I first heard Marina and the Diamonds 2 years ago. It was 2 months after I decided to stop my Doctorate, and turn it into an MSc. That meant that within the few seconds that it took to finish the sentence ‘I can not do this anymore’, my life was already upside down. I was not a student anymore. I would not be staying in student halls, or get any financial help. I had to grow up. I had to find a house. And a job. I had to pack my room, and find a moving van. I had to find boxes. God, how much stuff did I have? Where can I find boxes? Where will I stay? What will I do? Who am I?
I decided to stay with my partner and two friends. I found a job in retail, worked from morning to evening, payed tax, ate beans on toast and started perfecting the ‘everything is fine’ smile. People willed their face into a mask of worry, asking me if I felt I made the right choice, giving up on something that was certain to chase something that was not even there. For them, I was like the runner that had a clear path in front of him, but suddenly started running left, towards the dark forrest. For the first time, things were so unclear, and this secretly terrified me.
One night, I was sitting in my room, after a particularly difficult day at work, and I was staring at my computer screen, scrolling down YouTube for new music. And then I see this video, with a girl covered in black paint, looking like she escaped from a demented 80s clip. I had to click on it. The music started, and looked at the screen mesmerised. And then she started singing, and her voice went through me like a sword. I recognised something in it, something in me, a familiar stranger that I never thought I would see again. The song was I am not a Robot, and the artist was Marina and the Diamonds.
Marina’s voice hits you like a truck, strong, forceful, taking the listener over from the inside. It’s like a small explosion, like feeling your ribcage getting smaller or your heart growing larger, and then a warm kind of tension washing over your limbs, and making you feel, making you feel real, making you feel real emotions that you thought you held back, but were there all the time, hidden, waiting like the flood behind the locked door.
Her voice is embellished with pain and deepness, the kind of detachment that comes from looking inwards, from being half there or completely and intensely immerse. Her voice carries the quality of the Greek Laiki Phoni, which roughly translates as everyday people’s voice. If I had to close my eyes and imagine her as an ancient Greek character, I would have thought Cassandra. Her voice is the mixture of knowledge and resignation. She knows that something terrible is happening, but will not try to change her fate. She will live to remember her mistakes, unable to stop herself from making them.
Her first album, the Family Jewels is one of my favourite albums of all times. It touches subjects that are so raw and rough, unattractive traits of attractive people, the need to belong and the resentment for the consequences. Destroying your soul in the quest to be the best; the loneliness that comes with it; the knowledge that you will never be satisfied. Songs like Obsessions, Hollywood, Numb, Hermit the Frog, were all masterpieces in their own right, with completely unusual sounds, and lyrics that reached bone-deep.
A lot has been written about the time that passed between the two albums. Social Media posts brought speculations about Marina’s feelings, thoughts, emotions, career and wellbeing. However, I was never certain why this was such a hot topic. Everyone wants to be successful and be recognised for their work. The extent of that recognition has different ranges for different individuals. Marina was singing for that need, for that trait that she observed in others and herself. So, why were her concerned critics surprised escapes me. Regardless, she addressed them, and moved on to the release of Electra Heart.
Electra Heart is decidedly a different sound. With the vehicle of a persona, Marina explores familiar topics in unfamiliar ways. In my head, the record is broken in two parts:
The first half is full with fast beats (Bubblegum Bitch), catchy tunes (Homewrecker, Power and Control), hearty melancholy (Lies, Starring Role, Living Dead,) and can’t get this song out of my head verses (Primadonna has been the background to my thoughts for the past two weeks). However, it is not necessarily in line with the Family Jewels. It sounds super polished and studied, containing all the secrets of commercial success in the space of 3 minutes. This is not a bad thing, it is actually quite clever. Because these are the songs that will bring the attention to the record, where people can be exposed to the second half.
The second part is closer to The Jewels record. Teen Idle echoes Obsessions and Numb, dripping with a heart-breaking tangible teen angst that hits all the right notes in an effortless and natural way. I challenge you to listen to Valley of the Dolls without hitting the replay button, or not engage in an absent minded dance to the infectious rhythms of Sex Yeah and Lonely Hearts Club; and most importantly, you will not be able to ignore the goosebumps from listening to Buy the Stars, one of my favourite Marina songs so far.
I would genuinely suggest downloading Electra Heart, and if you don’t have the Family Jewels, then make sure you hear it too. Marina has been on the background of many important moments in my life, and this made her really special to me. Her music helped me at times that silence wouldn’t, and her lyrics helped me understand parts of myself that I couldn’t, or didn’t want to understand.
I will leave you with one of my favourite part of Electra Heart:
All my life I’ve been so lonely/ All in the name of being holy/ Still, you’d like to think you own me; You keep buying stars/ You could buy up all the stars/ But it wouldn’t change who you are/You’re still living life in the dark/ It’s just who you are/ It’s just who you are
You bought a star in the sky tonight/ And in your man-made dark/ The light inside you died/it’s just who you are.