Melanie Martinez’s “K-12” sets a different standard for musical films


Elle Love

A poster for the short film K-12
K-12 is directed by and stars Melanie Martinez. Photo courtesy of

Alternative pop singer, Melanie Martinez had fans anticipating the coming-of-age musical short film, “K-12,” released on Sept. 6. The short film and album is a sequel to “Dollhouse,” continuing the adventures of Martinez’s character Cry Baby, now at the age where she can attend school.

Our protagonist is sent off to K-12 Sleepaway School, a private boarding school that seems to be haunted with ghosts, creepy rabbit security personnel and faculty who prey on the young hero for being different, especially when she and her best friend, Angelita, have magical powers, seemingly inspired by the ‘90s classic childhood film, “Matilda.”

Many of the visuals in the film have different pastel hues to mask the sinister side of the boarding school, appearing more kid-friendly and innocent. The colors contrast scenes depicting predatory behavior from the faculty or the principal’s Orwellian approach to keep the students in order, including drugging them with pills or giving them mandatory shots administered by cruel, scary nurses.

Throughout “K-12,” we observe Martinez’s character Cry Baby go through experiences that mirror scenarios which her demographic audience are familiar with, including bullying, boy troubles, mean girls, body image issues, gender roles and living up to standards that society projects on young girls. The film also briefly touches on transphobia, racial injustices and the pink tax.

Crybaby stands out mostly because of her purple school dress with the flowers on the sleeves, “in a world where girls are only to wear pink dresses and boys blue pants.” The protagonist differentiates herself mostly throughout the film in the music scenes of “The Principal,” “Drama Club,” “Lunchbox Friends” and “Detention.”

The three song segments that stand out the most message-wise were “Drama Club,” “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Orange Juice,” addressing body image issues that plague many adolescents and young adults.

In “Orange Juice,” the scene uses graphic visuals that represent bulimia to draw out emotion while having powerful choreography with women of all races and body types. It also featured an emotionally-powered scene where Crybaby gorily traded eyes with the insecure girl named Fleur, singing, “I wish I could give you my set of eyes because I know your eyes ain’t working, ” symbolizing how beautiful you can look in the eyes of people who care about you.

In “Strawberry Shortcake,” the focus is towards body positivity while criticizing society’s oversexualization of girls. Martinez appears nude from the waist-up while the bottom half of her body is made of cake, representing objectification of her body to the prying, hungry eyes of the male students in her school. It also criticize the sexualization of girls with lyrics like “got sent home from school because my skirt is too short,” which addresses unfair dress codes targeting girls, and “Instead of making me feel bad for the body that I got, just teach him to keep it in his pants and tell him to stop,” which demands holding men accountable for their actions instead of making excuses for them.

Other scenes stuck out such as the puppetry-style dance number “Show & Tell” and the choreography in “Nurse’s Office,” which features Martinez strapped in a gurney.

The overall performance of “K-12” sets the bar for how musical films are made, continuing with the legacy of Beyonce’s 2016 musical short “Lemonade.”

The narrative storytelling by Martinez’s character Cry Baby reflects thoughts relatable to many young teens. The creative dance numbers, along with songs pushing the message of individuality and self-love make “K-12” a special kind of musical film that will emotionally engage the audience. It’s recommended that you watch the film before listening to the album to gain the full experience of the work Martinez presented to us.

This may be the beginning of a trend for musical films with powerful messages that we can all look forward to.