Marina & The Diamonds and Lady Gaga broke around the same time. It was a decade ago and Gaga took over the charts with The Fame, an album that outwardly critiqued and pushed the pop world with avant-garde fashion, new-wave beats and cinematic videos. At the same time, Marina also provided an alternative to your regular popstar. She wrote all her own songs, directed her own image and was humorously sarcastic about what a popstar should be.
Marina once said that it annoyed her that she was "compared" to Lady Gaga. It was most likely the media attempting to put her in a box that just didn't exist for her. Marina and Gaga are remarkably different as artists but they both had a knack for transformation with each record while never really laying down to what the industry wanted them to be.
The Greek-Brit sang, "Hollywood infected your brain" on early single Hollywood while she lamented on the effects of the industry on Mowgli's Road singing, "I don't know who I wanna be." Her debut album The Family Jewel was uncompromising. It was an acute look at the industry and beauty standards delivered with a sharp-tongue and quick punch lines. She managed to break into the charts, sharing company with the exact pop acts she was critiquing. Marina herself now calls the album "batshit crazy." If she says that now, imagine what it was like then.
By album number two, Marina had the attention of some of the biggest producers in pop. Dr. Luke and Greg Kurstin assisted in taking her to her first British number one with Electra Heart. It saw her embrace a character that once again sarcastically poked fun at the pop world but as Marina admitted in a recent interview she liked to follow the "zeitgeist" and so the sound was more in-line with the rest of the mainstream at the time. Primadonna was a mighty electro-pop record while first single Radioactive channelled the Calvin Harris sound of the time.
She was directly competing with the commercial big guns of the time but her wit and humour pulled her from the rest of the pack. It was highly conceptual with each of the videos for the album able to be stitched together. Interestingly, the album broke her in America but was somewhat misunderstood by the UK. "It’s a tongue-in-cheek record," she told NME. Her home country apparently thought she sold out.
Three years later, she dispelled any sell out rumours with a gorgeously intimate album FROOT. She still adopted a colourful, somewhat sarcastic character but it was created entirely with Bat For Lashes producer Dave Kosten and shied away from the pop sound of the time in favour of something far more organic. There were bangers like the title track but also delicate moments like Immortal and Happy. Instead of critiquing the world around her, she looked inward and produced what many critics hailed as her best album.
The tour that followed the record was gruelling for Marina. She was dealing with ill family members and as a result was feeling "awful". She kept going with the tour because she didn't want to disappoint the fans but following it took time away to leave her popstar persona behind. It's now been four years since FROOT, her longest break in between records.
Perhaps somewhat coincidentally she arrives at a similar point to Gaga. Following Artpop, Gaga set out to make her most intimate album yet, rejecting characters in favour of something direct and honest. Pop has undoubtedly been inspired by Marina and Gaga's rejection of the Britney-era popstar, it's gotten weirder and wilder. There are less cookie cutters but still the most shocking thing you can do is strip everything back.
After toying with the idea of giving up being an artist, Marina eventually ditched The Diamonds as a way of shredding the character. As a result, simplicity is at the heart of her forthcoming album Love + Fear. After being asked what the "look" was for this record, she said (via The Fader), "There is no look." The concept is simple - love and fear. It's a double record with 'Love' occupying one side and 'Fear' the other. Each single so far has been organically personal ranging from celebratory love song Superstar to Orange Trees which is a nod Lefkada - the island her family is from in Greece.
For those worries that Marina ditching The Diamonds is an attempt to leave pop completely, there's no need. Love + Fear is a pop album. The Fader called it "her most direct electro-pop album to date." Nothing's perfect but Marina is content and the music is flowing naturally. Who knows whether we're going to see Electra Heart ever again, she'd have to bring her back from the dead after she "killed" her, but for know Marina's character is herself.
Love + Fear is out 26th April, with the first part Love out 5th April.