September 29, 2015


What We Can Learn From Melanie Martinez's Childhood Aesthetic

Rahav Segev/WireImage
Rahav Segev/WireImage

There's a prevailing theme in internet culture, one obsessed with everything teen. Sometimes it feels like an over-correction of the constant bashing of teen culture by older folks (adolescence isn't the most glamorous age by any means). It's strange when considering the power teens have on the 'net: They love it the most; they own the thing. If internet addiction is starting to plague older folk, we learned it from the best.

Another theory is seated deep within nostalgia. A fascination with the '80s and '90s runs rampant on our television screens and in our modern most circles of pop culture. Here, nostalgia is a romanticism for earlier days, easier days: Our youth.

It's in their teen years that most people discover their favorite bands, the ones they will take with them for the rest of their lives. Your palate matures as you do, but the foundation is always there. Grew up with pop-punk? You'll probably have a soft spot for palm-muted power chords for years to come. It's a time when you're vulnerable and naive, when you exist in extremes. You can do stupid stuff and it won't have life-long effects. It's a time of freedom. Who wouldn't want to return to that?

The questions becomes, what if you could push it back further? What if you can exist in a time of total dependency, where everything is cute and sweet and safe? What if you could be a kid again, just for a day? For up-and-coming pop princess Melanie Martinez, it's not only an everyday reality, but a marketable career.

When the Puerto Rican and Dominican singer was first discovered on The Voice, her aesthetic was less extreme than what it is today. She still rocked baby bangs and Peter Pan collars, but her full-on child of Lolita schtick was in its infancy (no pun intended). It wasn't until she scored a record deal and went from covers to songs of her own merit that she was really able to put it on. Think Dresden Dolls' "Coin-Operated Boy" gone full child.

For those of us of a certain age, at first, it might be a disturbing style: Here an attractive woman in her twenties is glorifying early childhood in a way that could be mistaken as sexualization. The problem with that assessment is one of observation: She's obsessed with childhood things, things that make her comfortable. It has nothing to do with sex. It's something the progressive teens of the 'net get before us adults, perhaps because of the nostalgic universe they inhabit, perhaps because of something much greater.

If anything, Martinez's cartoonish childhood obsession can teach us that pop stars who have fun with their appearances, who take on personas are usually the most interesting. Her strong visuals force us into realm that could make us feel uneasy (ironic considering the fuzzy bath toys and baby doll dresses she's known for rocking.) It might not be everybody's cup of tea, but it's worth spending the time exploring. Who knows? You might even find yourself enjoying it.