by: Kevin Sparrow
America through the eyes of other countries has long been a feature of high and pop culture. In music, the perception of the modern American female has been filtered through a foreign lens since at least 1970, with the release of “American Woman” by Canadian band The Guess Who, which paints a picture of both seduction by and caution toward American culture and politics. Today, Welsh singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis–better known as Marina & the Diamonds–is conceptualizing the American woman in new and captivating ways.
I was fortunate to have front-row positioning to see Marina & the Diamonds perform at South by Southwest in 2010; Marina was wearing a Mickey Mouse jumpsuit apropos to her first appearance in the States, and she powered through her set of songs from her debut The Family Jewels. Since that time, I’ve been fascinated by the evolving dichotomy of Marina as both an admirer and strong critic of American culture. In the two years since, Marina has gone from embracing the consumerist aspects of America to subverting them with her new album, Electra Heart. Marina’s pop sensibilities emulate as much as they critique others in the genre: Marina opened for part of Katy Perry’s “California Dreams” tour, but the content of her songs rejects ideas of shallow pop stardom in subtle and obvious ways. In an interview with PopJustice, Marina states, “Electra Heart is the antithesis of everything that I stand for. And the point of introducing her and building a whole concept around her is that she stands for the corrupt side of American ideology, and basically that’s the corruption of yourself. My worst fear is losing myself and becoming a vacuous person.”
Marina’s debut album traded on isolation and marginalized identity–themes that relate to feminist and LGBTQ circles. She explores the separation of consumer-constructed identities from actual identities, highlighting how underprivileged groups are coerced into contributing to a consumer culture that also disenfranchises them. Her music does this in the cheeky manner of employing the trappings of pop music, living in what it attempts to counter. Promotion for the upcoming album Electra Heart sees Marina employing visual and audio sources to provide more context to her intention, in similar fashion to Swedish act iamamiwhoami, who have steadily released YouTube videos since 2009 in anticipation of an actual album release this year and have drawn a fan base by building worlds and telling stories through different media. A series of Marina videos labeled “Archetypes” mix tracks from the new album with standalone videos and images reflecting four different tropes of American femininity: prima donna, su-barbie-a, teen idle and homewrecker.
Like few other electro-pop artists today, Marina poses questions about vapidity in fame, the feminine experience and what constitutes legitimacy in both. Electra Heart debuted at number 1 on the UK charts but began falling in sales in the weeks after that, meaning the impact it has when it sees its U.S. release on July 10th is still up in the air. However, the work that Marina & the Diamonds has provided so far is enough to stimulate conversation and hopefully work to bridge gaps in how we view our own experience. And dance like hell while doing it.