Melanie Martinez isn't your average future pop star.
Sure, the singer-songwriter from Baldwin is only 20 and will release her major-label debut, "Cry Baby," on Atlantic Records on Wednesday. But she is doing it on her terms.
"I always knew what I wanted to do," Martinez said, calling from her new home in Los Angeles. That means, in this era of shrinking attention spans and intense focus on singles, Martinez is releasing a concept album.
" 'Cry Baby' is basically me -- a fairy-tale version of me," Martinez said about the album's main character. "Each song connects to each other. . . . It has a childhood theme, but it's a child placed into adult situations, things that are dark and mature."
Martinez, who first gained attention on Season 3 of "The Voice" when she finished in the top 6, said she started out simply writing songs, but as the songwriting process continued she realized that the new songs, combined with songs from her "Dollhouse" EP last year, told a story.
"When I started, I was very unsure of who I was," she said. "There were a lot of things in the songs that I didn't realize I was saying. But more and more, it fell into place. . . . I got more comfortable in my skin."
Though Martinez worked with several producers and songwriters, "Cry Baby" sounds cohesive because once she understood her vision for the project, she stuck with it. Sonically, she stuck with her mix of pop melodies and spare, trap instrumentation.
Martinez had a strong sense of how she wanted the visuals accompanying the songs to look, as well. She directed several videos, including the recently released "Sippy Cup," which combines childhood fears with adult realities. "It's really dark," Martinez said. "It's about what goes down in the kitchen that you're not supposed to see."
Martinez also took the unusual step of offering special packaging for the physical version of the "Cry Baby" album. "I had to really fight for that," she said. "I just wanted it to be more special. People kept telling me that it would be good for a limited edition, but I wanted everyone to get it.
Even though releasing such expensive packaging for a new artist is practically unheard of in the music industry, Martinez convinced Atlantic Records to release the first 15,000 albums her way -- even agreeing that she would shoulder the extra expense herself.
"The visuals are very important to me," she said. "I really wanted people to see it. It had to be that way."
Martinez says that "Pity Party," the first single from "Cry Baby," came together incredibly fast, when she wrote it with hitmaker and former "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi. However, because it was built around a sample from Lesley Gore's "It's My Party," Martinez wasn't sure if she'd be able to release it.
"It was my second writing session with [DioGuardi] and we were still figuring each other out," Martinez said. "I was explaining the concept of the album and we came up with this idea of no one showing up to the party. She kept saying I had an old voice, like Judy Garland."
They started listening to music and they came upon Gore's chart-topping 1963 hit, "It's My Party."
"It was an insane fit for the album," Martinez said, adding that she tried not to get too excited until she knew they had clearance to use the sample. "We were done with the lyrics in the first 20 minutes. The whole session we kept thinking, 'Are we going to be able clear this?' We had this awesome song and it would have been terrible if we couldn't put it out to the world."
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Sept. 11, Highline Ballroom, 431 W. 16th St., Manhattan
INFO $18; 212-414-5994, ticketweb.com