Sham pain for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends, as they say… Marina Diamandis, clever as she is, isn’t above using some corny-ass dad puns as vehicle for her social commentary, in this case about the perils of getting yourself blackout drunk. She also wrote a song called Hermit the Frog. She likes wordplay. And she’s totally in using it. Humor and absurdity go a long way towards leavening angst-ridden topics, and Marina uses both, along with heady doses of glam and glitter, to get her message across. Underneath the hooks and costumes, there’s some heavy angst, and serious observations about how wounding and hard life can be for women and how much of a charade femininity essentially is. Also, the weight of creativity and fame, don’t forget about that additional burden. Life is an uphill battle. Let us have our dad puns.
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.
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.