PORTALS Top Five Song Review


Hej Knox, Staff

On March 31st, 2023, Melanie Martinez released her third studio album, titled PORTALS. The album consists of 13 songs (16 on the deluxe edition) and was produced by numerous artists, including Martinez and CJ Baran. It channels themes of life, death, transformation, and the divine feminine, alongside minor themes such as fame, identity, social media and misogyny. 

“WOMB” is the ending track on PORTALS and is certainly a contender for top five. The song describes being born. In most cases, this kind of prompt would be awkward for a singer-songwriter to explore, due to the taboo nature of the topic. However, Martinez has always been able to take the taboo and blossom it into something enjoyable; “WOMB” is no exception here. It seems like a love letter to human life, as it is not something society tends to appreciate, which Martinez corrects by mentioning not only the intensity of birth, but also its beauty. 

The song does mention the existentialism PORTALS is known for thematically. She even mentions talking to her younger brother before her birth through the cosmos. The ending of “WOMB” will transition to the beginning of “DEATH,” the opening track, almost as if the album is a cycle, like life.

Following this placement in my ranking is “VOID,” the second single of the album and also the second track. The void is used as a metaphor for self-doubt, depression and insecurity. “VOID” is a particularly strong song on the album, not only for Martinez’s soft, breathy vocals, but also the lyrics themselves. Even though the void is described as all-consuming, there are hopeful notes that suggest she is changing into a better person.

“VOID” is particularly touching from a young adult perspective. The void is prominent in the song, much like the weights of societal pressure and the pressures we put upon ourselves. “VOID” is imbued with the adage “you are your own worst critic.” The chorus particularly hammers this in with a repetition of her vowing to escape the void.

Next,“SPIDER WEB,” a song that is so utterly Martinez in style and lyrical content. This track diverges from the discussion of the mortal coil and reincarnation to talk about social media in such a way that it fits perfectly with the prior and subsequent songs. Martinez describes the internet and social media as a spider web that permeates across the globe. She sings about her struggles to not get swept away in this web, but also points out the people who are stuck in a cycle and even the people most susceptible to being eaten by the spider. 

The succinct metaphors echoing in this song are similar to those used in her previous albums, notably Crybaby, but also draws upon the naturalistic, nearly mythical thematic tone of PORTALS. The backing track is also a strong component of the song, beyond the lyrical thematics and prowess of Martinez’s vocals. 

“NYMPHOLOGY” is a potent song off of PORTALS. Not only is it one of the longest songs on the album (over five minutes), but it is also a lyrical delight. It touches on one of the core themes of the album, that being divine femininity. Utilizing nymphs, Martinez explores the way femme presenting people are categorized and judged in society. 

In an interview with Apple Music, she said, “Being forced to play the role of mom and healer, while they gaslight you and call you crazy the minute you communicate how you feel.” 

Beyond the strong messaging of the song, “NYMPHOLOGY” also contains an interlude at the end of the song. This interlude, merely titled “Amulet” by producer Verde, shifts the tempo and tone of the song. “Amulet” not only contains the nostalgia of decades past, but also expands upon the lyrics developed in the chorus.

“THE CONTORTIONIST” is one of Martinez’s strongest in her entire discography. The song deals with the effort someone puts in for another person, only for this other person to not accept them. In the song, she sings: “Twisting all my bones like screws, stretching my self worth just like you usually do.” Where this song exceeds best, however, is with the actual sound effects she includes. The sounds of bones breaking, fracturing, and an electric screwdriver is such an eccentric component to her music that sets her apart from other artists. 

“THE CONTORTIONIST” is not just an element of the pain this character has suffered in their efforts to change for another person; it is an oath to stop this behavior. It is particularly notable when seen as a component of PORTALS as a whole, life is beautiful, whether it be birth, death, and everything before, between and after. It is because of this strong thematic message that “THE CONTORTIONIST” may be Martinez’s best off of PORTALS. 

Two honorable mentions for the ranking include “DEATH” and “LIGHT SHOWER.” The first of which is also a strong opener for the album and setting the tone for this saga. As for the other track, it is a bit different in tone, it is a much slower song. For long-time fans, the song feels like a breath of fresh air, since the tone is notably lighter and bittersweetly happy. However, it also appeals to those trying to get into her unique sound, since the song is a slow, digestible treat. 

 PORTALS is an excellent work by Martinez. Old listeners are certainly happy to get more material from her and of such high quality as well. New listeners are also able to enjoy the album, since many of the songs are fun to listen to and explore Martinez’s unique tone and gorgeous vocals. 

For those interested, she will be going on tour, coming to Sterling Heights, Michigan on Saturday, July 8, 2023.