Before writing this review, I had never heard of Melanie Martinez. And if you’re like me, then you’ll need an introduction into who we will be talking about.
Martinez grew up in Queens, New York, in a traditional Latin household. She loved singing and performing from a young age and, in 2012, she rose to fame on season three of NBC’s The Voice: She played two instruments at the same time, all while projecting very controlled vocals.
An obviously talented woman, Martinez landed a record deal and released her first album, Cry Baby, back in 2015. In 2019, she released her second album titled K-12. And now, nearly five years later, she’s topping the charts with her latest alternative goth-pop single called “Death” from her forthcoming album, Portals.
“Death” clocks in at over five minutes and has already garnered more than 6 million views on YouTube. It’s a morbid tune that could be interpreted a myriad of ways, especially when paired with the music video (which we’ll talk about at the end).
But the two takeaways here are that either Martinez is singing from the perspective of someone who is dead to those who are still alive, trying to summon her, or that she is telling fans she is no longer her former self, using some very vivid language.
Perhaps it’s both.
This song can be easily interpreted to mean that Martinez is experiencing a transformation of sorts. It seems like this is referring to her music as she reaches for something a bit different stylistically.
But it could also represent her own mourning for someone she loves who has passed away (“When you aren’t around, I sink into the ground/…You’re always on my mind, I cannot help it/I don’t wanna by carryin’ the weight on my shoulders.”)
But that is just one artistic opinion. What’s most clear in this song is that, using a more literal interpretation, Martinez has passed and is looking down on her dead body, narrating what she sees.
And what she sees is that people are “carvin’ my name in the grave again” and that while her body is dead, she is “still alive.” She observes people trying to “call her back” through a seance (“Lightin’ all your candles to draw me in”) and through any means possible (“Doin’ all your witchcraft to pull me in/Burnin’ all your sage to connect our line”).
Still, she tries to communicate with these people but it isn’t effective (“I show my presence, you run away in fear of ghosts/I try to talk, the barrier’s too strong”).
No matter how listeners choose to interpret this song, it’s clear that both in the lyrics and in the video that Martinez is speaking of death as a form of spiritual and physical transformation.
Her video, which is like a cross between scenes from Donnie Darko and Pan’s Labyrinth, just underwater, represents both death and a transformation taking place. includes some provocative, cleavage-revealing outfits that are basically like lingerie but for fish. (This only makes sense if you watch the video.)
But if you don’t see the video–and I’m not recommending that anyone should, given its strange and sexual undertones–then the cover art for the song will do just fine. It shows a dead body lying in what seems to be the underworld as a naked fairy creature rises from the body below, while covered in some sort of gunk. Almost like a metamorphosis of sorts.
And that’s really where I think the meat of this song lies. In transformation. Unfortunately, this message is darkened by not only references to death, but to the demonic as she talks about witchcraft and seances and declares in the opening lines that “death is life.”
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).