Welsh-Greek singer on pop music, love and Madonna's lasting appeal
Kim Taylor Bennett
Like her songs, the 26-year-old singer behind Marina and the Diamonds is playful and forthright, with a healthy sense of humour. In 2009, Marina made a splash with her debut album The Family Jewels – all quavering vocals and confessional tunes with a DIY, alt.pop appeal. Last year she announced she was exploring an ironic Americana-trash persona named Electra Heart, with the Welsh-Greek singer collaborating with songwriting big-hitters such as Dr Luke (Katy Perry) and Rick Nowels (Madonna, Santigold). The result is a collection that moves to a darker, dancier beat through a line-up of different characters. We found out more.
The new album was inspired by a lost love. ‘There was definitely a boy involved. My experience with that person was so hurtful that it set the tone for the record. When you’re heartbroken, you go through different moods: you’re sad and numb, then really angry. Then you feel ashamed and embarrassed. This record captures those moods. Electra Heart is not an alter ego, it’s more using the character as a foil to tell my story. It’s not a break-up record; it’s almost like an anti-break-up record. It discusses love in such a brutal way, with a dollop of black humour, because that’s how I see life. You have to laugh, otherwise you cry!’
She was scared of Dr Luke. ‘I was so nervous before my first Dr Luke session. I felt like I was going to be sick. Within ten minutes I was fine, but that’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever done – creatively, anyway. So I just went for it and I’m so happy, because if the collaborator is right, they bring out the best in you. My limitation when I’m on my own is that I’m not a particularly talented keyboard player, so they’d do the music and I’d do the top-line melody and lyrics. It worked out pretty well.’
She’s grown to like ‘pop music’. ‘I don’t think I fully understood the genius of it. In the beginning, I felt really excluded from that world. I was like, “Everything sounds the same.” Then Katy Perry’s people asked if I wanted to support her in America. I bought her album and I was like, “This is actually really good.” Then I bought Ke$ha’s. Slowly, I changed my perspective. If you’re in a club, you don’t necessarily want to be listening to super-meaningful music, but it doesn’t take the value away from it. I was just negative because I didn’t feel confident myself.’
She’s a critic of Madonna’s critics. ‘It’s unfair, but people only pick up on what they think is important to you. So, if for Madonna it’s important to be current, people will pick up on that and the fact that she’s still so hungry and unapologetic about everything she does. She must be so strong to keep going after always getting knocked down. She’s fearless.’
The new persona was inspired by a fascination with America. ‘What clinches it is the feeling I have when I’m there: I feel very creative. I can be anyone. I think that’s because in American culture the idea of fantasy is really integral. And there’s almost a feeling of unreality when I’m staying there. I can’t quite describe it, it’s almost like nothing is real.’ Electra Heart is available now at Virgin Megastore.