“Underneath it all, we’re just savages
Hidden behind shirts, ties and marriages…”
As if I needed anything to validate my lack of faith in the species. We are, all told, impenetrably dumb, desire-driven dysfunctional monkeys and the only thing we’ve got going for us is a pop song or two. But, as Marina points out, we like to think that our suits and social institutions elevate us somehow. It’s all about that veneer of civilization that makes us think we have our shit together. Shocker, we don’t have our shit together. But, again, we do have culture, which is more than most of the other animals can say for themselves, and if it doesn’t redeem us in the grand universal scheme of things, at least it makes our short and brutish lives a tiny bit more meaningful.
Marina Diamandis sure knows how to make angst poetic. She’s dramatic in her lyrics, in her vocals, and in her image. She may have pop diva sensibilities, but they’re constantly in a balancing act with her emo side. Because although her music might sound ‘big’ her topics are intimate. She writes a lot about things that are interior in a way that most pop doesn’t usually touch. Lots of songs about insecurity, about not knowing who you are and what you’re doing. That’s an essential part of being young, of course, and dealing with those feelings in a productive way is an essential part of becoming less young. That’s why Marina strikes a chord with the young and the not so much. She’s a figure study in how to be vulnerable and creative about it.
Sometimes I wonder if my love life would be a bigger success if I made a bigger effort to be a toxic bitch. People like that, right? Men would flock to me? It’s a trope that mentally unstable people are more desirable, and romance isn’t really worth it unless it’s full of explosive drama and mutual bad behaviour. Most of us learn otherwise pretty quickly in life, but the trope shows no sign of losing its appeal. It’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s rehab-failing older sister. The Toxic Bitch may smash your windshield and ruin your life, but nobody ever made you feel more alive. The male equivalent is the guy who breaks your nose on Valentine’s Day then takes you to brunch the next morning, and he is only marginally less easy to glamorize. Toxic people are shit and you should run away from them when you see them coming, but don’t you secretly want to be that out of control?
Marina Diamandis is the camp icon for the millennial set. It’s self-aware pop music for a generation that’s so self-aware and meta and ironic they can’t stop being self-conscious and just allow themselves to feel a natural emotion. Of course, vacuous idle youth have been the bogeybear that every receding generation shakes its stick at before reluctantly conceding that the kids are alright after all. It’s just the technology that keeps updating. Every generation gets the pop idols it deserves, supposedly. We certainly have enough of the kind who wholeheartedly and unironically represent the specifically modern tyranny of aspirational images. Some of them have a touch of the uncanny valley effect about the eyes that makes one wonder if they aren’t just digital sales bots. One suspects that Kendall and Kylie don’t actually exist; their eyes are glassy and they can barely speak in sentences, but their lives are impeccably well designed. Celebrity automatons may be easy targets for intellectual scorn – and may even be deserving of it – but who among us doesn’t spend time curating an ‘aspirational’ public image of ourselves as if we were of interest to anyone besides our 12 closest friends? What does that do to our souls? How does it affect our ability to be real people interacting with other real people? Are the self-regard and narcissism that social media so easily enables actually a satisfying substitute for the hard work of forming and maintaining relationships IRL? Why bother following the prescribed life path when you can just create the illusion that you’re following it? Sure, you’re a half-baked man-child or babygirl with no life- or interpersonal- skills and no interest in acquiring either, but you look like an interesting person on Instagram. And, really, when you think about it, aren’t you just a better-groomed version of the guy who leaves the club alone to go read books in the cemetery because solitary pursuits like reading and moping are so much easier and more fulfilling than the drudge and pain of trying to form meaningful connections with your fellow humans? It’s all the same miserablism played out on a different stage.
One of my favorite things about attending a Marina and the Diamonds concert is seeing kids in the audience wearing versions of Marina’s video looks. Marina Diamandis has adopted a distinct visual style for each one of her three albums, and fans show up to shows dressed to echo their favorites. That shows real connection between the artist and her fans. Clearly her message and her style are hitting home. That’s fantastic news for everyone, because she is one of the smartest singer-songwriters around, and what she has to say is enormously empowering. Electra Heart is a concept album exploring female archetypes and the way they affect our real life identities and our ability to function as human beings. Unsurprising conclusion; they’re mostly harmful. That may sound heavily cerebral, but it’s big ideas delivered in bubblegum packaging. It’s a master class in how consciousness raising can be fun, and pop music has the power to deliver lessons and inspiration. In the right hands.
I saw Marina & the Diamonds in concert a while ago, and let me tell you, her game is tight; she hits the notes, commands the crowd and has the visual image all figured out. With only three albums under her belt, Marina Diamandis already has a strong message and a narrative to deliver it. She writes a lot about identity, self-acceptance, and how to navigate being a neurotic, creative, outspoken young woman in the modern world. And, of course, the particular pressure of all of those things plus fame. For her troubles, she has become a modern-day gay icon, with a following among the very young and very flamboyant, which is actually no small feat given that young gays today don’t necessarily identify themselves as a specific subculture the way previous generations did. A knack for camp still goes a long way, it would appear. The combination of humor and sincerity, plus lots and lots of sequins, is a winning combination, and it really speaks to anyone who feels that their ‘outsider’ status really makes them an ‘insider’.
In case you haven’t guessed, Marina and the Diamonds made one of my favorite albums of the recent past. Well, more than one and more than recent; I really enjoy all of her albums, and I know The Family Jewels came out six and a half years ago. It’s just that since experiencing her live show, I’ve been playing her music a lot more and paying closer attention. And I really couldn’t be more behind her message. Here, she’s gently mocking the contemporary trope of self-empowerment through material acquisition, a uniquely capitalist phenomenon, which I suppose is not entirely bad if it helps people feel slightly more empowered. Is empowerment through shopping and pop culture just a false sense of well-being? Are we lulled into feeling satisfied by shallow things as a distraction from exploring the underlying problems? Yeah. Definitely. But that’s not to dismiss the reality that we all do what we have to do to get by, and sometimes that means material consolation.