Melanie Martinez accomplished a neat trick with her 2015 debut album, Cry Baby. Nothing from the album cracked the singles chart, which sometimes indicates that a release is a flop. But listeners kept returning to Martinez’s tracks, savoring them over long periods rather than devouring them in a quick gulp. Cry Baby earned a platinum certification about 16 months after it came out, and there appears to be no expiration date on Martinez fandom: In 2019, 11 different songs on her debut have been certified gold or platinum.
That type of long tail has allowed Martinez to remain quiet since 2016, an eternity in today’s record-quick, release-quicker climate. The singer returned on Friday with a torrent of new material: An album, K-12, and an accompanying 90-minute film that premiered on YouTube. The film includes music videos that correspond to each of the album’s 13 tracks, and these will also be individually released, one every two weeks. In between these clips, YouTube is partnering with Martinez on a four-part mini-series, thematically tied to K-12, culminating in what’s called an Artist Spotlight Story, which will demonstrate Martinez’s approach to songwriting, acting, and directing.
This deluge is by design. “[Martinez] has a very strong fanbase, and we’re gonna be introducing her to a new younger fanbase as well,” says Julie Greenwald, chairman/COO of Martinez’s label, Atlantic Records. “Every week we’ll be finding new people. We’ll be seeing what they like about different songs. We get so much more information now which allows us to stay in campaigns for such a long time. That’s the beautiful thing about streaming.”
YouTube’s Artist Spotlight Stories are one of several artist-support programs that YouTube has been developing over the last few years. In 2016, the platform launched the Foundry Initiative to help promising artists early in their career. In 2018, YouTube set up a next step, the Artist on the Rise program. Artist Spotlight represents the third tier.
Martinez is an easy fit: She has relied on beguiling visuals since 2014’s “Dollhouse,” a meticulous, menacing video that has amassed 235 million views to date. “She came to us with that, and it was the most incredible video,” Greenwald says. So the label encouraged her to make more. “She created every story line, worked with the set director, the art director, the stylist,” Greenwald adds. “She built an entire community on YouTube with these videos.”
Vivien Lewit, YouTube’s Global Head of Artist Relations, also praises Martinez as a YouTube savant. “She’s utilizing and leveraging the platform in new ways, not only through video uploads,” Lewit says. “Consistency of engagement is important, and she’s maintaining a dialog with fans through the community feature on YouTube. That allows her to share content more casually — texts, images, GIFs.”
Maybe that’s why Martinez’s three years off don’t seem to have negatively impacted her at all. “Leading up to the release of this film, Melanie has gained almost a million subscribers as a result of releasing three teasers across a month that are the precursor and build-up to the film release,” Lewit says. And the K-12 video amassed over a million views in its first 9 hours.
But with an artist like Martinez, the first 24 hours aren’t Atlantic’s primary concern. “It’s not just about week one,” Greenwald says. “Where will we be in week 52?”