Marina and the Diamonds: The Making of “Electra Heart”

by BUST Magazine

“Oh, reeeeally?! But I kind of liked it!” isn’t what you’d expect to hear from a pop diva when something goes horribly awry in the middle of a live set, but that’s exactly how Marina Diamandis reacted when a pre-recorded track sounded off at the wrong moment and brought the show to a grinding halt. It was last summer, and Marina and the Diamonds were lapping the United States in a second round of touring behind the Welsh singer’s 2010 debut record, The Family Jewels. After bursting onstage in a cerulean circle skirt and a pair of powder puff mules, Marina plowed through the hits from that album before arriving at “Oh No!” It is one of her most striking songs, a playful, punchy manifesto that stands out amidst the clucks and caws of her fame-worshipping hits.

That was when the laptop went rogue, and a back-up drum track from another number piped in as Marina worked her way into the bridge. At this point in the song, Marina thinks out loud as everything calms before the chorus: “I’m gonna live/I’m gonna fly/I’m gonna fail/I’m gonna die,” but instead of easing into the crescendo, Marina continued to belt over the offending mechanical pulses. Eventually everything slowed to a halt. She stopped, giggled, and mentioned that she was actually into the new addition to the number, all smiles as the band breathed a collective sigh of a relief and started over. It was a mistake, but a little offbeat interruption was hardly going to derail Marina, especially seeing as she’s a bit offbeat herself.

Marina, much like her pop chart contemporaries, prides herself on reinvention. Her gaudy sartorial choices, peroxide streaks, and neon lip hues are as mercurial as her songwriting sensibilities–visual cues to signify that she’s working on something else for us to see, as well as listen to. With Electra Heart (out today on Elektra), this is exactly what Marina delivers: a cohesive, addictive confection that’s a clear departure from her previous work with a dramatic, dark-eyed look to match, complete with beauty marks and powdered up-dos. She’s unpredictable–when’s the last time you saw a singer welcome a mistake like the “Oh No!” blip as a live opportunity?—and the six-week tour behind Electra Heart that kicks off tonight in Los Angeles will likely continue to prove that in spades. BUST chatted with Marina about the new album.

HH: For you, what are the biggest differences between Electra Heart and The Family Jewels?

MD: The production, actually–Electra Heart is a lot more electronic, and it’s also focused on only one thing, really, which is love. I made up a fictional character called Electra Heart for this album, whereas The Family Jewels was mostly autobiographical.

HH: This feels a lot more personal, though. The Family Jewels had a lot of fun, silly moments, but with Electra Heart, there’s a lot more attitude and the subject matter delves a bit deeper with plenty of songs about heartbreak. It sounds like you’ve found your edge with this album.

MD: Yeah, absolutely. It feels like I’ve kind of found my artistic identity. With regards to production, Electra Heart is a lot more coherent than the first album, and it feels much more like a body of work, because I thought a lot about what I wanted to say and how to do it. It seems like it turned out how I wanted it to be, so it’s nice!

HH: I noticed that you recorded Electra Heart in both London and Los Angeles, which is somewhat different than your process for The Family Jewels. Didn’t you record the last album mostly in London?

MD: Yeah, except for one song! Whereas there were only two songs recorded in London, and the rest were recorded in Hollywood and one in New York. It was very different.

HH: Was it weird bringing the show across the pond for that?

MD: It was really kind of faster, the songwriting process, because every day, after a show, I would write and record, and then when I stopped touring in February, I was able to write more. For songs like “Lies” or “Starring Role” or “Primadonna,” I’d have the verses ready, and then we’d build on the songs in the studio. It was very different, to co-write, so it seemed like an ongoing process. All the songs were built; they weren’t just written in one go.

HH: Is there one song on Electra Heart that you connect with more than the others? Which song represents the album on the whole for you?

MD: I would say “Starring Role.” It’s funny, because some of the songs like “Primadonna”are so fun and full of bubblegum pop, but this one is completely not. This one uses more theatrical terms. The main message in “Starring Role” is about not accepting less than the best, and that nobody should. So I think that’s the main message of the album and of what actually happens in real life. It’s a difficult song.

HH: On The Family Jewels, you play with ideas of fame, celebrity, Hollywood, etc. Now that you’ve gone to Hollywood and made Electra Heart, how have those things changed for you? How has your experience redefined your understanding of fame?

MD: I really love entertaining, and I love performing. Being a pop artist affords me the opportunity to use a lot of different mediums to express whatever I want to say. So it wasn’t really about like, Hollywood—it was more about the notion of becoming somebody else to enable you to see the truth about a relationship.

HH: I’m intrigued about what you said about using different mediums to get your point across. You’re pulling this modern Marie Antoinette vibe with the album art for Electra Heart. Does your songwriting influence your sartorial choices? Or does the way you dress affect the way you write?

MD: Absolutely. I just have really strong visions, and I write visually inspired lyrics. So take a song like “Homewrecker,” where there are these very girly, acerbic lyrics, it’s kind of coquettish but also kind of really, really bitchy and aggressive. I really love that ’50s powder room visual, so I started to research it a lot and I saw that it was coming up more and more on Tumblr and other social networks. After five years of a lot of our pop divas and a lot of women in pop music were dressing in a kind of S&M-inspired way, I think that these really girly, coquettish images are almost a backlash from that. I really love having a really feminine, fluffy image for this album. That’s why I love pop music–you can always be what’s happening in culture and fashion as well.

HH: You had mentioned that you write on the road. What’s next after this tour? What direction do you see yourself going in artistically after Electra Heart?

MD: I definitely think I’m one of those artists whose direction changes from album to album, because I’m not really sure what genre I’m in, though I do identify as a pop artist. That’s really such a loose term. My songwriting sensibilities have always been pop, but the production really directs the genre that you fall into. I think in the future I’ll always do something different. It’s important to challenge yourself and to push yourself in the direction that will inspire you as an artist, so I already have some ideas of what direction I’m going to take that are pretty different to Electra Heart, but we’ll see!

By Hilary Hughes


Photo via Marina and the Diamonds

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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