Going through ‘PORTALS’

Melanie Martinez releases her third album, ‘PORTALS’


Courtesy of Atlantic Records

With 13 songs lasting 53 minutes, “PORTALS” marks a new beginning for Melanie Martinez.

Released on March 31, the album “PORTALS” marks a new beginning for Melanie Martinez. The album contains 13 songs, lasting 53 minutes. It encapsulates the cycle of life and death, while introducing a new version of her character, Cry Baby, from her previous music releases. Cry Baby is who Martinez plays in all of her music videos and movies created to go with her albums “Cry Baby” from 2015 and “K-12″ from 2019. In “Cry Baby” and “K-12,” “Cry Baby” was a young child and school girl, describing the harshness of life through analogies about growing up and school. She explored topics such as societal views, toxic relationships, politics, and more. There has been much controversy over Martinez’s change in character. Fans have worried about whether her music will be drastically different along with her personal developments. 

Initially, it was disappointing to hear that she was changing her character and the things that made her special and stand out from other artists. A lot of people, as well as myself, were big fans of Martinez in 2015 when she released her first album. She had a unique way of describing topics that can be hard to breach, and did so in a way that a lot of people connected with. Although she is changing her character, her new version of Cry Baby is definitely intriguing and still has potential to be influential to many people. 

“PORTALS” starts off well, setting up the consistent theme with “DEATH.” This song was released prior to the album’s full release and blew up on TikTok. The beginning of the song is a little slow and very autotuned, it doesn’t sound like Martinez’s normal style. But in the chorus it picks up and some of her old style begins to shine through. Her vocals start to sound like her previously released songs, and the instrumentals sounded similar too. The sound was nostalgic, and hearing something so familiar was enjoyable. 

In the track “DEATH” she sings, “I’m back from the dead” and in the following song, “VOID,” continues the message, saying, “I hate who I was before.” These lyrics encapsulate her goal with the album, which is to rebrand herself. She has done quite a good job with it, drastically changing her look and coming up with lyrics to match it. She did away with her known look of split hair dye and frilly childish dresses, opting for a pink alien-looking creature, often seen surrounded by mushrooms and fairy attire. Martinez is back to her career after 3 years, and has completely reinvented herself and her character to escape her past. 

The character of Cry Baby is not just developed style-wise, Martinez uses this album as a way to solidify her emotional transformation. Many songs in the album reference mushrooms, making it possible that this metaphorical “rebirth” is because of an influential psychedelic trip Martinez took. Like in “FAERIE SOIREE” she sings, “Mushrooms everywhere I’m turnin’ / Laced with love, intensive groovin.” 

While there are significant changes in her music, particularly her singing style, there are key similarities. In this album she uses more nature and life cycle-based metaphors to describe the topics she discusses. Similar to her previous albums, she makes nods to relationships and toxicity, specifically emotional and physical abuse. Songs that highlight this are “THE CONTORTIONIST”and “NYMPHOLOGY”. 

“THE CONTORTIONIST” uses strong wording, graphically describing the breaking of her bones and her body moving in impossible ways. It leaves it up to the imagination whether this song is supposed to be about giving pieces of herself up to a greedy partner until she is, “stretching myself worth just like you usually do,” or if it is referring to physical abuse, where a partner is literally stretching her past her limit. The presentation of the song is beautiful considering the gruesome topic. Martinez’s vocals layer over themselves, with her typical ‘nursery rhyme alternative’ instrumentals in the background. This is one of my favorite songs off of the album, as it is similar to her older work but showcases her newer sound and analogies. 

“NYMPHOLOGY” describes a toxic relationship as well but it displays her personal growth by telling a story where she leaves the relationship and stands up for herself. She sings, “Don’t treat me that way/ You’re acting like a wanna-be/ I won’t be ashamed/ For loving you so honestly.” Some of the digs in the song could be related to her ex-boyfriend Oliver Tree, who Martinez disses in the song previous to it, “MOON CYCLE.” 

Out of the entire album, “MOON CYCLE” is my least favorite. I appreciate the meaning behind it but it feels a little overworked and uncomfortable to listen to. She is trying to stand up against the stereotypes of women being weak or emotional while on their periods, and uses lyrics that go directly against Tree’s song “Revival”. Tree sings, “Stacking sh*t, like each brick on my pyramid/ I’m angry and bloody like a b*tch on her period.” Martinez’s rebuttal in “MOON CYCLE” is, “I could win a fight on my period, matter fact/ Right now, I could build a pyramid.” The style she sings the song in is clearly mocking him, and doesn’t sound very much like her normal vocals. While it was right for her to stand up to Tree, the song feels unnecessary. 

She ends the album with “WOMB,” a slightly slower song that describes her as a fetus in a womb, scared, but ready to be born and see the world. The titles of the songs really tie in with her theme, the endless cycle of life. The album starts with “DEATH” and ends with “WOMB,” and both songs start and end with the same line, “life is death, is life, is death, is life, is”. This connection is clever, making the album circular, creating a statement about human life and how we start and end our lives in a similar way. 

The deluxe edition has three additional songs, “POWDER,” “PLUTO,” and “MILK OF THE SIREN.” While the first two are not all that different or impressive, “MILK OF THE SIREN” is the most unique sounding song off of the album and one of my favorites. The meaning behind it seems to be a statement on misogyny and women’s place in society. Paired with the background vocals that sound almost like gospel music, and instruments that are far out of what Martinez usually does, the song is very strong and stands out. 

As a long time Martinez fan the anticipation for the album was a bit scary, considering it could have changed everything about her as a musician. Her childhood metaphors and artistic expression through the character Cry Baby used to be an essential part of her style. After listening to “PORTALS,” I am not too disappointed. Although a lot more change on her part was expected, she did not change who she was or her music style entirely. The album is a pretty good concept album, staying fairly consistent to the theme she seems to be going for and maintaining her old ways of breaching difficult topics. Overall the album is nowhere near as good as her first two albums but it was still enjoyable to listen to. 

Rating: 6.5/10