Why Marina Almost Quit Music & Public Life Forever — And What Brought Her Back
"I remember thinking, I don’t want my face to be on anything. I don’t like anyone looking at me."
“Sit back and enjoy your problems / You don’t always have to solve them,” she cheers. “Cuz your worst days, they are over / So, enjoy your life / Yea, you might as well accept it / Don’t you waste your time regretting. Yea, your worst days — they are over / So, enjoy your life.”
It’s exactly the type of infectious, carefree chorus you’d expect from any other pop star. But when sung by Marina, who’s back from a hiatus with a tweaked stage name (no longer “Marina and the Diamonds,” simply Marina), it feels like a release — like finding joy in life’s in-between moments or coming to terms with the inevitability of change.
On the day of her release of single “Orange Trees,” a sugary-sweet summer anthem, the Greek-Welsh musician is in a great mood as she looks back. But a few years ago, almost a decade and three albums into her career, Marina says, she stopped growing.
“I didn’t feel the same about music anymore or why I was motivated to be an artist,” explains Diamandis, who retreated after the 2016 tour for her Froot album. “The way I processed that was, Well, maybe I don’t want to have a job in public life anymore. I just remember thinking I don’t want my face to be on anything. I don’t like anyone looking at me — just a complete rejection of that, so I thought, Well, maybe I shouldn’t do this anymore.”
For the record, however, she doesn’t categorize her return as a comeback at all: “I don’t really care. I’m just like, Hello. This is my new music. In my mind I quit, but in reality, I just wasn’t doing music at that time.” (That hiatus did include college classes in psychology — more on that later.)
Tellingly, before Marina took her breather, her single (off Froot), “Happy,” depicted a reclusive celebrity, alone and in search of happiness but unsure where to find it. It was a darker, yet somehow still colourful, turn for a woman who once sang about how to be the heartbreaker (not the other way around).
When Diamandis arrived with her debut LP The Family Jewels in 2010, she charmed the hearts of young women and gay men searching for lighter fare than other British singers of that era (Adele, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, etc.). Her story is less rags-to-riches than it is a butterfly getting its wings: Her obsession with becoming a singer wasn’t enough to keep her from dropping out of music school, but it gave her the nerve to create her own music — teaching herself how to play the keyboard and recording her demos on GarageBand. Ultimately, her grassroots approach and her embracing of MySpace would see her land 14 record label offers. She rejected all but one.
What also set Marina apart from the get-go: her innate understanding of the digital revolution of both streaming music and social media. Her sound, an orchestral combination of sticky lyrics and sweet melodies, came about at a time when the internet had begun influencing teenagers, and when tools like GarageBand became accessible to everyone. An imperfect, unpolished pop genius, Marina harnessed a gut sense for meaningful, personal lyrics and tempered it with radio-friendly sounds. By then, pop stars weren’t just dissecting love within their songs; they could rewrite the very notion of love, changing the way you looked at it, too.
Cementing her confident arrival: Diamandis regularly communicated with her cult fanbase during a time when most artists hadn’t yet embraced platforms like Twitter and Tumblr. (Instagram was still years away.) “I took that tool... to talk to people online and project my personality that way,” she says.
And the Diamonds, for the uninitiated, aren’t actually real, and have nothing to do with cubic zirconias, either. In 2010, Diamandis described them as a conceptual security blanket (and a play on her surname) rather than an actual backing band: “I saw a simple group made up of many people who had the same hearts. A space for people with similar ideals who couldn’t fit into life's pre-made mold. I was terribly awkward for a long time! I really craved to be part of one thing because I never felt too connected to anybody and now I feel I have that all around me.”
After The Family Jewels, Marina’s sound and execution quickly matured, and she was eager to present a more twisted vision of female pop stardom. And so, 2012’s Electra Heart was born. Diamandis again gave fans what they wanted (shake it off to “Primadonna,” “Bubblegum Bitch,” and ”Power & Control” to see what we mean).
But nothing about album number three, Froot, hinted that Marina was on the verge of quitting music altogether. The LP contained just as many requisite pop puns, and struck a perfect balance of inspiring and somber lyrics. But, again, it didn’t propel Marina into the mainstream. “Do you really want me to write a feminist anthem?” she asks on “Can’t Pin Me Down.” “All these contradictions pouring out of me / Just another girl in the 21st century. I am never gonna give you anything you expect.” Four years post-Froot, Love & Fear (part one, Love, dropped the final week of March, and part two, Fear, arrives at the end of April) isn’t a total departure from her signature sound of electronic rock-pop. But it’s a bit sparser, and certainly lacks the angst of previous albums.
Lyrically and in person, Diamandis isn’t afraid to go deep. She’s a Libra, and concedes that she takes on the emotions of others. On Love & Fear’s “Emotional Machine,” for instance, she sings, “I’m a machine, an emotional being / Since I was a teen / Cut my feelings off clean”. And she holds her own in conversations about politics. In a recent interview with Channel 4, Diamandis cried as she discussed the state of American politics (“It’s anti-human”). Her response ballad on Love & Fear is aptly titled “To Be Human”: “I like to think about how we all look from afar / People driving fancy cars look like Beetles to the stars / The missiles and the bombs sound like symphonies gone wrong / And if there is a God, they'll know why it's so hard.”
“One thing that has really changed in my world perspective in the past three years is this feeling that we are all the same. That might just be a personal feeling or it might be something that has been triggered by our politics and the fact that we aren’t united, that we’re actually more divided than ever,” she says. “That hurts me like it hurts people who are on the receiving end of discrimination. It feels completely wrong, the way that the world has been moving in the past two years.”
If Diamandis sounds more introspective than your average pop vixen, it’s because she is. In fact, during her break from music, she took classes at the University of London, studying Psychology and Understanding Human Personality. When explaining why Love & Fear is 16 tracks, instead of the industry-average of 12 (and why it’s split into eight and eight), she cites Swedish psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: “She states that everything that we do stems from love or fear. So, love and fear are the two primary human emotions that all of our other emotions come out of,” she explains. “I thought that was a beautiful, universal way of painting a picture of the human experience. It was a really easy way to look at the songs and say, This comes from a feeling of joy or love and This definitely comes from a place of fear.”
Another recent shift for Marina, sans the Diamonds: She’s established greater boundaries on her social media channels. “People are given access to artists, thinkers, people in public who they like, and you have to be smart about how much you decide to take in,” she says. “I don’t think it’s natural to know millions of people’s opinions of you. I don’t think that’s a useful thing for an artist. I’ve been able to manage that much more in recent years.”
Like her sound, Diamandis’ new image is spare and stripped down. She has evolved from her colourful music festival stylings (the heart-shaped mole and the Spice Girls-esque stage wardrobe) to a more mature vision. “In my [new] album shots, I’m wearing Levi jeans and some spotty top. But that’s cool. That’s where I was at when I was shooting it,” reflects Marina, who cites vintage Cindy Crawford as a key inspiration for her new aesthetic. But Diamandis is a lyricist — she’s not distracted by fashion, despite how much her previous discography and visuals may say otherwise. “I’m a big fan of being able to select clothes that say something about where you’re at. And that can just be a black top and trousers. It doesn’t have to be fashion.” It makes sense, then, that the cover art for Love & Fear features just one fashion credit: an earring.
The best part about talking to an artist ahead of their latest project — and in this case, their reemergence — is that there’s often not an ounce of melancholy in their voice. It’s proof of the reparative power of music. As Diamandis talks about Love & Fear, nothing gets her going as much as feedback on the songs. Even for diehard fans, it’s easy to forget just how far she’s come and what it took to get there. Because Diamandis should not have been a singer. She was not discovered, via YouTube or on the subway, nor has she ever competed on a television singing competition. She burst onto the music scene whether it was ready for her or not. It’s what makes the evolution of her lyrics, her sound, and her look, an entirely relatable, human experience.
“I really, deeply believed that I should be doing this and that I should be a singer. I had a very strong, innate instinct,” she insists. “That’s the only way I can explain it. Because on paper, it seemed mad — someone who didn’t sing in public, had never written a song would be choosing this career path when, really, I should have been going to university and doing something more academic. But it’s why I kept trying.”