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.
Marina Diamandis makes a simple, salient point. We’ve all got obsessions that tie us into knots over the stupidest things. Sometimes it’s something full fledged and in need of medicating, but mostly it’s just little internal ticks that stress us out when we could be having a perfectly normal time. I can relate! You can relate. And Marina comes off like the artsy best friend who makes you feel better about your own slight dysfunction because she wears hers so well. Not suggesting that being neurotic is glamorous and cool, but being glamorous and cool despite being neurotic is more glamorous and cool than just being dysfunctional, if you know what I mean. What I mean is, Marina Diamandis is exploring the fine nuances of modern identity – such as how much dysfunction can you function with before people decide that you’re too dysfunctional and it’s not cute anymore – in a positive-attitude way that’s hugely inspiring.
This is a catchy pop song about living with depression. This is why Marina Diamantis is a queen to hordes of teen girls and baby gays. Because she makes music – pop music! – for smart kids with sore hearts. Kids who can talk about their insecurity and depression, who can laugh about those things. While wearing glitter. I know this after witnessing the sky high levels of youthful fabulosity at her shows. I usually attend concerts where I’m on the young side of the audience; never before have I felt like the old fogie. So many beautiful, flamboyant adolescents! It makes me feel near-optimism for the future. The world is still doomed, of course, but it’s nice to see the vitality, intelligence and proud weirdness of the kids coming up behind me.
Here’s a relatively new discovery. Marina and the Diamonds might have caught some comaparisons to Florence and the Machine, but semantically similar stage names aside, they’re both young British women with big voices who otherwise have nothing in common. Marina Diamandis indeed has an amazing voice, and a talent for big, hooky pop songs (and she’s a cutie.) Those are things that could potentially carry her into the broadest realm of wide success, but fortunately her pop sensibility is leavened with humor and eccentricity. No question, she is equipped to be a fembot pop star alongside Katy Perry. But she is has more in common with singers like Robyn, Alex Winston, and Elle King. All of these women are working in an unabashedly pop format, with no shame for their love of hooks, beats, and sing-along choruses. But they are unwilling to sacrifice their intelligence and distinct personal perspective for a wider appeal. And there’s no reason to. Well produced, polished pop songs can and should be capable of carrying meaningful lyrical content, or be expressions of sincere emotion, or even aspire to genuine artistic vision. I don’t know if Diamandis has the aspiration to be called a serious artist, but she certainly knows how to tweak pop conventions towards the surreal and absurd.