From “LolitaCore” to “WeirdCore”: Melanie Martinez’s Fashion/Differentiation Journey
If you want to explore one of the most 180-degree-turn-glow-up-Lewks of the last decade, then buckle up for the Melanie Martinez fashion journey. At least in an artistic sense, it appears she’s hard-core exploring how to differentiate from a culture and relationship system she grew up in. Let’s call her whole fashion journey Differentiation-Core.
Even with a thorough Google search, I barely found clues to all the meanings behind Melanie Martinez’ astonishing transformation for her new album, Portals. I hope with time she will share more about her inspiration. In my searching, I did, however, learn the term “weird-core,” which is most clearly recognized as surrealist and psychedelic artistic expression. Performing as some kind of Alien-Cat-Faerie Creature sounds like a good example. This new look, at least outwardly, is an intense change from when Martinez first emerged into the public eye.
Melanie Martinez made her first major appearance in bows and cute dresses, as a contestant on The Voice in 2012. Her Cruella Deville-inspired two-toned hair contrasted with her wardrobe to create a contradictory aesthetic. The song that intrigued the judges was a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic, performed with equal parts baby-sweet and twisted.
Martinez went on to write, record, and produce two indie-pop albums that were quite successful over the past 10 years. Throughout the beginning of her career, she became a poster-child for “Lolita-core.” This is an alternative aesthetic that dresses young adult women as if they were little girls in flouncy baby-doll dresses. The fashion seems to both mock and honor traditional visions of youth and femininity.
Both Martinez’s albums revolved around an artistic persona she created called “Cry Baby.” So named in reference to criticism she received when she was younger. Both albums emphasize youth as a theme. On her debut album, Cry Baby, all the song names relate to themes of early childhood including songs like “Pacify Her” and “Dollhouse.” As with her incongruent *lewk* of wearing old-fashioned childish dresses along with fashion-forward mature looking hair, the songs contradict their childhood-oriented titles by tackling serious adult themes including harm caused to women through various norms in our culture.
Martinez’s second album, K-12, attempts to grow-up “Cry Baby,” through a narrative of songs that take her through a magical-realism high school fantasy. The album was followed in 2019 by a companion full-length film that feels more like a visual album than a musical. At the end, “Cry Baby” finds a romantic relationship and then must choose whether or not to join her super-powered friends in the underworld. That’s the set-up for the much awaited third album.
Since the K-12 movie left us wondering whether she stayed on earth or experienced a death journey to the underworld we wonder: How might these choices look? How has “Cry Baby” changed since going to the underworld and back? Or at least, since graduating high school? How has the artist as a person changed over the past 4 years?
In early 2021, Martinez updated her pronouns to “she/they.” She has not publicly shared much more about her gender experience, but often when people state their pronouns as “she/they” or “he/they” it means that they are comfortable being called either. It also expressed that they experience some level of gender fluidity. Martinez best sums up her identity in her Portals song “Faerie Soiree:” “gather me, all of we, everyone I’ve been the boys and the girls/ and everyone in between.”
Here’s the official audio that includes that last past of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7APVSchu30
Martinez’s aesthetic for Portals seems to fully embrace the “everything in between,” in every way, not just a gendered one. I’m refreshed that she didn’t grow up her hyper-feminized “Lolita” look into some body-con-dress version of “maturity.” She/They instead, grew into an other-worldly creature. The “Cry Baby” persona was someone who in their youth started testing the limits and speaking out but still maintained elements of a familiar esthetic that would be pleasing to the mainstream. Almost in a self-deprecating way. Making her insightful lyrics seem less mature, less credible.
Martinez’s fashion journey is so interesting to me when I reflect on people’s differentiation process in family systems. I often see a parallel expression in a young adults’ communication when they are trying to differentiate emotionally from their family. Their first attempt to break away may be reactive, and are not taken as seriously. Like how an adolescent-sounding temper tantrum, may make some good points that get lost in the immature delivery.
In sharp contrast to sweet and harmless “Lolita” look, there is nothing safe about Martinez’s new look. You name it, it’s “weird.” Her “makeover” is a far cry from any America’s Next Top Model era “edgy” glow-ups that that just recycled the same minor changes that stayed safely within the bounds of what we were used to seeing. This sharp contrast could either be a total pendulum swing reaction to her previous expression, or a grounded sensible progression from where she’s coming from or where she is going. I’m still learning about it, and perhaps, so is she.
The look seems to show off the good, the strange, and the ugly. A visual representation of how Martinez want us to understand her/them at this time. I’m fascinated by what they could be working out with this weird-core style and this new album. The songs on Portals seem less about what comes after “Death,” and more about what got them there. I don’t think they have completely figured out what to really make of the “Death” experience, and what comes after. I’m guessing they’re still on this differentiation journey. I imagine at some point the mask will have made it’s point and they will get tired of wearing it. So we will get to see who they’ve become underneath.
If you want to read more about Melanie Martinez’s journey as an artist and more one why I find her so interesting follow the links below for Part I and III of my exploration: