When Melanie Martinez made her debut on NBC’s “The Voice” at 17 – singing a jazzy, acoustic version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in 2012 – it was clear the New York native wasn’t your average pop-star wannabe.
On her debut album, “Cry Baby,” Martinez (now 20) has evolved further, guiding a heady concept record that’s dressed up like a Hello Kitty doll in a tutu bedazzled with rhinestones.
With songs titled “Sippy Cup,” “Carousel,” “Milk and Cookies,” “Training Wheels…,” and “Tag, You’re It,” Martinez plays in a childlike world. But listen closely and you’ll find mature themes and social commentary that put a thought-provoking twist on a youth culture that’s been raised on Disney princesses and Katy Perry.
For Martinez, who kicks off her headlining tour at Amos’ Southend on Wednesday, the character of Cry Baby and the drama she faces is close to home.
“Cry Baby is like this fairytale version of me. A lot of it is based on real events and some of it is made up to make it more whimsical,” says Martinez, who didn’t necessarily set out to make a record that could resonate with young female listeners on multiple levels.
Inspired by hip-hop percussion and toy sounds she incorporated into her final “Voice” performance, Martinez intended to make a record that combined childlike imagery with dark themes. She compares her vision for the tour as a “creepy, haunted-nursery vibe.”
“I would go into the studio and think of a bunch of titles that related to childhood, and I would go deeper in and figure out how that title would fit in with what I’m doing as an adult,” she says. “The thing that got me excited about it was that it’s possible to look at music as art and paint a picture using the contrast between light and dark. The light is the cute kid, the frosting on the cupcake part. The dark is that dark, gooey center.”
The imagery is certainly her guide. The track “Mrs. Potato Head,” for instance, isn’t a diatribe against plastic surgery.
“I thought the visual of that was way more interesting than me bashing someone that gets plastic surgery,” she says. “It was much more refreshing to write that than a love ballad.”
Martinez’s vision seems well beyond her years. She directed the latest in a string of high-concept videos that build on the juxtaposition of cute, cuddly and horrific. As a photographer, the task wasn’t that daunting.
“I’ve always written the storyboards for the music videos, and it’s been hard working with directors trying to get them to understand what I’m thinking,” she says. “I started doing that because it felt natural and was something to help me feel like I’m 100 percent putting out what I want to put.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Amos’ Southend, 1423 S. Tryon St.
DETAILS: 704-377-6874; www.amossouthend.com.