My Hero Marina

The reason that I love pop artists like Madonna is that they’ve used this vehicle like a Trojan horse, to talk about things that are important socially and culturally

‘You saw the power of pop, did you have a lot of things something you wanted to say?’

Things that were important to me, I didn’t know if other people would find them important, but it was a process of trying to understand things that I was thinking about and feeling.’

Marina (or Marina & the Diamonds) is 10 years older than me. I fell in love with her music 10 years ago, when she broke into the magazines that had recently replaced my superhero comics. Now I’m finally the same age she was when releasing her first single Obsessions, I recognise problems and situations in the lyrics that I could never have fully grasped back then. I was introduced to it in a ‘BBC Introducing’ interview, wherein Marina joked about releasing the song on Valentine’s day because of all the girls and boys out there with unrequited obsessions. Sat at a piano, she sang of anxiety, anxiety breaking down one’s relationship and then one’s self, in public, ‘pressure overwhelming next minute I’m turning out of the door facing a week without food.’ The song is energetic but dark, lead by her characteristic ‘doomsday chords’. Marina‘s songs don’t start as melodic ideas, they begin lyrically, as ‘-things I need to say-‘, before she delves them out with these dramatic, stark chords, and painstakingly perfects them (one song The Outsider took over 486 vocal takes). I hadn’t ever had a breakup or a panic attack when I heard Obsessions, but I had been dumped by my year group at school, I understood what it was like to feel stranded and helpless.

9 years ago, I started occasionally chatting to popular kids – though they often labelled me ‘cringe’ – and Marina & the Diamonds’ debut album was concurrently released. Its first track, Are You Satisfied was my favourite song from 2010-2013, carrying me through to university (when Beyonce released Mine). Like her best songs, it walked this intense, unique line between confidence and insecurity, with a theatrical euphoric chorus and cutting, paranoid verses. 8 years ago I saw her live, and before playing the song she spoke of how her music often attracted a certain kind of person, people who often mentioned it to her. This made sense to me, as I’d mentioned it in my letter to her a few months beforehand. I didn’t mention being bullied, but in her response she instinctively told me to remember that bullies are full of Fear, a word she underlined three times.

What’s funny is that Marina was being bullied when releasing these songs, bullied by the music industry. Whilst courting labels she took meetings alone (no manager) and got the general feedback via rumour that her confidence made her seem crazy. For years after being signed she put up with degrading comments about her body from coworkers, comments which underlined the punishing beauty standards expected of popstars. On top of – and likely caused by – this enforced feeling of inadequacy, the pressure that inspired and drove Marina’s music to such heights never let up; most of her twenties she explored sound and narrative through adventurous, passionate pop, but never felt like she could relax and explore herself. She worked and wrote and toured and promoted constantly, working to the point where her devotees spanned the globe, but she felt lost, so lost that she let go of her musical ambitions all together. She realised that all these years of striving for commercial, critical and artistic success (she wrote and co-produced the entirety of her last album Froot) had starved the introverted, quiet side of her personality, and unbalanced her as a person.

The most difficult thing living as someone who has been made to feel small is casting off the bullies’ implicit presence. It leaves in waves as you learn to stand up straight, and seeps back in from unseen angles when you’re distracted. Watching Marina Diamandis’ career has been like watching comedian Simon Amstell’s solo stand up shows, each year he moves into a new emotional states, purging and exploring, updating and involving fans in his progress. The singer who identified herself as The Outsider and told me to remember that bullies are full of fear, she’s grown up, she’s lost some of her wilful deviance, but her unique perspectives are all the more meaningful for their intimacy. Watching the spoken word trailer for her new album Love & Fear, it’s uncanny how clearly I recognise this new Marina (no ‘& the Diamonds’ anymore), things have changed but she has only become more clearly herself. She’s helped so many people understand themselves, but her work is far from done.

I still believe only the weak ones are cruel, I know so many boys and girls, people all around the world, and we walk and talk and think alike, and we all cry the same tears at night.’