Don’t write off Marina & the Diamonds as just another face in pop – her feisty, electronic new album shows she’s in with the big-hitters now, writes LAUREN MURPHY
MARINA DIAMANDIS is in a bit of a fluster. Zipping through central London in the back of a black cab, the singer is in a rush to get to a photoshoot on the other side of the city. As pop star interview clichés go, it couldn’t be more perfect.
But don’t write Diamandis off as just another face in a long line of young female pop-oriented musicians. The 26-year-old’s new album Electra Heart suggests that her place is amongst the big-hitters, if there’s any justice in the world. A feistier, more electronic-based creation than her 2010 debut The Family Jewels, it fortifies the Welsh woman’s position at the vanguard of British pop music.
There’s that word again: pop. “It’s funny, because the term ‘pop star’ has very different connotations,” she says. “I don’t feel like one, but maybe you don’t have a choice; maybe you’re made into one.
“I think it’s nice to be able to explore different things on each album. It’d be a shame to just stick to doing one thing forever, wouldn’t it?”
Diamandis has experimented with more than just a new musical style for album number two. For starters, there’s the fact that Electra Heart is a concept album – a phrase that causes many musos to pinch their noses and back slowly away.
“It does, absolutely,” she giggles. “But I think we’re used to concept albums being something really serious and heavy, whereas this isn’t, really. It’s kind of like an anti-love, or anti-break-up album. I named it Electra Heart because I wanted to almost personify heartbreak, and make it into a character that was devoid of it. That’s why you have some very cold, calculated songs like Homewrecker and Bubblegum Bitch, ’cos I just have quite a black humour. That’s my outlook on life.”
The idea of basing the songs around one character (Electra Heart) and four “archetypes” – her own take on the facets of female personality that include the Primadonna, Sue-Barbie-A, the Teen Idle and the Homewrecker – came after spending time travelling in the US after the release of The Family Jewels.
“I was starting to think about our Tumblr generation, and how photos appear on Tumblr and people become almost like mini-stars of the internet, and you don’t know who the hell they are – they’re just anonymous faces,” she says. “So I started to take photos, and make an effort to look completely different in each one, in different hotels and apartments all across America when I was travelling. And it just started to build from that. It was more the prima donna archetype at the beginning, really; I was reading a lot of books like Hollywood Babylon, focusing more on the gossipy, suicidal side of the ’30s and ’40s in Hollywood. That’s how it started, and then it grew into a real project.
“I just wanted to make a gimmick out of love. We’re so familiar with the idea of love in pop songs, but I didn’t want it to fall into that kind of clichéd category. So I thought I’d create Electra Heart.”
America also plays a big a role on Electra Heart. Diamandis previously touched on the glamorisation of the western world on songs like Hollywood (“I’m obsessed with the mess that is America”). Here, she explores the excitement and absurdity of the American Dream on songs like Teen Idle and Fear and Loathing.
“Why America? Because for me, it symbolises escapism – and I think if you’re an artist, you have an inclination towards fantasy and towards living in your mind,” she says.
There are plenty of stories within these 12 tracks; Diamandis’s stock as a songwriter has risen thanks to the canny couplets on songs such as Homewrecker (“You’ll find me in the Lonely Hearts / Under ‘I’m after a brand new start’”). A failed relationship also provided inspiration, but the majority of these tracks are so floor-fillingly brilliant that it’s impossible to empathetically wallow in her heartbreak. Her newfound dancefloor edge could be attributed to the contributions of producers such as Dr Luke, Liam Howe and even Diplo, but that’s not to underestimate Diamandis’s own ambition.
“It wasn’t even a concerted effort to go towards a more electronic feel, or a more pop feel; but I knew that I just wanted to be a much better writer, and have a much more coherent sound.” Influenced by everyone from Kate Bush to PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple on her early material – “all ballsy women” – the new “pop vamp” direction for Marina the Diamonds may not sit well with some of her fans.
“I think it’s important for people to see that there isn’t a style team that’s behind me doing this,” she counters. “I’ve built this really all on my own. To be honest, I probably didn’t actually want [the album] to sound how it ended up sounding, but I probably felt a little bit more confident in myself as an artist, and more sure of how I wanted to be perceived. It also comes from how I was feeling; I was angry about certain things – or certain people! – and it just came out that way. So it is much more feisty.
“I don’t think that I had a hugely successful first album; I think I did around medium, in that I wasn’t a flop but I wasn’t a huge star off it, either. In a way, it was almost the opposite scenario to most people who are in pop music, and do their first album and worry about the second; I think it must be quite hard if it is wildly successful. But to me, I still have a lot to prove. I think whatever I do next will be quite minimal, but who knows... it’s still so early. I’ve definitely been thinking about it for a few months. It’s natural – when you finish one thing, you just start thinking about the next thing,” she says with a giggle, before skipping out of the cab and into her photoshoot. “You should never rest on your laurels.”
Electra Heart is released on Atlantic Records on April 27. Marina & the Diamonds play the Trinity Ball on April 20
Havin' a ball
Disco fiends Friendly Fires, grime/hip-hop MCs Professor Green and Labrinth, DJs Fake Blood and Erol Alkan, hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks and Belfast indie troupe Cashier No 9 are amongst the big-hitters joining Marina & the Diamonds at the 53rd Trinity Ball on April 20th. There'll be a host of talent repping the Irish scene, too: Ryan Sheridan, The Original Rudeboys (top) and The Kanyu Tree are also on the bill. trinityball.ie