Interview: Marina and the Diamonds uses style to convey irony
July 6, 2012
Written by Roman Gokhman
Marina Diamandis is well aware that a female musician’s image, if strong enough, can overtake perception of skill. The 27-year-old Welsh singer-songwriter, better known by her stage name Marina and the Diamonds, wears elaborate costumes on stage and in her music videos to enhance the story of the characters she sings about.
“It’s kind of a sticky subject for female musicians because if your image and your imagery overtake your music, then they become known for different things,” she said in a recent phone chat from Cardiff, the Welsh capital. “Some question if you are actually making your own music. I’m finding my image is becoming more well-known than my musical side, and I think it kind of shows the important role that image plays.”
Marina and the Diamonds, who plays at the Fillmore Wednesday, created a handful of characters for her second album, Electra Heart, which will be released in the U.S. July 17. She uses these characters, or “archetypes” of ‘50s kitsch and traditional love stories, to tell the story of her own failed relationship.
“The album is based around a fictional character, which I use as a way to talk about my love life,” she said. “Words and music can help you say something, but a moving image helps to hone in on a point you are trying to make.”
Diamandis’ musical influences include PJ Harvey, Patti Smith and Blondie. But if she could choose anyone to have her career mirror, it would be Kate Bush and Madonna. She clarifies: “A really reclusive, more avant-garde Madonna.”
Electra Heart has songs about over-the-top celebrities requesting adoration (“Bubblegum Bitch,” “Primadonna”), pursuing love that isn’t the right match (“Lies”), seeking the upper hand in a relationship (“Power and Control”), suicidal cheerleaders (“Teen Idle”) and sweet-looking women who get away with murder (“Home-wrecker”).
Diamandis said she’s not going for social commentary with her subject matter.
“I don’t talk about anyone’s values because everyone forms them differently. I don’t really mean to address things about our generation about courtship,” she said. “I internalize things and then somehow need to find a way to deal with that.”
In other words, this is a personal album for Marina and the Diamonds. Just don’t confuse the subject matter as a direct take on her life. The first-person lyrics, such as in “Primadonna,” are full of irony and humor.
“I really love America, and it seems that genuinely … people kind of get the ‘bubble gum pop’ irony,” she said. “But in the U.K., they think I’m being deadly serious.”
Electra Heart is a stylistic departure from 2010 debut The Family Jewels. It has a distinctively dance feel, which Diamandis said was not the initial direction she wanted to take. The first song she wrote, “Power and Control,” was created in the vein of a dark Depeche Mode pop tune. That proved to be the inspiration for the rest of the album.
“I love the idea of like being a goth Britney Spears, and that’s how I started it,” she said. “It wasn’t like, ‘I’m cynical; oh my God, dance music is really in fashion, so let’s make an electrica album.’”
The album was released in the U.K. and in Ireland in April and quickly claimed the top spot in the sales charts. Diamandis is optimistic about how the album will fare in America, where her fans are more of an indie niche instead of the pop starlet she is overseas.
“I hope it goes really well; I’m definitely never shy about my ambition,” she said. “But I’m just really happy to be doing what I’m doing at this time.”