A Pastel Pink Dystopia

Inside The New Melanie Martinez Movie

Movie poster from the K-12 film.

Melanie Martinez

Movie poster from the K-12 film.

Faith Nicholas, Writer

After nearly four years, Crybaby singer Melanie Martinez has released her highly-anticipated film, K-12. Co-written and directed by Martinez herself, the film follows the story behind the singer’s first studio album, Crybaby. Accompanied by catchy choreography and a pastel color scheme, K-12 focuses on Crybaby’s school life as she and her friends attempt to take down their school’s oppressive system. The hour and a half long musical covers topics such as the sexualization of women, eating disorders, free speech, drug abuse, a hatred for school, transphobia, sexism, suicidal thoughts, bullying, and naive teenage love.

The surrealist aspects of the musical make it breathtaking, both positively and negatively. The film—available for free on YouTube—can be quite extreme for younger viewers, as it includes light gore, contributing to shockingly artistic portrayals of the intense topics covered. Nonetheless, the artistic symbolism behind every scene allows viewers to contemplate how corrupt society is, as society is represented by Crybaby’s school. The fantasy story includes magical powers held by Crybaby and her friends, as well as angels and a goddess named Lilith who guides Crybaby through the horrors of her pastel pink school.

K-12 begins with a monologue given by Crybaby, stating her disdain for school. While getting ready, Crybaby says, “I wish my mom wasn’t passed out right now and could at least drive me to the bus stop,” giving us a hint into an abusive relationship within her family. This first scene foreshadows the torment Crybaby will go through as her school life continues.

Eventually, Crybaby is shown sitting on a bright pink bus, right next to her best friend, Angelita. During this scene, kids are seen acting reckless, throwing a pink paper plane at Crybaby’s back. The words written on the plane insult Crybaby’s gapped front teeth. This is the start to Martinez’s portrayal of bullying. I find this meaningful, as Martinez poured her own experiences of bullying into this scene since she is often teased for her gapped front teeth.

Once Crybaby and Angelita arrive to their class, a scene of their seemingly villainous teacher committing drug abuse is briefly shown. The students are then asked to stand for the pledge of allegiance. When one student refuses to stand, he is scolded by the teacher and taken away by guards, indicating a controversial violation of free speech.

One of my personal favorite scenes takes place during and after the song Nurse’s Office. Crybaby and Angelita are on stretchers being carried around by identical, dancing nurses. They are forced unknown substances through injection, causing them to feel temporary happiness. This could relate to society’s tendencies to silence people who are struggling, as well as mind control. The act of students being drugged takes place multiple times throughout the movie, indicating a significance to this theme. Martinez’s exaggerated facial expressions during this scene demonstrate her acting ability as her drugged character begins to fall into insanity.

The nurses continue to torture the two until the goddess Lilith frees them. Crybaby begins to explain to Lilith that she cannot take any pain the school inflicts on her–as well as life itself–anymore. This scene holds a special type of significance to me since Lilith tells the girls, “We must feel the physical pain of this world, because the only way that we can truly learn is through experience.” This quote has the potential to encourage many viewers to remain strong, despite any difficulties they are dealing with.

The film also tackles blatant sexism against women through the scene for the song Drama Club. Crybaby enters her drama class and there is a discussion of a school play, so she reads over the part she has been assigned. When asking for a less domestic role, the teacher replies with a sexist remark. A student then states that women are too emotional, to which Crybaby replies, “Having a larger capacity to feel and express emotion are one of the many qualities that make us superior to your kind.”

K-12’s surrealism is especially demonstrated through the scene for Orange Juice. The abstract art style used during this scene makes it one of the most interesting to watch. A bully named Kelly is shown forcing another girl to develop bulimic tendencies. There are scenes of the girl’s head being cut open by Kelly and used as an orange juice dispenser. After Crybaby gets rid of Kelly using magic, she comforts the girl, saying, “Wanna know something I’ve learned about bodies? They don’t define us. We aren’t our bodies. They’re just temporary.” This is an example of another defining quote able to be used towards many teenagers, especially those suffering from eating disorders.

Despite the musical’s positives, there is one flaw: the lack of a single plot or story line present throughout the entire movie. The musical seems to piece together a variety of topics back-to-back. The end goal to take down the school is briefly described in parts of the movie–including the ending–but this goal is not present or followed throughout most of the film. However, the film instead proceeds to show viewers why Crybaby and her friends dislike their school.

The movie also contains brief, odd scenes. Half an hour into the film, Crybaby and Angelita open fancy, double doors revealing pink ghosts dancing in a ballroom. This adds nothing to the plot itself, but seems to contribute to the film’s surrealism.

Regarding K-12’s popularity, a shocking sexual assault scandal involving Martinez took the internet by storm back in December 2017, resulting in the belief her fame had become obsolete. Despite this, K-12 reached the second spot on YouTube’s most popular videos, and had kept its position for 5 days. At the time this review was written, the film sits at over 30 million views.

K-12’s entertaining choreography has also boosted its popularity on social media applications like TikTok. One example of this is the marionette-like choreography during the scene for the song Show & Tell. Scrolling through the app, one can see a plethora of people either lip-syncing, acting, or dancing the choreography to Martinez’s music.

In an interview with PeopleTV, Martinez confirmed she had been working on the movie since around 2015 to 2016. When asked about her feelings on the feedback she had been receiving, it seems it has been mostly positive.

“I can’t believe it honestly, like I’m so thrilled and I’ve just been reading all of the messages from fans who’ve seen it so far and the messages are so beautiful and my heart is just exploding with love. So, I’m just beyond grateful,” Martinez states.