Written and Photographed By Eric Sperrazza
Shakespeare wrote in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 3: Scene 1) that “reason and love keep little company together; that love trumps reason every time”. This explains why The Mann Music Center was under siege last Friday night by an enchanted army. As far as the eye could see, mobbing the security check and up the steep steps to the Skyline Stage, were hundreds of people adorning pink glitter, fairy wings, pointed ears, and carrying homemade signs. Packs of young girls, like some kind of Greek tragedy, could be seen weeping in their pixie cosplays upon learning the show they came to see was sold out. But what kind performer could attract an audience large enough to sell out The Mann? The empress of this kingdom that befell upon Philadelphia was none other than Melanie Martinez. Her audience, bound and determined to be a part of the magic and create a fantasy world before her, around her and with her, the towers of Center City as the backdrop.
Melanie Martinez is known for her unique style and alternative electro-pop sound. Hailing from Baldwin, New York, Martinez gained prominence after participating in the third season of the reality TV show The Voice in 2012. Her distinctive brand and introspective lyrics have garnered a loyal fan base. Martinez’s debut studio album Cry Baby (2015), achieved commercial success and received positive reviews. She often incorporates elements of dark fairy tales and childhood themes into her music, exploring topics such as personal struggles, relationships, and societal issues. This makes for dark and honest subject matter embedded in a dream world, whereby Martinez’s alter ego thrives as both storyteller and guide through her enchanted forest of stage and sound.
The fairy imagery in Martinez’s work often manifests through various visual elements such as whimsical costumes, ethereal settings, and enchanting aesthetics. She embraces the idea of creating a dreamlike atmosphere, blurring the boundaries between reality and fantasy and inviting her audience into a world of her own creation. With the latest album release, Portals, Martinez debuted a new avatar as a symbol of rebirth into a new chapter of her story. This new vessel and subsequent new music electrified the current fan base and roped in new ones, as Martinez paints the road traveled to a new evolution of self. As the sun set, accent curtains of forest fell on the sides of the stage. The fog machine began to puff slithering smoke spilling over into the crowd as they pressed closer to the stage. The anticipation of the audience was palpable and teenage girls were already shedding tears of euphoric fandom. It felt as if a powder keg was about to erupt, right there, on the lawn of The Mann. And erupt, it did.
Martinez took to the stage to the thunderous sound of a sold-out crowd screaming with phones in the air, trying to get a glimpse of Martinez’s current adaptation of her alter-ego, a four-eyed fairy. Opening with the song ‘DEATH,’ Martinez proceeded to tell the entirety of the Portals album’s story in sequential order. As she went down the song list of ‘VOID,’ ‘TUNNEL VISION’ and ‘FAERIE SOIREE,’ the fans held on to each word, singing along, intermittently trying to take photos of the spectacle on stage. Backup dancers stealthily crawled across the stage amidst the smoke one minute and leaped into the air with fluidity and grace the next. Martinez moved and sang with ease in her regalia. All looking more like performance art than merely a pop show on a warm summer night.
A moment of note was the song ‘LIGHT SHOWER.’ A simple but brilliant song about finding someone that vibrates on the same frequency as you and sheds light into the parts of your life that are dark. It was a beautiful sentiment, but what drove it home for me was the audience. As they sang the song along, I couldn’t help but take notice of the irony that all these ticket-holders, in the normal idiosyncratic routine of life, are unique and creative beings that live outside of the box. But on this night, they gathered vibrating on the same frequency and bathing in the light of each other. All these fans found an artist that speaks to their feelings but by doing so, found familiar goodfellows in this collective, as well.
During the encore, Martinez gave the fans a few classics like ‘PLUTO’ and ‘MILK OF A SIREN’, ending the dreamy fairytale of the night. As the band and dancers joined Martinez for a bow, they unfurled an LGBTQA+ flag, honoring the last day of Pride Month and much to the appreciation of many on the lawn. Leaving Fairmount Park, I took stock in the evening. Melanie Martinez fans came to create a safe space and celebrate a community of emotional intelligence. A sold-out event with not one altercation and a community fandom based on creative and social acceptance. I again think of Shakespeare. Was I awake? Because that kind of experience would seem like I was asleep and dreaming. The old guy in me arrived wondering why everyone was in costume. I left with hope for the future in my heart.