Melanie Martinez at Lincoln Hall

Melanie Martinez Chicago

Photos by Rachel Cameron

Set to release her debut album “Cry Baby” in the next few weeks, Melanie Martinez radiated in a petite, pink ensemble on stage at Lincoln Hall early Tuesday night, February 10th. Opening with “Mad Hatter,” Martinez thrilled her young crowd with a not-quite-on-Spotify set list that included her most popular songs “Dollhouse” and “Carousel,” as well as “Dead to Me, ”Bittersweet Tragedy,” my personal favorite, “Cake,” and Ariana Grande’s slower “My Everything” that finished off the show. Typical of a young crowd on a school night, none of Martinez’ fans stayed long enough to elicit an encore.

Before attending Melanie’s show Tuesday night, I was completely unaware of her extensive fan base. The level of ferocity with which audience members maintained their space near the stage was intense and very surprising for the type of crowd Martinez drew. As a press photographer for the event, I struggled to wrestle my way to the frontlines, fearful of retribution from some of Martinez’ older fans (i.e. parents protecting small children). Other young women fiercely guarded spots at the front for their friends, despite just having met Martinez with their VIP passes.

As an individual removed quite a few years from my own adolescence, it was not difficult to see why the 19-year-old awed her younger fans. Martinez wore a pink patent-leather crop top/skirt combination that exuded cuteness and cake, which she often matched with her doll-like tone of voice. Her backup artists were dressed in bunny costumes and played on keyboards decked out in pink fuzz, and the show’s minimal lighting thoroughly spot lit bare-foot Martinez whose costume was enough to entertain her fans.

As interesting as Martinez’ fashion choices were, they were not her sole appeal. Though the middle-school aged girls I encountered at the front were dressed heavily in Melanie Martinez merch and sporting giant bows (some glow in the dark) akin to those Martinez routinely wears, they were forthcoming with other reasons for Martinez’ charm. “I like that she’s always herself” one girl told me, adding that Martinez’ lyrics reminded her of her favorite Tim Burton film and that she liked the way Martinez translates her fascination with childhood into her music and image.

You might know about Martinez from her 8-episode run on The Voice’s season three in 2012 where she was eliminated before the season ended. Like American Idol non-winners Jennifer Hudson and Daughtry, who went on to have more successful careers than those who beat them out, Martinez has made a career for herself regardless of her mid-season elimination. Thinking that her exposure on The Voice was Martinez’ main draw, I was happily mistaken about the source of Martinez’ fandom. The same fan who liked Martinez for her self-confidence said that she became a fan only after Martinez had been off The Voice for a year. As a skeptic of shows like The Voice and American Idol, I was glad to know that teenage girls, Martinez’ most prominent fan demographic, appreciated her more for her original music and personality than for her mere appearance on prime-time television.

All of that said, if you ever want to intentionally (or not so intentionally, in my case) burst an ear drum or lose your hearing, go stand next to a throng of screaming girls as Melanie Martinez makes her way onto the stage.

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