Melanie Martinez – Spark Arena: January 28, 2024

Melanie Martinez

Melanie Martinez brought her Portals Tour to Auckland’s Spark Arena last night. The 13th Floor’s Andra Jenkin and Michael Jeong were there to capture the magic.

With Cry Baby, Melanie Martinez’s alter ego, being a visual feast, preparations for the concert are more involved than usual and require a lot of make up in a multitude of colours. My daughter has alerted me to the importance of Martinez, and with many of the albums I’ve been reviewing lately being young women singing in sweet, ethereal voices about dark and feminist themes, there’s something in the zeitgeist here that’s worth paying attention to.

Melanie Martinez

Bjork plays as the crowd arrives and it feels apt listening to another genuinely weird artist. Though outfitted in a full-on goth lace funeral dress, which is not out of place, when I look at the crowd, I feel underdressed. There’s diaphanous materials, frills, bows, corsets, masks, elf-ears and flower garlands adorning outfits and glitter or pearls incorporated into makeup.  Luckily, I’ve been to Hobbiton recently, so I’ve got a spare pair of elf-ears in my bag.

There’s a definite aesthetic here, manic pixie girl meets magical dark witchy nymph. Both of these themes turn up in self-aware lyrics, and my daughter Allara, a huge fan of Martinez, tells me that different albums explore these themes more thoroughly. We’re here for the Portholes tour, but Martinez generously plays songs from her popular Cry Baby and K-12 albums also.

The crowd is young and diverse. Women, young girls, non-binary lovelies and supernatural creatures abound. The singer is known for her support for Palestinians in Gaza and for sporting the Pride flag, (these do appear during the gig).

It’s worth mentioning that Martinez goes by the pronouns she/they. It’s common now for popular singers to enter the political realm and show support for causes and diversity. There are people of all shapes and sizes, and I’m not surprised to find feminist themes of body positivity and image in Martinez’s song lyrics. Though not sung at this concert Mrs. Potato Head is a good example, “Don’t be dramatic, it’s only some plastic/No one will love you, if you’re unattractive,” which is both cynical and ironic.

Upsahl

UpsahlUpsahl arrives and thousands of phones are held up, reflecting the lights of the stage, a strangely beautiful sight, like a sea of floating lanterns. The music starts super heavy. Upsahl stalks the stage, singing rock with a punk attitude. She’s immediately got the crowd on side, all pumping their arms in unison. Her outfit is straight from the 80s and is clearly in the rock genre. She’s got great chops. A really powerful voice, that she too uses to sing about body image, “I hate the way I look, but everybody look!” She’ll definitely have new fans in New Zealand.

There’s a short delay before the main act and I’m anticipating a theatrical show. Based on their make-up and alter-ego Crybaby, who seems inspired by drag, I’m expecting spectacle and I’m not disappointed. The screaming is ecstatic, like a religious experience. The enthusiasm of youth.

Melanie Martinez

Melanie Martinez is dressed as the aforementioned manic pixie girl, Cry Baby, with oversized ears and strange makeup that makes them look like a faerie creature, in a tight bodice, flowing skirt and bare feet. They sing with distorted vocals, possibly pitch shifted, and with electronic effects. She is often surrounded by the dancers, one among many. Entering the group to join in the synchronised choreography.

Melanie MartinezThe heavy bass guitar that starts it off feels like it’s impacting up under your ribs. No fan is as loyal as a teenaged girl and each one knows every word and can sing along. In fact, they know every note, screaming with approval as the very first notes play.

The backscreen is used to full effect, not mirroring what’s on the stage, but giving the illusion of a long-range perspective. The crowd’s screams get higher and I wonder if at some point it will shatter glass, or ring at a pitch so high only dogs will hear it. The musicians are all in silhouette. I see drums, guitar, keyboard, and even a classic double bass.

I won’t describe all the graphics, as I believe that fans should get a surprise, but will say that every song is accompanied by complex and interesting graphics and animations on the backscreen that feels like standalone music videos. The whole effect is like a stage show rather than a concert.

There are smoke machines, props and dancers who have deceptively simple choreography, but are also in perfect synchronicity as well as performing athletic, balletic and often violent movements that illustrate the themes that Martinez sings about. The dancers look Puckish, like performers from A Midsummer Nights’ Dream. One literally bends over backwards for the song, The Contortionist.

There’s a dreamy, floaty quality to the guitar, and the vocals have multiple layers. A fan has handed out many pink squares of paper that others use to cover their phone torches creating a pink lighting effect throughout the crowd during Light Shower.

Melanie MartinezThe lights themselves are complex, expensive and theatric. Pre-programmed lasers alight on the back wall of Spark Arena, and on the audience. There’s holograms and animation. In front of this, Melanie Martinez undulates in sexy siren fashion, but subverts the beauty ideal with her creative disguise. The siren not human, but all woman. Nymphology speaks to this concept, describing the divine female spirit, “Be the manic pixie dream girl that you fucking ought to be,” discussing themes of image. The confessional poetry tradition and feminism is carried out in the form of lyrics about periods with Moon Cycle, in unapologetically singing about her body, Martinez decolonizes women’s bodies in general.

Like a mosh pit in reverse the punters at the back are dancing and those at the front are staring in rapt attention, entranced by the sights before them. The music is danceable. It covers pop, indie and rock genres, even getting heavy at times and their voice is powerful and has range, it’s no surprise she got her start on The Voice. By Show and Tell the crowd in the stands are on their feet. She sings about her fame, “I’m on display for all you fuckers to see,” and we really got an eye and an earful tonight. I thoroughly recommend checking out a Melanie Martinez gig. An original artist at her elemental best.

Andra Jenkin

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Jeong

Melanie Martinez:

Upsahl:

JANUARY 2024
28 – Auckland, New Zealand – Spark Arena
30 – Sydney, Australia – Aware Super Theatre  

FEBRUARY 2024
2 – Brisbane, Australia – Riverstage
5 – Melbourne, Australia – Margaret Court Arena

For a full list of tour dates, visit melaniemartinezmusic.com

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