A disastrous relationship has at least provided a rich seam of material for Marina Diamandis to work on, writes Aidan Smith
TWO YEARS ago Marina Diamandis sat before me with her lustrous raven’s mane and remembered her disastrous blonde interlude. “I didn’t feel happy with myself so I decided to change my hair colour,” she said. “That was such a shame because I come from Greece and I used to have this long dark hair with a natural face and I went and destroyed that look.” Today the pop star is surrounded by a big delivery of gloves – from the official glovemaker to the Queen, no less – and she’s blonde again.
“Did I say that?” she says, before letting rip with a raucous laugh that suggests she knows she did and doesn’t care she’s just contradicted herself with a bottle of bleach. Diamandis – who performs as Marina and the Diamonds – is the kind of girl who tells you everything: on her blog, via Twitter, when she’s charming interviewers and in her lyrics. “My life is a play,” she sings on second album Electra Heart.
Her debut The Family Jewels told her story right up to the point of getting signed and didn’t scrimp on the trials, tribulations, emotional crises and image revamps. The only thing she didn’t discuss – refreshing, this – was love. Despite that, I was sure she’d be a hit with the girls for being so confessional and with the boys for more basic reasons. But The Family Jewels, although rave-reviewed, didn’t sell as well as her record company hoped. So what’s she singing about this time? Oh, you know: lurve.
Diamandis, 26, insists this hasn’t been a calculated move. If her songs tell of who she is and what she’s done, then Electra Heart has to be about romance, or bad romance, because in the period between debut and follow-up a relationship she called her “worst, ever” was a major event. “I’d never written about love before because it’s so cringe,” she says. “But what happened to me was interesting and, I thought, worth exploring.”
You can say that again, if her lyrics are to be taken literally. She’s “Miss Sugar Pink Licka Licka Lips” who sings the line “I want be adored” on successive tracks. This is Teen Idle: “I want to be a bottle blonde, I want to be a real fake/I want to be a virgin pure, a 21st century whore.” But by the album’s end, she’s feeling “super super super super-suicidal”.
Blonde Electra has been described as her alter ego but Diamandis says: “She’s more of a concept and a metaphor for being heartbroken.” Has she been? “Oh yes! I think my attitude towards love is not very conventional and maybe not very functional and that’s why I wanted to write about it.” How unconventional? “Well, I’m 26 and I’ve never had what you’d call a proper relationship, never been in love. That makes me pretty odd among my peer group.
“What usually happens is the guy is obsessed with me but I’m just not that into him but in this relationship the tables were turned. I fell for someone but he definitely didn’t love me.” In the song Lies she sings of “a coward to the end” and complains: “You only ever touch me in the dark.” Another track goes: “The only time you open up is when we get undressed.”
She says: “This guy wasn’t very true to himself. It was the first relationship where I was giving and not getting back. Normally I do the dumping; here I got dumped.”
She says that not all of the ten tracks are about her ex, and that the album as a whole examines different romantic moods. In some, then, Diamandis is the one in control (“I don’t belong to anyone … count on me to misbehave”); in others she’s mildy desperate (“Why don’t we just pretend? … Let’s just get drunk and forget we don’t get on”).
“I’m interested in the fact that your identity is never really static, especially in love,” she says. And it’s this that’s given her the licence to change her look – Marilyn Monroe was an inspiration, as were the women of Mad Men – and it’s one she unashamedly calls a career move. “I like having blonde hair; it makes me feel different. Will it make people perceive me differently, especially those who don’t know me? That’s fascinating.”
Diamandis, who’s half-Welsh, was banging at the door of pop fame for quite a long time before it edged open for her and couldn’t resist singing about the day she got her contract on The Family Jewels’ opening track. In her vivacious, dramatic and upfront way, the Marina of 2010 craved success, and elsewhere on Electra Heart she seems to be wondering if this was really such a good idea (“I know I’ve got a big ego … all I ever wanted was the world”). So what’s her standpoint now?
“Well, I think I got too wrapped up in success, with striving for it, but really it’s not what matters. I remember writing in my blog, ‘I hate pop!’ That was me being totally unreasonable, a brat. I felt excluded from the industry. I wasn’t being played on the radio and my sales had dropped right off. But success, I’ve come to realise, is fleeting so you shouldn’t value it too much.
“What’s important is having faith in your own creativity and being satisfied with that and I think I am now.”
So is she still single? Another lusty laugh. “Before, I couldn’t bear to have my love life analysed so that’s why I didn’t write songs about it. Now I’m going to be talking about it for the next two years.
“Discussing my current situation, though, seems to be going a bit too far – especially if it becomes the third album!”
• Electra Heart is released on 30 April on 679/Atlantic. Marina and the Diamonds play the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on 7 May and Glasgow’s ABC the following night.
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