Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Melanie Martinez’ PORTALS is a halfway-there attempt at reinvention


Release date: 31 March 2023
31 March 2023, 00:00 Written by Sam Franzini

Melanie Martinez has a ...specific aesthetic.

Starting her career on American television show The Voice, she wore a red bow on top of her hair with every performance, and for her first two albums, she adorned babydoll dresses and wrote songs titled “Sippy Cup” and “Dollhouse.” But there was a dark tint to her crybaby schoolgirl concept – the sippy cup was actually filled with liquor, and the perfect-seeming dollhouse hid a fractured family. So her new look she debuted earlier this year – a four-eyed pink alien-fairy she’s taken to performing as – longtime fans might have surmised the hints she’d been dropping. But for newcomers, one question lingered: “Is that Björk?”

Fossora-inspired or not, PORTALS’ cover art and lead single “DEATH” signified a change; she has shrugged away the concept of elementary school fights, detention, and recess, and this is Melanie Martinez reborn and reinvented. Or is it just another bit, albeit one far more committed?

The album begins promisingly well, with aforementioned opener “DEATH” reintroducing her newfound concept for this new era, despite its painfully on-the-nose lyrics where she repeats that she’s “back from the dead.” But the five-minute track segues well into “VOID,” where a softer rock sound encapsulates mental health struggles. She seems genuine on the chorus, looking back on her mistakes, and later, when she admits on the album’s best lines: “Like a priest behind confession walls, I judge myself / Kneeling on a metal grater.” It’s a smart, well-paced song, but similar angsty songs make up a little less than half of the tracklist.

“TUNNEL VISION” retreads familiar territory, which is to say that it could have slotted into any Martinez album so far. Despite its genuinely baffling lyrics (“They always hustle for the pussy so they’ll never get it”), its sneaky tip-toe pizzicato melody feels all too familiar in her rulebook. The same goes for “THE CONTORTIONIST” and “NYMPHOLOGY” – however, the latter is far more interesting, playfully submerging herself into the new aesthetic by singing “It’s nymphology, not psychology / Being the manic pixie dream girl that you fuckin’ ought to be.” On “MOON CYCLE” she opens with what must be the album’s worst line: “‘Why you always act so serious?’ I said, ‘Baby boy, you know I’m on my period,’ yah,” in an affect that is hard to take. It shouldn’t be hard to discern a record’s worst line, but one on the very next song (“Put your penis in your mouth / I’ll make you choke on your doubt”) puts up a good fight.

Moments of greatness peek out in small parts: these songs that feel familiar and obsolete are next to some genuinely good tracks. “BATTLE OF THE LARYNX” is a five-minute saga detailing serious accusations leveled against her, now proven to be false. “Don’t you battle with my larynx tonight”, she says in an exasperated, tired tone. “I’ll wreck you if you chase me / But I’ll be silent ‘till you cross the line.” “EVIL,” too, with its gritty baseline and lyrics of emotional manipulation from a past partner, eventually surging past it to advocate for herself, is a stand-out. “I won’t be mistreated, please call me conceited,” she urges. “Lovin’ you was lethal, guess that makes me evil.” Another place she mentions someone’s toxicity is “LEECHES,” where the connection between the life-draining creature is apparent: “How much blood can you draw with your claws / From a flesh that’s not yours?” she asks.

There’s two separate albums within PORTALS, and it unfortunately spends more time with melodies and instrumentation remarkably similar to her past work. The lyrics and themes are darker, and feel more real compared to her previous songs lacquered in metaphor, but the artistic reinvention promised with its fantastical and imaginative cover art fails to go all the way.

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