Melanie Martinez has made waves in the music industry through the exploration of her alter ego Crybaby. Her debut album of the same name followed the twisted world of Crybaby as she dealt with kidnapping, murder, and aching loneliness. Martinez’s follow–up album K–12 navigates Crybaby’s school years with a full–length film being released alongside it. Martinez is dedicated to the craft of concept albums and telling a singular narrative across the entire tracklist. But her latest iteration of the character may just be her most ambitious project yet.
The story of Portals began long before its March 31 release date. In an Instagram post from February 18, Martinez announced the death of Crybaby by posting a photo tree with “RIP Crybaby” carved into the trunk. In the following weeks, fans watched the incubation and eventual hatching of a strange new Fae–like creature. With bright pink skin, huge gill–like ears, and two sets of eyes, the old Crybaby was dead, and a new one was born.
Martinez’s build up to the album’s release quickly set the theme of death and rebirth that would encompass the album. “Just like us, after Crybaby’s vessel on earth has died, she lives on as a spirit in the cosmos. It was important for me to show the immortality of being human with this record. To give people hope that there’s life after death,” Martinez shared in an Instagram story highlight.
The opening track “DEATH,” which was also released as a single, confirmed the thematic tones of the album. The beginning lyrics are quick to reference her death and rebirth: “They’re carving my name in the grave again / The flowers are fresh and their faces wet / My body has died but I’m still alive.” Combined with a slow, melancholic melody, the first verse almost comes across as her defeat, until the beat develops into a fast-paced rock inspired sound. With the chorus simply repeating, “I’m back from the dead” over and over again, it's intense and in your face. There’s no denying Martinez is back and better than ever.
As mystical as the album appears, much of the material is pulled from her own life experiences. Most notably, Martinez references a previous toxic relationship in her songs “THE CONTORTIONIST” and “NYMPHOLOGY.” In “THE CONTORTIONIST” Martinez metaphorically and literally bends over backwards for someone. Alongside the violin instrumentals, the sound of cracking bones plays repeatedly in the background. She expresses immense frustration over having to change herself to please her partner. “I’m done, I’m done / Done doing backbends I break and I snap/ It’s no fun, no fun / Pushed myself into a box, while you held out a gun.” Martinez laughs hysterically as she reaches her breaking point.
In “NYMPHOLOGY” Martinez further addresses her past relationship, tackling the manic pixie dream girl role she was cast in. In a satirical, bratty voice she sings, “It’s nymphology, not psychology / be the manic pixie dream girl that you fucking ought to be.” She criticizes that one dimensional and subservient image that she felt boxed into. The song ends with “Amulet,” which on her Instagram story Martinez explained was originally an interlude she wrote but feared wouldn’t work as a full song. She instead added it to “NYMPHOLOGY” after discovering its ending note was the interlude’s beginning note.
But it's not all doom and gloom with Portals. “FAERIE SOIRÉE” is a fun and upbeat tonal change. The song depicts leaving home to enter a fantasy world. “The blue stars running down my forehead / Cold wings flutter when they’re moving / Mushrooms everywhere I’m turning / Laced with love, intense grooving.” Martinez’ imagery feels like a lyrical translation of the album’s visuals. This supernatural, fantastical world that Martinex built within this album shines through on “FAERIE SOIRÉE,” providing a break between more intense topics.
Portals is the third and final installment of Crybaby’s story. It moves past the final stage of life, and explores the deep unknown of life after death. And though Crybaby has physically died and been reborn, Martinez herself has recovered from her own dark place and moved onto the next life.