Marina Diamandis: Diamond pop star who admits she has been too precious
Her debut was a critical success, but didn't sell as hoped. It led to Marina Diamandis melting down in the blogosphere. The singer opens up to Alexia Loundras
Friday 07 October 2011
I'm all peaches and bubblegum!" says Marina Diamandis with a radiant, pearly-toothed smile. Dressed in layered yellow and pink slips, the 25 year-old, better known as pop's Marina and the Diamonds, could easily be referring to today's chosen colour scheme. But really it's all about her mood. "You want to look like your brain feels," she continues, her grin widening further.
Diamandis – who currently divides her time between London, Los Angeles and New York – is in town for London Fashion Week. Having enjoyed a mammoth 11-hour sleep last night, she is, as she says, "glowing". Her laugh is frequent and infectious and her character bold and engaging. Arriving at her record label's west-London office in her clingy satin and sporting a new-look, rococo-esque tumble of pewter-coloured curls, she livens-up the trendy-by-numbers rooftop terrace like a double-shot cappuccino.
Being fresh as a button helps, of course, but Diamandis' excitement has more to do with the fact the half-Greek, half-Welsh songwriter is on the cusp of completing the follow-up to last year's terrific debut, The Family Jewels. The new album won't actually be ready until next spring, but, judging by the pulsating beats and shiny synths of the handful of tracks that I've heard, Marina and the Diamonds' kooky, indie-flecked pop has been given a sparkling contemporary makeover.
Recorded with Grammy-winning producers Stargate (Rihanna, Beyoncé) and Dr Luke (Ke$ha, Britney Spears, Katy Perry) at the helm, Diamandis's new sound is sleeker, glossier and more propulsive. It could also be argued that it's knowingly tapping into the fashion for the energetic, rave-tinged, pop currently storming the charts. But hers is still edgy, literate music, brimming with emotional flair and indie artfulness. Even so, the dance-driven single "Radioactive" has found a home on Radio 1's A-list.
Today's bubbly demeanour and the striding confidence of Diamandis' new material are symptomatic of a rebirth of sorts. Prone to emotional yoyo-ing, she once admitted in her blog to feeling "kinda depressed, kinda competitive and lame". Indeed, her blog and her Twitter page are somewhere she's often confided her innermost feelings. So much so, in fact, that when she felt too exposed, she dramatically deleted many of the blogs and, at one point, closed her Twitter account entirely.
The low point came a year ago, when, run-down and disillusioned with the promotional treadmill of her debut, Diamandis found herself at breaking point. "This industry = one, long, fake cringe fest," she wrote last October in a blog post entitled, *I HATE POP*. "I feel like diving into a k-hole of cheetos and beer. I feel like an impostor/try-hard & awkwardly out of place in the world of pop... I wish I was back in my room in 2007 making cds in peace, not having people say 'oh you're not very successful'," she went on.
"I just wanted to divorce myself," she says now, rolling her eyes and cringing slightly. "I was so tired. I'm either on top of the world or I just think everything has gone down the tubes. It's so easy to pick on the bad things because you're so nervous about it working out – you want it so badly."
Diamandis felt she had a lot to live up to: she'd come second in the influential BBC Sound of 2010 poll, just behind Ellie Goulding, and The Family Jewels was a critics' fave. Industry hopes were high. But, despite all the hype, the airplay and the reviews, the album sold in the tens of thousands rather than the millions. Worried that she hadn't achieved enough, she became, she admits, hung up on success: "That's definitely what motivates you. It's what I cared about."
It wasn't just "huge commercial success," that Diamandis sought, but the kind of self-affirmation that comes with it. "Secretly, deep down, I want everyone to love me," she admits.
That's one of the reasons that she wrote her blogs: "I felt it was my chance to make people understand my personality. I felt I had to impress myself on people. But why would you need people to understand you?" she continues. "Who cares? I got tired of that part of myself; the answering back if anyone criticised."
Eventually, she says, she became a little more fatalistic: "You accept that not everyone has to like you and you don't have to like everyone," she says. "You can't make someone love you, you can't control what will happen to you." And with this revelation came a release of sorts.
"Instead of living in a bubble and worrying about stupid things, I wish I'd lived every day a bit more," says Diamandis. "I've never been reckless at all and I wish I had been. I've had this realisation in the past year. Now I think, 'what's stopping you?'"
Diamandis's second album is, then, her letting go. "I feel in my own way I'm liberating myself and redressing things that I probably should have done a long time ago," she says. And to that end, she has given birth to the character that is at the centre of her new material, Electra Heart.
Partially based on Diamandis – "about half," admits the singer – and partially a concoction, Electra Heart is a hybrid. "A combination of Marilyn Monroe and some mythological character like Medusa or Pandora," says Diamandis. She isn't an alter ego, but a medium; a fairytale heroine and, crucially for Diamandis, the embodiment of the American Dream.
"I love that idea that you can do anything, be anyone. That's really intoxicating," she says, animatedly. "You're nothing and you're everything. You can get lost. It's great!" She laughs again: "I want that."
The fictional/fairytale element allows Diamandis some creative licence – and, to some extent, it probably gives her a protective layer to hide her fragile side behind. But her songs are still inherently personal.
"Well, I'm the only person I know," she says coyly. The first new song to get an airing, "Fear And Loathing", with its heady refrain of "Don't want to live in fear and loathing/ I want to feel like I am floating," is a clarion call; the sound of Diamandis trying really hard to slip off her shackles and enjoy it this time. "I just didn't want to be sad any more," she shrugs.
Happily, it appears to be working. Diamandis is, she insists, now reclaiming herself: "If someone has always told you that you can never dye your hair, then dying your hair is like, 'I did it!'," she says, proudly holding up one of her powdery locks. "I just feel so calm now. The Family Jewels is a much more self-conscious album. It was like music combined with therapy," she smiles. "I've let go of that now."
This time around, she says, her expectations will be lower and she'll waste far less energy worrying about what people think of her or how many copies she sells. And, perhaps wisely, she plans not to blog her innermost thoughts for all to see. All easy to say now, of course, and rather harder to put into practice. But, although she clearly remains a sensitive soul, on today's evidence – relaxed, grinning and visibly excited about what's to come – she seems to be winning the battle against her demons.
"This, now," she beams, "is what it's like to ride off into the sunset with nothing to lose."
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