If there’s one thing the U.K.’s Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds isn’t afraid to do, it’s speak her mind.
From blog entries shouting “Get Over Yourself!” to songs deriding American culture (“I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America”), the rising Welsh/Greek singer was never one to hide her opinions about anything. “From five years of age, I was brought up to recognize and spot conformity in all its forms and the messages that were sent to us every day in [the] media,” she said in an e-mail interview. These observations, she explained, manifest in her music.
Her poppy songs, including ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Oh No!,’ have a SweetTart quality to them, with sugary choruses colliding with acerbic lyrics. The result is music with dual purpose: songs for dancing at the club and thinking at home.
This year, the songstress released an EP, ‘The American Jewels,’ and an album, ‘The Family Jewels.’ She’s now kicking off a U.S. tour — but she says that fame was never her goal. “I want recognition on a global level as an artist who has worth, but fame can go crap itself,” she said, “Fame is genuinely BORING. I want to be massive and adored, but I want to do it my way.”
While shooting the music video for her new single, ‘Shampain,’ in the U.K., Diamandis caught up with Express and explained her journey into music and her true feelings about the States.
» EXPRESS: What prompted you to get into music?
» DIAMANDIS: I had been planning it for a long time and knew from around 10 years old that I would become a performer. My heart just hadn’t told me what kind. So I started ‘singing’ when I first had the chance to: at 18, when I left home. Up until then, it had just been in secret, in my bedroom and for my gran in Greece.
» EXPRESS: Describe your sound and how it has developed. How did your more quirky instruments like the Glockenspiel find their way into your music?
» DIAMANDIS: I don’t have any rules or borders. I’m not a trained musician. My ideas of how a song should be are incredibly instinctual. That’s how I write and produce. I would prefer to be born with an innate musicality than be taught it. [I] didn’t always feel like that though! My sound can’t exactly be classified, as the first album is fairly diverse. I suppose it can be loosely defined as alternative or left-field pop. The two defining elements are theatre and humor. I like laughing at how tragic and dramatic my brain can get. GET OVER YOURSELF, MARINA!
» EXPRESS: I first heard about you two years ago when you were featured in Nylon magazine’s music issue as an up-and-comer. Describe your journey since then.
» DIAMANDIS: My journey has been five years long, and I tried every route imaginable. I was never driven by a talent I had, but a desire: a desire to be a singer and an artist and to say something and mean something to people in a world where artists have no balls anymore, do not value their fans and are not really valued themselves. I am going to be a long-term artist, if you all will have me, that is.
» EXPRESS: On the topic of inspirations, your music videos for ‘Oh No’ and ‘Hollywood’ — the latter especially — have heavy American imagery: piles of American money, the American flag, etc. Describe your fascination with America, where it began and how it impacts your music.
» DIAMANDIS: I think many people living outside of America felt its impact and influence, growing up. MTV was the neon window into another life, another world, where everything seemed better. America is very much an illusionary country. I LOVE Americans — and dearly. They are some of the friendliest, most open, hopeful people I’ve ever met. Yet there are many contradictory parts to its culture and to the messages it puts out. There is an unhealthy way in which people are valued — who gives a shit about the old or the poor? You are more valued if you are youthful, beautiful, successful, etc. This is not normal in European countries, in my opinion. America puts such focus on ‘being happy,’ yet people seem emptier than ever before, and as we all know, if you ‘try’ and chase happiness, it rarely comes.
» EXPRESS: You’ve said that the ‘diamonds’ in Marina and the Diamonds are your fans. How have they — and the interactions you’ve had with them — shaped your music and the shows you put on?
» DIAMANDIS: I don’t know about shaping the music, but they definitely shape the world of Marina and the Diamonds. It’s all theirs, it’s not mine. It is a good thing to give something to the public and to value them again. As a fan, I wanted to be recognized and thanked and valued. I didn’t want a barrier of ‘artifice’ or ‘glamour’ between myself and someone I adored. I just love talking to them. They are so smart and questioning. I am so lucky and grateful for these people. They are my sunshine.
» 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; with Young the Giant; Mon., Sept. 6, 7 p.m., $15; 202-265-0930. (U St.-Cardozo)
Written by Express contributor Alyssa Bailey
Photo courtesy Rankin