Melanie Martinez is leaving the K-12 era with a bang. The 25-year-old singer’s K-12 album debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s 200 Chart in Sept. 2019, and was accompanied by a feature-length film (Melanie’s directorial debut) that has brought in more than 71 million YouTube views over a year later. Since Melanie couldn’t complete the perfect trifecta of accomplishments for her sophomore album — which would’ve been going on the rest of her world tour that was canceled due to the pandemic — Melanie adjusted by doing what she does best: plan a major production. Cue her global streaming concert event, CAN’T WAIT TILL IM OUT OF K-12, a live show streaming worldwide beginning on Dec. 17.
“It’s kind of like the last hurrah for obviously me, the band and the dancers,” Melanie EXCLUSIVELY told HollywoodLife ahead of the concert, which is streaming in four time zones (you can get tickets here). “We were supposed to go on tour during the summer and it was supposed to be like the biggest tour that I’ve done so far…but because of corona obviously, we weren’t able to do it. So this is really exciting that we get to come together.”
Melanie teased that fans can expect “really special vignettes” for each of the 13 tracks on the K-12 album, including performances from her new EP After School that dropped in Sept. 2020. “I really dialed in on each individual song with the choreographer, Brian Friedman, making sure that the story was being told and each song with the dance choreography, and even just the visuals and the costume designs,” The Voice alum revealed. You can also expect a much different experience than the live shows Melanie performed before the pandemic.
“So we’re changing things up quite a bit, I really wanted to make the show fresh and new,” Melanie told HollywoodLife. “So I think people can expect something different than what they saw on tour, down to obviously costumes and choreography and everything. I actually also feel like on tour, I was less able to focus on the singing aspect of the show because I was so focused on choreography.” While Melanie promised that she and her dancers are still delivering “a bunch of choreography,” the “Play Date” singer will be “primarily focused” on “singing in every aspect of the song” since it’s “really hard to do that and dance at the same time.” To prepare, Melanie has even undergone her own singing boot camp which has entailed switching from “smoking weed” to voice-friendly alternatives like edibles, doing daily vocal lessons and working out every day.
Overall, Melanie promised a “really spectacular visual performance” for this “celebratory event.” And it’s not the only exciting project that she has been prepping. She’s working on two, in fact, as Melanie revealed that she’s simultaneously creating her third studio album and the script for what will be this new album’s companion film (which will mark Melanie’s second directorial feature). “So this time around is kind of different, because I wrote like a few songs for the album so far. But I don’t know if they’re definite yet,” Melanie shared. “I really want to just keep writing throughout 2021. And just really focus in on making this record something I’m super proud of, because it is kind of an ambitious kind of concept. And I don’t want to give away what it is. But it’s — it’s definitely a big undertaking.”
Melanie could tease some details, though. For instance, she revealed that the second film will “pick up” where the first “left off,” which was a cliffhanger: Melanie’s character hesitated right before the door in the final scene, torn between joining her classmates or staying behind at the K-12 boarding school that they were all desperately trying to escape throughout the film. Viewers didn’t learn what choice Melanie eventually made — well, not yet.
“You’re not going to see like a clip from K-12,” Melanie clarified. “In the next movie, it’s not gonna be like that type of picking up, but it will be technically picking up from where it left off…I’m trying to switch it up in a lot of different ways. Vocally, I’m definitely trying out different things that I wouldn’t normally do…I’m going out of my comfort zone, for sure, with this next record.” Melanie is also looking forward to being “more confident” in her director’s role this time around, after admitting that she “lacked a lot of confidence, prior to the K-12 experience.”
Melanie’s applying this newfound confidence to her script as well. “Even though I wrote a script for K-12 and I know what to expect with writing a script, I feel like this time around it is very different,” Melanie said. “And I’m trying to do both at the same time, which has been very hard. So I’m like writing the script, sometimes writing songs…So I don’t know, like, necessarily how long it’ll take.” Melanie hoped that with her experience in writing the K-12 script, her second film will come out “sooner” than the first (an undertaking that she estimated took about four years to complete).
It’s easy to see why Melanie had to take her time with her directorial debut. The hour and a half feature was packed with music videos and gorgeous pastel visuals offset by the occasional gory scene filmed in Budapest, which followed the story of Melanie’s character’s time at a boarding school (the physical manifestation of “K-12”) as she taps into her higher consciousness and finds friends with similar powers, who all work together to escape their oppressive establishment. Melanie shares more fun details about the movie in the rest of her interview with HollywoodLife:
HollywoodLife: I wanted to talk about your film for K-12. I noticed that fans really appreciated that you didn’t sugar coat a number of topics like bullying, racism, discrimination towards transgender people, and so much more. What drove you to write and perform each of these topics that you covered?
Melanie: I think honestly, just observing the world, and how f-cked up it is…I think when I was younger, I used to watch a lot of Law & Order: SVU, like all those types of shows. And it just opened my eyes to the world because [I was] so sheltered and isolated in my parents’ home. And I would just paint all day and I had, like, one best friend. And I would just write music, you know…And also just growing up and seeing it for myself after leaving my parents’ house and just viewing the world and the music industry, and seeing how the music industry relates to the world at large and how every field kind of connects in this hierarchy of the system, where there’s really powerful people at the top with privilege…there’s always, you know, the minorities underneath, being oppressed. It’s just like this constant theme that I see in every industry, in every field in life.
And I think like, particularly with K-12, it was kind of like I felt [that] school was the best way to describe those systems that we all live in, and then those structures that we live in, because school is also one of those systems and school can easily be related to the music industry or any industry for that matter. So yeah — I love kind of creating metaphors and analogies for things and to express a greater theme or a greater topic that’s more detailed or resonant with the world. I think it’s important to talk about things that are uncomfortable because we go through a lot of things in life. And it’s good to make sure that people have something that they can resonate with, especially in pop music, where I feel like it’s kind of — everything is kind of sugar coated.
HollywoodLife: In the film, you also form a group of friends who all possess magical powers and you talk about having multiple lives. I don’t think you ever directly stated what you all were, but I got like witchcraft and fairy vibes. Was this meant to be ambiguous?
Melanie: It was kind of meant to be ambiguous…Our eyes turning black and us having, like, these superpowers were more so reflective — it’s kind of like a visual metaphor for just consciousness, being open and being empathetic to the world. [And] being understanding, like having self love, having love for other people, just being being a caring person who wants to better themselves and wants to be a part of the betterment of the world.
HollywoodLife: Another thing I loved was that there was a lot of horror imagery in the film: cut-up limbs, guts, the whole nine yards. What do you feel these visually shocking elements brought to the film?
Melanie: I really love the contrast between light and dark and like, really pretty and gory…I love those contrasts…I feel like anything that has like an opposing contrast fits together…You can’t have good without the bad, or you can’t have light without dark. You can’t have any of these things without the other. So I think it’s important to incorporate both always, and that was kind of my reasoning behind wanting to make sure that there are still these moments of raw — you know, just like gross — kind of things…[it’s] something that I like doing with even my music.
HollywoodLife: How did you pick who would play the biggest roles in the film, from Angelita to Celeste, to really everyone in the classroom? And can we expect any of the characters (or the actors and actresses who played them) to return for your next film?
Melanie: So I don’t know if I want to give that part away yet. But I will say the way that I’ve picked some characters…So Angelita was actually played by Emma [Harvey], who is one of my best friends. So it was kind of easy, because I kind of already knew I was gonna put her in the film. We had talked about it and I was like, ‘Oh, she would be so perfect for this role.’ And also, I just love that idea of working with your friends and being able to have this natural kind of camaraderie where it’s not forced. And it doesn’t feel unnatural, where you’re talking to someone you just, like, don’t have like a vibe [with] — like if you wouldn’t be friends in real life.
I didn’t know any of the other characters before pre-casting, except for Emma. But yeah, when I met them during casting, it was actually funny because they had sent in the tapes from the first cast session. And when I watched the tapes, I immediately knew who was going to play who, but the producers were like, ‘You have to pick more people to come in for the callback. You can’t just pick them and then that’s it. You have to see what they’re like in person.’ And I’m like, ‘But I know [it’s] going to be them.'”
And so it’s funny, because I went back to the callback, and I ended up picking the same people I just like had this like intuitive kind of feeling [towards], like this gut feeling about every character. And it’s even funny, because I wrote certain characters to be like, certain astrological signs, and they ended up being that exact sign. So I think that that’s probably the even weirder, like more dense part of it. Even when we all traveled to Budapest, that was kind of when we really started hanging out all together for the first time…we felt like there was some sort of, like, past life connects between all of us. And it felt very destined. And there’s so many synchronicities that we were all seeing, and we always talked about it. So it was, I don’t know, it was a really exciting time and experience. And even though it was stressful, it was nice that we all had each other.
HollywoodLife: And what was Melanie Martinez like when she was actually going through K-12?
Melanie: I was very introverted, which I still am. I didn’t have a lot of friends. But I had like a few friends here and there. And I definitely got along with a lot of different groups of people. When I look back at my school experience, I think about how I had experiences hanging out with so many different cliques and groups of people. But I was always kind of this, like, singular person just kind of wandering about, and I would always spend a lot of time in the dark room and my photography class, or in the art room, just painting or taking photos or whatever. Like that was really all I ever focused on. I would bring my guitar sometimes for certain things…like I remember in middle school, like anytime that they had, like, ‘Oh, like you have to write an essay about this book or something,’ I would just be like, ‘Can I just write a song about it?’ And I would come in and play a song that I wrote about this book that I had to read. It was things like that. I was very, like, just always focused on trying to create something because that was my biggest passion. And I knew even then that that’s what I wanted to do.
HollywoodLife: You were saying that you were introverted and dealing with bullies all those years ago, and now in contrast, you’re so at the top. Your K-12 film, I believe, has more than 70 million views on YouTube and your latest music video for “The Bakery” was a number one trending YouTube video. What does it feel like to be at the top now?
Melanie: I feel like I look at my life now the way that I did when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I just spent a lot of time at home painting and writing music. And that’s exactly what I do now, but now it’s like something that I can sustain, I can live a sustainable life off of, which is really exciting because that was my goal as a kid. I just wanted to be able to do that for the rest of my life. It’s nice to feel like I’m finally comfortable in a place where I have my life set up in a way where I can create and I can make a living off of that…I’m trying to stay really like present and I feel like by doing that it’s really just about you know, realizing the things that I’m grateful for, which is so much. Like I have a roof over my head, I have amazing family who’s super encouraging and supportive and always has been, amazing friends who are just all like, my rock. I just have a really great support system. And that’s really all that I focus on. So I don’t know, like, I’m just — I’m super grateful. I’m really grateful…2020 has been such a tumultuous year that we’re finally at the end of the year and it’s just like, realizing what we have to be grateful for and and sticking close to all of that.