August 22 2014

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Beauty And The Beat: Marina Diamandis Is Electra Heart


Fans of Marina Diamandis—a.k.a. Marina and the Diamonds—were in for a shock when the British singer returned with her sophomore album, Electra Heart. It wasn’t just the songs, recorded with big-name producers and bearing all the electro-pop sheen of big hits, that marked an evolution; it was the new persona she took on, trading long brunette tresses and varsity jackets for a fifties-style bleached blond wig and frothy pink dresses. “People often talk about the whole ‘pop star alter ego’ thing, and it’s so old and dusty and clichéd. But the main reason behind creating Electra Heart was basic: I just wanted to dissociate myself from the person I’d grown into at that point, and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that,” explains Diamandis, adding, “I was ready for a different outlook, and creating Electra Heart helped me achieve that.” She’s taking her alter ego on the road, with a slew of dates (including a handful opening for Coldplay) that will keep her on tour through November. Here, the musician takes behind the makeover—and the music—while explaining why she never leaves the house without a jar of coconut oil.

At what point in the process of recording your new album did you realize that there needed to be a physical manifestation of this character you embody in the songs?
I came up with the name for the album in December 2010, but it wasn’t until halfway through the writing process where I began to construct Electra Heart as a fully formed fictional figure. It was weird because I created a character to have a vehicle that I could use to make a statement about love, but I didn’t really realize it until after the album was released.

Did that persona affect the music?
It affected it more than I thought it would. The first songs I wrote were very “Marina”: cold, depressing, blunt, and acerbic; songs like “Lies,” “Starring Role,” “Living Dead,” and “Teen Idle.” Then halfway through—much as you do in a breakup, you start to see the funny side of things and get over the person that has hurt you—I started to have fun with various themes; I wasn’t feeling depressed anymore and my old wit came back. I bought bubblegum PVC dresses, old wedding veils, and prom queen frocks off Hollywood Boulevard, and all those items manifested themselves in songs like “Homewrecker,” “Bubblegum Bitch,” and “Primadonna.” All the humorous songs came out in the second half of the writing process.

Besides the PVC dresses, anything else you’ve been gravitating toward?
Vivienne Westwood pompom rubber bubblegum shoes, a wedding veil, frill socks, heart iconography, lots of different color ribbons so you have one to match your outfit—I own about 30 different colors now!

What about the persona necessitated going blonde?
On the surface, I think I have associated bleaching my hair with a kind of freedom, as I was never allowed to in my teens. On a more psychological level, I really wanted to separate myself in some way from various experiences I’d associated my past with, and changing your image is the first choice for many people. I just associated having black, long hair with being depressed and bitter.

Does Electra Heart have any must-have beauty products that she’s taking on tour?
NuBo Diamond Peel and Reveal exfoliant, Crème de la Mer.

What about Marina—what’s your big beauty secret?
Coconut oil—you can use it for hair, skin, removing makeup, immune system support, cooking…it’s incredible and only $15 a tub. I carry it everywhere!

Do you think you could create this persona if there wasn’t a pop element to your music?
Of course! But the weird and the ridiculous are more acceptable in the pop world than perhaps the more credible world of indie singer songwriters. There are tons of indie singers who are avant-garde though—Björk, Grimes, Tori Amos…

Is there another major makeover in your future?
I think I have a little chameleon in me but I can’t say every album will be some radical change in identity. I do enjoy building a brand-new picture, though, and I adore artists who invest everything in a central theme. That is something that may follow through in future albums; each album is an opportunity to explore a different facet of the artist’s personality or musical identity. I always mention Madonna, but creatively you can say she has really “lived.” Sonically and stylistically, challenging your own comfort zone and doing the opposite of what people expect of you—that is attractive to me.

Beauty And The Beat