K-12 Review

A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3’s: Can you count from K to 12?

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K-12 Review

Kayla, Writer

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On September 6, 2019, pop-singer Melanie Martinez released her 2nd album K-12, along with a featured film she both wrote and directed. The film and album are directed in a way that truly captures the essence of the underlying corruption and struggles within schooling systems. With the use of theatrics and dramatic dancing and music, Melanie’s fictional character, Crybaby experiences the struggles of school. Issues of bullying, corrupt school administration, drug usage, a twisted dress code system, among others are seen within the film and discussed in the album. When watching the film, the facade of innocence is woven throughout the film, however, it is quickly seen that there is a darker storyline. The film is one that many can relate to as it discusses through symbolic and literal imagery and lyrics the problems that occur in school systems.


Melanie plays with a lot of themes and concepts within the film. The first scene takes place on a school bus where the first song ‘Wheels on the Bus’ is introduced where the wild events that occur on school buses are portrayed. Things like smoking, bullying, sexual activities, and horse-play are seen, yet nothing is done to stop it. Arguably, it is not uncommon for such events to take place on buses and school grounds, and though exaggerated to a point in the film, both the song and actors in the film express how real these events are. With her use of cinema and music, Martinez also created symbolic and literal cases of many issues such as the idea of inequality and racism. In a scene where Crybaby is late to class, the pledge begins. A black student refuses to stand to protest, as this is a real issue that has been seen in real life. Black Americans show their protest against the pledge as it does not represent equality and freedom among all because of the still existing issue of racism. Martinez uses this scene to portray the controversy of racism and protesting that has been prevalent in American society.


Bullying is a huge issue that exists in many school systems, regardless of being a boarding, private, or public school, and Melanie makes great use with the environment and characters to bring this issue to light. Crybaby deals with the recurring issue of bullying as students, like the popular girls at school, make fun of the gap in-between her teeth and other general insults. The songs ‘Class Fight’ and ‘Lunchbox Friends’ discuss the themes of bullying, fake friends, and the cliche behavior of the ‘popular girl’. ‘Class Fight’ deals Crybaby fighting the popular girl over a boy that both are interested in, which is also portrayed in the film, while ‘Lunchbox Friends’ discusses the fake relationships between people in school; talking behind someone’s back, fake friends, betrayals, etc. are presented in the film as Crybaby is caught up in the popular group. As a high schooler, these things are very common, mainly amongst the teenage girls, which creates petty drama and unnecessary conflict. Her song ‘High School Sweethearts’ reflects the idea of high school love where Crybaby dances as she sings of the requirements of being in a relationship with her as high school relationships tend not to last long. They even seem to be a waste of time in hindsight.


Melanie Martinez does an amazing job of showing this corruption through the eerie imagery, dark lyrics, and symbolic theatrics. Corruption exists in all corners of government, businesses, schools, churches, etc. and Martinez makes use of her unique writing and direction to express that. Her songs ‘The Principal’, ‘Show & Tell’, ‘Detention’, “Drama Club’, ‘Teacher’s Pet’, and ‘Recess’ show different forms of this corruption. Her way of showing this is very present in our society’s school systems. The events of ‘Class Fight’ lead to Crybaby’s discovery of the controlling and corrupt school system; the principal uses pills on the students to keep them controlled and docile. The scene in the film and the lyrics in the song describe his neglection of the students and their needs, his controlling and greedy nature, and claims of being the good guy. Not only are these issues seen in schools, but society as well. “Drama Club’ and ‘Show and Tell’ express Crybaby’s hatred for being used and controlled by the school system. Martinez’s film discusses the misogyny of how women are meant to be submissive and obedient where Crybaby retorts by exclaiming how women are superior because of their ability to sympathize with others’ emotions. She also provides a dark scene of what it means to be controlled for appearances. The song ‘Recess’ discusses how people are always out to use others for the devil itself, money. And when one person breaks, another is there to replace them. Martinez uses this song to send a message saying not to let people use you, especially for riches; it serves as a warning. As for ‘Teacher’s Pet’, Martinez shows the explicit relationship between a student and teacher, further showing the teacher’s true character of being a liar and cheater. Issues of student-teacher relationships have presented themselves in schools across the country, and though darker in imagery, the film does visualize the consequences of such relationships. Students seducing their teachers for grades or good grades in exchange for a good time are very present in schools in real life as the are in the film. Money also plays a huge role in the film. 


Every student has at one point wished to skip class, whether it be to ditch or sickness. ‘The Nurse’s Office’ is displayed as a type of freak show where Crybaby and Angelita are strapped to gurneys and are hooked to a machine that admits the same drug the pills are made of to control the students. Grim in imagery, Martinez still makes use of atmosphere and dramatic antics to express feigning sickness to skip class, both in the film and song. 


The biggest theme that is explored in K-12 is the issue of body image of young women and Melanie Martinez does an excellent job at emulating this within the film with the songs ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ and ‘Orange Juice’. These two songs within the film resonate with the nature of sexual objectification and body image within our society. ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ expresses the struggles of young girls being objectified because of their bodies and the clothes the wear. School systems in America have a huge issue policing the female dress code with the idea that it is ‘a distraction to the young boys and their education’ when we as a society should teach young men to respect women’s bodies. ‘Orange Juice’ presents the issue of body image differently as it describes the issues of eating disorders, such as bulimia. This societal concept of body perfection and complexion has created many insecurities for young women and teens.   

The struggle of trying to be the perfect body shape is grimly displayed within the film, oranges representing this broken way of thinking and seeing. 


This film and album is one that every student, teacher, administrator, and principal should see because it truly shows the corruption, broken societal expectations, and conflicts that are present in schools today. Just by watching the film and listening closely to the words and lyrics, anyone can relate to some, if not all, of these themes because they are very real issues that Melanie Martinez did a 10/10 job discussing.