MARINA’s new album drops in its entirety on April 26 – but where has she been, and where are the Diamonds? Sam Brooks chronicles the journey of popstar MARINA from Diamonds to caps lock.
Real talk: MARINA is one of the best popstars we’ve got.
She’s performed for a few years under the name ‘Marina and the Diamonds’, but for her latest double album Love + Fear (the first half is out now, the second half drops on the 26th) she’s dropped the Diamonds. Based on the half that we’ve already heard, it looks set to be one of the best and biggest albums of the year – but it didn’t come out of nowhere.
MARINA has always been a tremendous talent, and that talent has been there since the start. Students, this is your first day at Pop Music University, and the first lesson is one Marina Diamandis. Take notes, because this will be tested!
The Family Jewels (2010)
It’s a little odd looking back at The Family Jewels now. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like current Marina. It is defiantly weird, and somehow sounds even more so now than it did at the time.
What The Family Jewels does best is mark MARINA as an artist. It introduces us to that voice – a surprisingly strong instrument, with plenty of Stefani-esque trills and hops. It introduces us to the sound – pop, but not trend-chasing or mainstream. And most importantly, it introduces us to her lens – she’s an artist who is interested in exploring mature themes.
Mature is the key word here. By mature, I don’t mean edgy. By mature, I mean complex emotional experiences that you would discuss with your therapist, rather than listen to on your headphones. Thankfully, it’s a lot cheaper than therapy and I’d rather have MARINA give me words to explain my problems than talk to a trained professional about it! We’ll revisit that maturity throughout this piece.
The best song on the album, and the one that holds the most weight for me is ‘Obsessions’.
It’s a song about seeing someone for who they really are, acne and all, and about loving them because of those flaws. The production is as lush as the vaunted skincare store, her vocals are jagged and raw, and the lyrics are detailed and specific.
It’s classic MARINA, and even better, it sets up the foundations for future MARINA to blossom.
Electra Heart (2012)
A mere two years after her debut, Marina was already going big, and ambitious. Electra Heart is not just an album, it’s a concept, y’all!
Concept albums are a gamble for both artist and audience. More often than not, it’s a concept that hangs on two great songs and eight mediocre ones. Or worse, it’s a concept that can’t stand up to being interrogated over the space of an entire album (hey, Joanne) or the artist is locked into a concept that is more skin than meat (also hey, Joanne). They fade into the background of a career, worthy of gentle pats on the back and quiet wonderings of when they’re going to get back to what they do best (a third time Joanne).
However! Electra Heart is a triumph of the form for two reasons. One, the concept is kind of perfect for a pop album: Electra Heart is a character, described by Marina as being ‘cold, ruthless and not vulnerable’. Some of our best pop songs – most of Beyonce’s oeuvre, for example – are about not being vulnerable! That’s a good thing to hang a concept album on.
Second, the songs are really, really good. Take ‘Primadonna’, for example:
One, it’s a super catchy track with one titanic hook (‘Primadonna girl / all I ever wanted was the world’). Two, Marina is a skilled enough vocalist to oscillate between playing the role of ‘primadonna girl’ straight and turning it on its head. You can basically hear the wink.
The flipside of this is ‘Teen Idle’, one of the smartest and most honest songs I’ve heard about being an outcast teenager:
It’s the most vulnerable moment on the entire album, as Electra/Marina reflects on being a loser as a teenager and how much she wished she had been one of the popular kids. It’s startling in its maturity, but also remains catchy as all hell (‘super-super-super-suicidal’ should be a hook).
Electra Heart is wall-to-wall stone-cold bangers (‘Sex Yeah’, ‘Power and Control’), so much so that it can be easy to forget that it’s actually a concept album. It’s only on a second listen that you realise how deep the songs go, how rich the concept is, and that these songs both stand alone as playlist adrenaline and together as character study.
Also, it gave us the thirstiest video I’ve ever seen: ‘How to be a Heartbreaker’.
If only more popstars served their man-loving fans as well as Marina does.
Froot represents another maturation in Marina’s sound and artistry. Rather than the wide range of producers on Electra Heart, including Diplo, StarGate and Greg Kurstin, she elected to work with only David Kosten (Faultline) who had previously found success producing Bat for Lashes’ albums Two Suns and Fur and Gold.
Where The Family Jewels saturated Marina’s voice with production, and Electra Heart froze it into cold steel, Froot‘s lush production feels like a comfy flower bed for all the weird quirks and edges of Marina to play out on. However, what makes Froot special is its cohesion – not in sound, but theme. It’s as much of a concept album as Electra Heart is, but whereas Electra Heart was a character, Froot is a state of mind.
The album is full of beautiful songs – ‘I’m A Ruin’ is a quick jab of a song about breaking up with someone, ‘Froot’ is a five-and-a-half-minute paean to saving all your summers for someone – but I’m going to focus on ‘Forget’, perhaps my favourite MARINA song up until this most recent album cycle.
It’s a song that’s about that endlessly relatable experience – one little mistake that doesn’t define your life in any recognisable way, but plays on loop in your mind like an alarm that you can snooze but can’t turn off. ‘Forget’ starts off mid-tempo, but with a persistent drumbeat. It’s not exactly full of happiness but it’s defiantly forward-facing – it’s time to move on, let go, and forget.
Where the song gets special is the final third of the song. The beat drops out and Marina delivers us this:
“Yeah, I’ve been dancing with the devil
I love that he pretends to care
If I’ll ever get to heaven
When a million dollars gets you there
Oh, all the time that I have wasted
Chasing rabbits down a hole
When I was born to be the tortoise
I was born to walk alone”
And then, instead of a final chorus, like 99% of pop songs in existence, Marina leaves us with a mission statement that I wish I could tattoo on the inside of my eyelids, my earholes and my very somewhat resilient soul:
I’ve had enough, I’m breaking free
No pressing stop, erase, rewind
That chain of thought that followed me
I’ve put my money where my mouth is
For the first time in my life
I’ve made mistakes but I believe that
Everything was worth the fight
‘Cause, in the end, the road is long
But only ’cause it makes you strong
It’s filled with peaks and twists and turns
Sometimes you have to learn to forget about it”
For the space of about a year, I listened to this song at least once a day, and this outro always made my back a bit straighter, made me stand a little taller, made me plant my feet a little bit more firmly in the ground. It’s not just in the lyrics or in how the beat speeds back up; it’s in Marina’s defiant performance.
Froot is full of mission statements like this. It’s a rarity in the pop world to get an album that is about self-love, self-care, and growth in a way that is actionable and relatable. It’s not navel-drowning Ed Sheeran mopery, it’s someone realising they’re not perfect, owning it, and promising to do better.
We could all do with a little Froot, y’all.
Love + Fear (2019)
When I heard ‘Handmade Heaven’, it was like being lifted up a little. MARINA has always known how to do a good pop song, but this is the first time I felt like I was hearing a huge pop song. Huge in scale, huge in emotion, and all-encompassing. There’s a cinematic quality to it, thanks to producer Joel Little (of Lorde fame), that makes it perfect as a first single from Love + Fear, MARINA’s new double album.
The first half of the album, Love, surprise-dropped a few weeks ago, and it seems to encapsulate the best of her previous three albums. It has the eclecticism of The Family Jewels – there are 21 co-writers or producers on the first half of this album alone. It has the strong concept of Electra Heart – the first half is an exploration of love, in all its platonic, romantic, sexual, spiritual forms. Finally, it has the maturity and introspection of Froot – ‘Orange Trees’ somehow combines bounciness with reflectiveness as she sings about her love of her home island in Greece.
It wouldn’t be unfair to call MARINA the thinking human’s popstar, it’d just be insufficient. Her albums are like aural essays, yes, but they’re also full emotional experiences. MARINA plumbs, explores and interrogates experiences in a way that few people are doing in mainstream pop right now.
And even better? She gives us some bangers along the way. We stan an emotionally mature, hook-dropping popstar queen.
The second half of Love + Fear drops on April 26.
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