My introduction to Melanie Martinez was her blind audition on The Voice in 2012; I immediately fell in love with her voice, musical style, and fashion sense. In 2015, she finally released her first album, Cry Baby. “Pity Party” is the eighth song; I recommend listening to the entire album in sequence at least once.
The first time I listened to this song, the refrain “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” stood out. It is initially from a much older song (about a girl whose boyfriend shows up to her party with another girl) from the 50s or 60s. In some ways, this song takes that idea and makes it even worse. Instead of the wrong guests showing up together, no guests show up for this party at all.
The opening lines, “Did my invitations disappear / Why’d I put my heart on every cursive letter?” grabbed my attention immediately. In my entire life, I’ve only celebrated one birthday (my 11th). No one came. And it was on the wrong day (I found out later). The entire day was a dismal failure in my memory. If you wear your heart on your sleeve, or on “every cursive letter,” it makes it that much more painful when you’re let down.
One of my favorite aspects to Melanie’s music is how creative she allows herself to be with sound mixing. It goes well beyond simple layering of instruments, building sound and harmony (which is done superbly); she also includes sound effects within the music to add to the story element and blend with the lyrics. In particular for this song, she inserts a scream in background tones. It expresses the internal frustration of the narrator in a new and intriguing way.
After realizing no one is coming to her party, the narrator questions if it is a “cruel joke” on her. As someone who always felt like an outcast, I understand this. During my own failed birthday party, I wondered something similar. These types of thoughts also plagued me in any number of other social situations where I felt isolated and left out. (As someone who has had people play cruel jokes like this, I am fully aware of the difference between the two. Unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t go away just because you know it’s because no one gives enough of a damn to even think about pulling a prank like that.)
In a repeated attempt to make light of the situation, or see the silver lining, the narrator pretends to be happy about it because it “just means there’s way more cake for [her] / forever, forever.” The final echo reveals the truth of the situation. Even if we would all be happy with more cake just for us, none of us would choose that permanently. We would rather share with friends than be alone.
This song is about the human psychology in isolation. For many of us, it isn’t the presents, parties, or cake. It’s people.