I have also decided I am the worst kind of artist. I think I am like a half-pop star. Too pop for indie & too indie for pop. Half way house, hellish doom.
-Marina and the Diamonds.
Marina and the Diamonds is not a band. It is the stage name of 24-year-old singer-songwriter-performer Marina Lambrini Diamandis. And I think I love her. Marina creates brilliant pop music, ready for the radio, but with an emotional intimacy and a sense of candor more fitting the confessional guitar strummers of the 70s. Incorporating both visual and vocal tics and mannerisms from a broad spectrum of out-there female forebears – the emphatic, naive joy of Bjork, the punk theatricality of Siouxsie Sioux, the faux-eastern European, new wave exoticism of Lene Lovich, the self-doubt and introspection of Joan Armatrading, and, what the hell, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s otherworldly trill – only without coming across nearly as forbiddingly weird as any of the above, and all while sounding like no one but herself. After several singles and EPs, her debut album The Family Jewels was released in February 2010.
Like Lady Gaga, there’s something visionary about what Marina and the Diamonds is, for it most certainly isn’t just Marina herself. Gaga may have her little monsters, but Marina addresses her fans as her Diamonds, which makes her stage name not just a play on her given name, but gives new meaning to the phrase “I’m with the band”, implicating those who listen to her music, who come to her shows, who read her (awesome) blog, who buy her branded lip paint and face gems, (and presumably those of us who write fawning admirations of her in their obscure little music blogs) as participants in this ongoing, open-ended musical art project. It might be a little easy to write off this idea of artistic audience-inclusiveness as a Gaga rip-off, but Marina comes by the concept independently, and this is pretty much where comparisons to Lady Gaga end. Where Gaga embraces her celebrity, taking a sort of pre-emptively self-exploitative stance and making self-consciously provocative videos to aggrandize otherwise often silly pop songs, Marina regards pop culture and celebrity – her own increasing celebrity especially – with caution and the kind of curiosity one might have for an exotic, potentially deadly tropical insect, fascination tinged with revulsion. An emotionally charged, cabaret-style cover of 30H!3’s “Starstrukk” has become a fixture of her live show (you can download it for free here).
While embracing instantly lovable pop melodies, her songs are full of challenges and manifestos in disguise. Her single “I Am Not a Robot” might be a reassurance to a social outcast boyfriend coming to terms with his baggage. But it also reads as a statement of artistic purpose, not just Marina’s, but her audience’s – and, simultaneously, a rebuke of the soulless-ness (not to mention joylessness) of Autotune radio pop fodder. “You’re vulnerable. You are not a robot,” she sings at the end of the first verse. She counters that charge with an empathetic chorus, “Guess what? I am not a robot,” and finishes with a question “Can you teach me how to feel real? Can you turn my power on?” With this song, she throws down a gauntlet for her vision of Marina and the Diamonds going forward. She’d rather be hated for her genuine two-thousand-and-late-ness than be loved by millions for a phony three-thousand-and-eight pose. Yes, I believe this makes her The Anti-Fergie. Thank Diamonds for that.
“I Am Not a Robot”