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Marina & The Diamonds: Alternative Pop’s Unsung Hero

Before there was Halsey, Lana, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa, Melanie Martinez or Grimes, there was Marina & The Diamonds, an untrained, unapologetic and unabashed welsh-born singer/songwriter effortlessly half-assing her way through the pop game. Marina is to these girls what Britney is to Selena, Miley, and Demi: The original trailblazer. She doesn’t get the credit because she doesn’t have the commercial receipts to back her, but her diamonds (Marina’s fans) know, and won’t miss a chance to tweet at you about it. Lack of strong commercial success, but presence of a huge, utterly devoted, ride-or-die, borderline psychotic fanbase is just a single part of the mystery that is Marina & The Diamonds.

After dropping out of four music schools and not finding any success with auditioning, Marina started composing her own material, eventually releasing an EP through MySpace. She eventually caught the attention of Derek Davis, founder of a small New York City-based record label, and soon signed to 679 Artists, a division of Warner Music. At the age of 25, she released her debut album, The Family Jewels. Perez Hilton stanned her, critics praised her, and the Alternative community welcomed her with open arms. I personally found out about Marina in mid-2010. I was at a friend’s house listening to some music, probably Lady Antebellum or Kesha (God bless 2010), and he shuffled his music library and a song called I Am Not A Robot started playing. I remember thinking it was a Regina Spector song before asking who it was. We ended up listening to the entire album that day. I didn’t become a fan right away though; over the next few months, I’d listen to a song here and there, but more or less forgot about her as time passed.

“With ‘Electra Heart’, it did hinder me because the aim with that was to be a straight-up pop star. So when i was promoting it I realized, OK, this is why I don’t like being a pop star because people assume you don’t know anything and you don’t make your own music. I saw that change as soon as I dyed my hair blonde and created music that had a different production style.” – The Guardian

After The Family Jewels was a moderate commercial success, Marina’s label pushed her to work with more mainstream producers and ended up teaming her up with people like Cirkut, a staple producer in Britney Spears’s career, and Greg Kurstin and Rick Nowels, renowned pop songwriters. The result was Electra Heart, a very high-concept, electro-pop record. Back to me: Somewhere around 2012, i ended up on the “Free on Itunes” page, and there it was: The music video for Primadonna, available for free download. I didn’t even recognize her. She had a blonde wig on and was dressed all sassy 1950’s housewife, a la Britney spears in the If You Seek Amy video. I had to double-check if it was the same person I used to listen to two years earlier. Produced by Cirkut and Dr. Luke, Primadonna is a colorful, in-your-face, classic Marina anthem dipped in pop poison juice. Just my cup of tea.

I’d say Electra Heart was a bittersweet career move for Marina. On one hand, she gained a lot of new fans. Primadonna was a moderate hit around the world, reaching the top 20 in over ten countries. People started talking about her, but more importantly, going back and listening to her previous, more stripped-down work. Critics, on the other hand, slaughtered her, more or less labeling her a sell-out. There’s one article in particular that I remember reading back then that pretty much sums up how misunderstood this era is. Awarding the album a ridiculous 1/10, George Boorman, a writer at clashmusic.com, dubbed Electra Heart “A statement of Marina’s demise.” In one brief, 100-word review, he wrote the artist off, saying: “‘Electra heart’ is an ingloriously languid statement of Marina’s demise, the final stamp of disapproval on her flailing excuse of a musical career. There is actually a song called ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ on this album. ’nuff said.” I wonder how long it took him to write these belittling eight sentences before he sent them to his 20-year old editor. ‘Nuff said.

“The record is almost celebrating being happy. Maybe it’s the same sort of thing I’m talking about in that I want to live an amazing life and I want to live the best life that I can. It’s all too easy to complain and be cynical about things, but I feel like this emotional shift I’ve had means I don’t feel like that anymore. I really want to enjoy life, whatever that life entails.” – The Line of Best Fit

Froot, Marina’s next album, was a musical and lyrical triumph. It was her Cinderella story; she was at her most authentic, at her happiest, and most confident. It was almost like the final chapter in her story, which is probably why so many of her fans felt like she was heading into retirement. Seriously, the tweets were hilarious. Writing and producing the entire album with producer David Kosten, Marina showcased her unique artistry like never before. Froot was her big “Fuck You” to the haters. Her Blackout, if you will. From heartfelt ballads like Happy and Immortal, to pop anthems like title track Froot and I’m A Ruin, Froot is, in my opinion, one of the best pop records of the last decade.

The record marked a new chapter in Marina’s life. She’s more centred now. She’s happy. At 30 years old, the artist has three solid albums under her belt, millions of records sold, three tours, and a legion of die-hard fans. It’s pretty admirable how she’s been in the industry for almost a decade now, but still, in a sense, doesn’t belong to the masses. She’s like a John Waters film: She’s too mainstream to be called alternative, but too alternative to be called mainstream. In commercial terms, she’s screwed. But it’s okay, i’m sure the Diamonds will gladly continue to pay her rent.

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