album, my lyrics, my music; I want it all to fit together. I feel it’s really important as an artist to have everything fit together.”

Her style fits in so well, in fact, that her song “Carousel” was picked up by the hit series “American Horror Story: Freak Show” and used in its viral campaign, promoting the carnival-themed horror production on FX.

“(That’s) ridiculous,” says Martinez. “It’s my favorite show. I’ve watched every season. It’s surreal. I went to the premiere, and I saw the first episode, and I freaked out. I freaked out hard. It’s going to be an amazing show, people are going to be in love with this season.”

Aside from the EP and maintaining an impressive touring schedule, which recently included a high-profile date at the Austin City Limits Festival, Martinez has been recording original works to complete a full-length album. She says she plans to release “Cry Baby” at the beginning of next year.

“It’s very inspired by hip-hop, but it’s very lyrical,” she says. “There’s always some story. Every song is a different story or a different theme. It’s going to just be a more advanced version of my EP. There’s definitely toy sounds and other really weird sounds.”

She’s also still touring, which is something Martinez says she can’t get enough of because her fans keep her grounded, but at the same time lift her up in ways she never expected before.

“I love going on tour,” she says. “I feel like it’s my favorite thing ever. I love singing for people in front of my face. It’s different. It’s cool people listen to my music, but seeing them sing along and being able to interact with them is way better.”

She practices as much as she can too, so she can avoid being considered a manufactured artist with little to rely on past production trickery.

“I always thought it was important to be able to sing live,” she says. “Whenever I would really love artists and I would find out they can’t sing live, I’d get really bummed. If I’m writing a song and I can’t hit a few notes … I wouldn’t do it because I wouldn’t be able to sing it live, and that would kill me.”

Television will never be able to produce legitimate ability from blind auditions. The most it can hope for is to discover what’s already here. While an appearance on the wildly popular show didn’t give Martinez the type of stardom most fans expect out of a worldwide platform, it did give her motivation to continue on with her songwriting. It helped lay a blueprint for something special, and we’re enjoying every minute of it.