ABOVE: MARINA DIAMANDIS
Marina Diamandis (better known as Marina & The Diamonds) is far more than another emerging pop princess—but if you’re trying to figure her out, that’s probably the best place to start. She winks at the genre’s commercial techniques while embracing their utter absurdity: “Deception and perfection are wonderful traits,” or so the Wales native says in her new song “Homewrecker” (she means it).
A stunning 26-year-old who coos and belts, Marina has recently traded her brunette locks for platinum blonde, appropriately paired with glossier, dance-heavy production (songs like her single, the infectious and forthright “Primadonna,” are far cries from her indie-pop start), thanks to Dr. Luke, Liam Howe, and a few other big-time music makers who helped the songstress craft her highly anticipated second album, Electra Heart. Always one to take advantage of every medium, Diamandis’ video work is by no means lagging behind her ever-evolving musical style—searching Marina’s moniker in YouTube will result in a few spectacular short films from recent years past, as well as a tetralogy of brand-new clips that lean on the strategic singer’s beauty as much as they do the depth of the visual and strength of the audio.
Interview spoke to Marina while she was in New York about what’s changed since her debut disc, her gig opening for Coldplay, and the music we can hope to hear on her forthcoming release.
ALEX CHAPMAN: The last time I saw you was nearly two years ago. I’m not sure if you remember—we actually shared a cab.
MARINA DIAMANDIS: Yes, I remember! We were both scared we were going to crash.
CHAPMAN: I was a new New Yorker, and you aren’t a New Yorker at all, which I think gives us both with semi-valid excuses. Anyways, my point in bringing up that story is that so much has happened since then. What would you say has been the biggest change?
DIAMANDIS: Well I think the most obvious change is my image. I have blonde hair. I’m masquerading as an innocent pop star. As a person, I’ve calmed down a bit and have a different perspective on things now. On this album, I’ve really come into my own as an artist. I’m much more sure of my identity and understand it much better, and have accepted the fact that I like to jump around a lot in terms of who I am and what kind of music I create, and that it is okay—in fact, that is my main identity, the fact that I do that.
CHAPMAN: Your current image seems to be playing off the ideas you were interested in before—the Americanization of fame, etc. But now it seems to really be reaching a fuller form. You’re joking about being a huge pop star, but you also—
DIAMANDIS: I’m being genuine in saying that I want to be it.
DIAMANDIS: It is quite confusing. It’s really interesting to me, because some people who don’t know me will take it at face value, which I think, in a way, people should, but other people will read more into it, asking “Is she for real or is she masquerading as something?” To be quite honest, I think it’s a little bit of both. But people are complex, and I think it’s a huge element of what I do, because you have to balance out the fact that you talk about quite serious things with a sense of irony and tongue-in-cheek humor. That’s my personality as well.
CHAPMAN: Let’s talk about “Primadonna,” which seems to exemplify all that quite well.
DIAMANDIS: It’s funny because the idea for the song just came from the title, and for me, before I even wrote it, I just felt like it would be a really important song for me. Who knows what the outcome of all this will be, but I felt it would really change my career direction, and that the idea was something I could bottle and encapsulate everything I am. I love having a campy, theatrical quality to my music—I think I did have it on the first album, but I didn’t really know how to articulate it, and so I thought this song would be a good way to get that across. That’s kinda where the thoughts came from, and the fact that my ex-boyfriend used to call me a prima donna. I wrote the song with Dr. Luke, and it just fit together really perfectly. I think it’s one of the most important songs I’ve written in a long time, but that’s the beauty of pop—it’s much harder to write a simple song.
CHAPMAN: Absolutely. You’re putting a lot of extensive emotions and events into terms and turns of phrase that are purposely easy to swallow, but still carry the weight they did before. It’s really incredible when people do it right.
DIAMANDIS: Yeah, exactly, when it’s done properly. That’s why I love pop so, so much!
CHAPMAN: Me too. So being that the goal with this album was to attain that, who did you decide to work with on the production side?
DIAMANDIS: Nine songs off the album were made by two people—Rick Nowels did five and Greg Kurstin did four, and they were the main collaborators, which I’m really glad about actually, because I really wanted the whole thing to gel and feel like a body of work. So after that, I did two songs with Dr. Luke and two with Liam Howe.
CHAPMAN: One of the things I noticed from listening is that you really are fantastic at thinking up melodies. How does that process work?
DIAMANDIS: Well, all I can say is that the music I listen to is all very melodic. I think the Greek music that I listened to as a kid was based on melody—kind of quite dark, creepy melody. But people like Kate Bush, who’s a melody master, are inspiring looking back on it, because she doesn’t really have a system or structure. Everything is really off the cuff, and she doesn’t really try to reach the structure you see in a lot of pop songs. Daniel Johnston is actually really great with naïve, sweet, child-like melodies—more simple, but I love him a lot.
CHAPMAN: Do you ever feel like there’s a big difference between being home and being in the States? Are you even around long enough to notice a difference?
DIAMANDIS: Being here, I just feel a lot more creative and like I can be anything and that anything is possible, whereas in the UK—and maybe it’s because I live there—I feel a lot more limited and restricted. [Being in the States] is almost like being on a holiday. I always feel like I’ve decided already that I’m going to write my third album in New York. It’s kind of annoying because everyone’s like “Oh, you’re so obsessed with America,” but it’s not really that. I just really enjoy being here—I’m not the first British artist to make music here and be inspired by the country.
CHAPMAN: So you, Frank Ocean, and Rita Ora are going to be opening for Coldplay on tour. How’d that happen?
DIAMANDIS: I don’t know if it was Chris Martin who decided, but I’d heard that he liked my music about two years ago. Then an agent called and asked if I wanted to do a show in December, so I went and did it and I loved it, and their manager was there. Then they asked me if I wanted to do a whole stadium tour in Europe and the American leg as well, and obviously I jumped on it.
CHAPMAN: That literally sounds like the best thing ever.
DIAMANDIS: Yeah! And when I did play that show in December, I got such a good response from their audience, and so I actually think this is going to be a great pairing for me. They are such a great band as well, and have consistently good creative output.
CHAPMAN: Last time I saw you live, you were definitely working with some limited means, but it still felt like a full-scale production. You had props, costume changes, and all that jazz. Now that you’ll be doing way bigger venues for this tour, what can people expect from you?
DIAMANDIS: I am so excited! It’s gonna go into a completely different world. Physically, I think it’s going to be more like theater. The stage will be like a scene—I want a living room setting: a chaise lounge, a flickering, old, disgusting motel TV, a hat stand with various clothing I can switch into with each song. For me, it’s like about being able to be resourceful and adapt to each venue. If I’m in a 500-capacity or 5000, it’s going to be the same. But I like the idea of turning it into a play as opposed to a “music show”—it’s not like, jazz-hands theatricality. You become involved with the character.
MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS’ ELECTRA HEART IS OUT IN THE UK ON APRIL 30, AND IN THE UNITED STATES IN JULY. MARINA WILL BE ON TOUR THROUGHOUT THE SPRING AND SUMMER.