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Melanie Martinez is reborn in her new concept album “PORTALS”

The eccentric alternative artist’s third studio album is a strange new world

<p>“PORTALS” takes the listener through Martinez’s journey of struggle, growth, and self-discovery, from the death of her old self to the birth of her current self.&nbsp;</p>

“PORTALS” takes the listener through Martinez’s journey of struggle, growth, and self-discovery, from the death of her old self to the birth of her current self. 

After months of mystery and anticipation, alternative pop artist Melanie Martinez released her third studio album “PORTALS” last Friday. The album is a statement of rebirth, pushing boundaries within Martinez’s style while retaining her signature sound and whimsy. 

The thirteen songs on the non-deluxe version explore themes such as personal growth, self-love, life in the public eye and heartbreak. The audio and visuals of “PORTALS” intentionally push the envelope — a symbol of the newfound confidence and urgency of the post-COVID-19 era. 

Martinez is a performance artist, best known for completely integrating herself into her work by becoming an aesthetic representation of her albums. Her previous concept albums — “Cry Baby” and “K-12,” released in 2015 and 2019, respectively — came with their own visual aesthetic that Martinez carried throughout all tour and promotional work. 

Her past work built off the motif of childhood, with Martinez assuming the nickname “Cry Baby” among fans, releasing a feature film for “K-12” and referencing popular nursery rhymes or children's activities in her song titles — see “Play Date,” “Pity Party” and “Dollhouse.” 

After taking an extended hiatus post-pandemic, many fans feared that Martinez would not return to music. That considered, it was equally delightful and bizarre when Martinez completely wiped all of her social media posts and posted a video of a gigantic egg beginning to crack in a fantastical swampy pink forest. 

Later, Martinez revealed the egg cracking to be her own rebirth, but what emerged from the egg was a new being — a glamorous, pink, four-eyed, alien creature. While this new look was initially thought to be simply the cover of “PORTALS,” it was subsequently made clear that this is Martinez’s new appearance. She has donned the pink creature prosthetic makeup and swamp-goth orgecore fairy outfits for every public outing since, even performing in full costume at Lollapalooza on March 18th. 

The dramatic rollout and Martinez’s commitment to personifying “PORTALS” embodies the true message of the album — growth is painful and messy and coming out on the other side often feels like a whole new world. “PORTALS” takes the listener through Martinez’s journey of struggle, growth and self-discovery, from the death of her old self to the birth of her current self. The album's name suggests a significant change from one life to the next. 

“PORTALS” begins with “DEATH,” a song dedicated to the dissolution of a past self. The lyrics proclaim “I’m back from the dead, back from the dead.” The choice of this song to introduce the album boldly defines its new era as a period of change. Lyrically, the song reflects on Martinez’s struggle with constant criticism and the weight of celebrity on her shoulders. Sonically, “DEATH” has a much darker sound, further differentiating “PORTALS” from her previous work. 

Track two — perhaps the most stand-out song of the album — is “VOID,” an upbeat and syncopated pop ballad signifying the transition from one mindset to another. The song went viral on TikTok prior to its release with the line “Pipe down with the noise, I cannot bear my sorrow / I hate who I was before.” In this song, Martinez gets more personal, describing the loneliness and “hell” of keeping up a persona as well as the eventual escape. 

The album pushes the boundary of Martinez’s traditional sound with some jarring elements like squelches, murmurs and bones cracking. In this chaos, Martinez finds a more techno and stylistically dark sound that plays off of the strengths of her prior music while maintaining the change and growth that inspired the album.

“PORTALS” describes Martinez finding herself in the cloud of who she once was in the metaphor of rebirth. From track one, “DEATH,” to track thirteen, “WOMB,” she describes the treacherous journey of growth with tracks such as “SPIDER WEB” and “THE CONTORTIONIST.”

“SPIDER WEB” highlights a struggle to avoid getting stuck in place, while “THE CONTORTIONIST” describes a literal and painful breakdown of the body and soul through lines like “Twisted all my limbs for you / Two of them in knots and two of them in loops.” 

Aesthetically, thematically and sonically, “PORTALS” marries the old and the new. Some recognizable elements of Martinez’s sound like syncopation and classic rhyme combine with synth pop and a more harsh, grungy and dark tone.

Martinez manages to seamlessly transition into this new era of freedom and self-expression while maintaining the unique traits that made her recognizable. For new listeners and lifelong fans, “PORTALS” has a message for everyone.