The Voice's Melanie Martinez on 'Toxic', Xtina Critiques and Weird Onstage Talk of Her Ex
Melanie Martinez’s first crack at covering “Toxic” started as a joke. “My friends were like, ‘You should learn a Britney Spears song’ — because I’m so different from that,” recalls the 17-year-old contestant on Season 3 of The Voice. “So I started singing ‘Toxic’ one day, did different little things to it and that’s how my version came around. It was kind of a random process.”
Melanie used that ehtereal, stripped-down rendition of Spears’ danceable pop hit for her Voice Blind Audition, and made a memorable first impression on the coaches and the viewing audience. “I’m really happy that was the first song that introduced me as an artist on the show,” she explains.
TVLine caught up with the Top 6 finisher to discuss her approach to song arrangement, her response to tough criticism from Christina Aguilera, and her plans for a post-show career.
TVLINE | Aside from “Toxic,” your other big song rearrangement was the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Where do you begin the process when you’re “Melanie-izing” a song?
I always try, when I’m singing songs, to interpret them the way that I would’ve arranged them. I think about the melody first, and then I pull out my guitar and start singing it. And [in my mind], I just thought the song went like that.
TVLINE | There are whole chunks of the original with no vocals.
Exactly. At first, I came up to Adam with the idea of singing “Seven Nation Army,” and immediately he didn’t think it was a good idea because most of the riff is instrumental. So I said, “Let me just give it a try, because I’m going to sing the riff.” And that’s what caught him and made him say yes to the song.
TVLINE | I want to ask you about your performance of “Too Close.” The pre-performance package included a mention that you were going through a breakup, and when you finished singing, Adam and the other coaches started making comments about the situation, about how you were getting the last laugh on your ex. To me, it was the most uncomfortable moment of the season. You looked like you wanted to turn to dust and float away.
Yeah. I mean, Adam was just trying to be a big brother — and I really am thankful for that. But it was difficult because that made it seem like I was the victim. The coaches were saying all this stuff, but I was the one who kind of ended [the relationship]. And that was what the song was clearly about — moving on. You’re too close to love someone, and you have to let them go. That’s exactly what had happened, and I guess it was just flip-flopped on TV.
TVLINE | When you first started singing “Too Close,” I didn’t even recognize it was Alex Clare’s hit. Did you ever have concerns about changing a song so much that people would be turned off?
I wanted to do “Too Close” mostly because of the words and how they related to me. But I think that when you change a song you shouldn’t change out the melody too much: It’s more about reinterpreting the arrangement of instruments and the music. In that case, I just wanted to strip it down and to make it less electronic, so that people could really hear the words of the song and feel the emotion around it.
TVLINE | For Top 6 week, you had two songs to cover. On Adam’s choice — Lenka’s “The Show” — I felt like the staging overshadowed the performance. Were you comfortable with all those props and people carrying them around you as you sang?
Adam chose that song to show a different side of me, because I’d been doing all these somber songs for a few weeks. But I’m not necessarily a happy singer. That’s not who I am as an artist. So I think that’s what kind of made me get off the show. [Laughs] That wasn’t who I am, and people need to see the real you. And the real me is this deep, kind of somber person. I can’t really help that.
TVLINE | And in terms of the actual staging, at one point, there was a guy rowing a cardboard boat about a foot away from you!
[Laughs heartily] I know. Actually, there was a lot going on, but it was really fun. I mean, I can’t deny that it was totally the most fun experience that I’ve had on the show.
TVLINE | Things seemed to get even weirder during your feedback from Christina Aguilera, when she huffed that you weren’t even looking at her.
Oh, well, I can explain that to you very well. I was actually about to cut her off — because she kept talking about staging and stuff, and that was her only thing that she had to say, was about staging. I mean, I always appreciate her critiques, but I was looking at Adam, because he was about to cut her off, too, since she was giving credit to [Jerry Slaughter for the set concept] when it was Adam’s and my idea. I just wanted to…make that clear. Yeah. [Laughs]
TVLINE | A lot of your fans felt Xtina was particularly hard on you, that she seemed to go after you in almost a personal way. Did you feel that, at all?
Yeah. I mean, obviously we’re all really hard on ourselves in general, so when someone else is being hard on you, we feel it immediately — like she is putting us down. But really, I’ve definitely taken her advice to heart, and I’ve definitely tried to make myself into a better artist because of it. It definitely motivated me to do better, all the negative feedback that she’s given me. And I do believe that’s why I made it this far, which is a great accomplishment for me.
TVLINE | Not to harp on Xtina, but on Top 6 night, she also suggested — in great detail, and singing snippets herself — that you should be tackling Fiona Apple. And the next night, on the results show, you did a duet of “Criminal” with Nicholas David. Were you already aware at that point that you were performing “Criminal,” and if so, do you think she did, too?
We’d already known for a week that we were doing “Criminal,” so it’s really interesting how she said that. I have no idea if she knew or not, but it kind of made it look like she chose the song for us, and she did not. But “Criminal” had been on my list for the whole entire season, and so had “Little Red Riding Hood,” the other song that Christina sang to me. I’m just glad that I got to do it as my last performance on the show, especially with Nicholas, because he’s someone I really admire as an artist.
TVLINE | So back to Top 6 night, on “Crazy,” were you actually playing that mini-piano, or was that on stage just for effect? And what was up with the mannequins?
I think the strings in it were cut, so it was more for staging purposes. [Laughs] And the mannequins. [Laughs] Yeah, they were awesome. The mannequins were not my idea, but I thought they were super-creepy, and definitely fit the mood.
TVLINE | I felt like in a sense your approach to that song wasn’t a remembrance — I remember when I lost my mind — but rather, from the point of view of a person who is still very much crazy.
Yeah. Absolutely. That’s definitely what I was going for, just to kind of represent the essence of the song. I thought that I could show people a different side to the song.
TVLINE | So what’s next for you now?
I’m planning on putting out my own original work. I’m happy that I don’t have to do covers anymore, because that’s not what I do. I write a lot deeper stuff. I’m just excited to move on with my career and touch people’s hearts. That’s what my ultimate goal is, and I’m glad that I got to do some of that on the show.
Were you a Melanie Martinez fan this season? Did you think she should’ve made the Top 4? And which of her performances was your favorite? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Voice news, interviews, recaps, and exclusives, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!Follow @MichaelSlezakTV