Ahoy! I'm Sam Lansky, pop music person, and this is Pop Think, where I wax large about the stuff you should be paying attention to but maybe aren't because, look -- I get it -- we're all busy and stuff. Personally, I'm busy making lists of my 10 favorite Miley Cyrus songs and crying while watching "Downton Abbey," y'know? We all have lives.
But I digress! This week, I'm talking about one of my all-time favorite artists, Marina and the Diamonds, whose fresh, clever indie pop has been dazzling me since 2008: perfect little pop songs packed with razor-sharp hooks and lyrics that are provocative and vulnerable and funny all at once. You feel like you know her after listening to her songs, which is probably why when I met the "Shampain" singer a couple years ago, she reached out her arm to shake my hand, but I thought she was trying to give me a hug, so I went for a totally overly familiar full-body embrace, and it was actually really embarrassing! Sorry, Marina!
But the pop chanteuse is headed in a new direction with her next album, Electra Heart, due out this year, as evidenced by her monster dance-pop single, "Radioactive," and the ridiculously dope roster of producers and songwriters she's hooked up with. In this column, I'm tracing back Marina's trajectory to take a closer look at why she's pretty much the coolest pop star, well, ever. Because hey, guess what? She is.
The internet pretty much exploded a few weeks ago when Marina and the Diamonds tweeted a quote from the production team Captain Cuts, writing, "Britney spears came by to work on a new song but MY F***ING WIRELESS MOUSE RAN OUT OF BATTERIES"- @CaptainCuts." Britney Spears fans went into overdrive wondering, could Marina and Britney be collaborating together? Could the stars really have aligned in such a thrillingly perfect way? Alas, it turned out the whole thing was a joke, but it reminded me that Marina, an artist who is one of the brightest, sharpest, most compelling songbirds on the pop horizon, actually has been working with a lot of the same producers that made Britney a superstar.
To recap, for the uninitiated: Marina and the Diamonds, born Marina Diamandis, is a Welsh singer-songwriter who first appeared on the scene in 2008 with the release of her stunning single, "Obsessions," released via ultrahip boutique vinyl label Neon Gold Records. "Obsessions" starts off like a haunting piano ballad, then turns into a jangly, nervy midtempo, pinned by Marina's powerful, emotive vocals and lyrics that are sometimes startlingly honest and weird. "Someday, wake up/Give me a cigarette/Last's night love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed," she begins, eerily; the second verse of the song is about the panic of standing in a grocery store, not knowing what to buy; from the jump-off, Marina showed a knack for describing the little, nervous regrets that comprise daily life.
+ Read more about Marina & The Diamonds after the jump.
It was a brilliant introduction, and none of the follow-ups disappointed: Her single, "I Am Not a Robot," is a shimmering pop gem with bright, funny lyrics; "Are You Satisfied?" is ebullient, a song about compromising big goals for attainable ones; her first big British pop single, "Hollywood," is all about the empty promise of the American dream. "Hollywood infected your brain/You wanted kissing in the rain," she sings, before repeating, "I'm obsessed with the mess that's America." Her debut, The Family Jewels, struck me as being, in many ways, a concept album about alienation and anxiety. Some of my favorite songs on the album have titles like "The Outsider," "Rootless" and "Guilty."
But although the album was a moderate commercial success (enough so to grab her a spot opening for Katy Perry on her Teenage Dream Tour!), it wasn't enough for Marina, who has always been open about admiring pop heavyweights like Britney Spears and Madonna. That's probably why she's bringing out the big guns for her next album. And it's possible that she's being deliberate in following in Britney's footsteps, pulling in big guns like Dr. Luke ("Till the World Ends," "Hold It Against Me") and Guy Sigsworth ("Everytime," "Out From Under") as well as Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue), Diplo (M.I.A., Beyoncé), and Stargate (Rihanna, Katy Perry). If that sounds impressive, it is; in fact, it's hard to recall a recent artist who has cut tracks with more genius pop luminaries.
"Radioactive," released late last year, was the first single from her upcoming sophomore album, Electra Heart, and it's total brilliance, even though it's a major departure from her previous sound: It's pounding electro house, but the weirdness of Marina's lyrics and unusual vocal delivery elevate it beyond the levels of traditional dancefloor fodder. "When you're around me, I'm radioactive/My blood is burning/Radioactive," she sings over a Stargate-produced beat. Even if Stargate's stamp is all over it -- "Radioactive" bears much in common with some of their best songs for Rihanna, like "Don't Stop the Music" and "Only Girl (In the World)" -- it's still classic Marina, quirks and all.
And it made me super excited for Electra Heart, the name of the character Marina has developed to personify her dark side, the debauchery and corruption of the American dream. "Electra Heart is the antithesis of everything that I stand for," she told Popjustice. "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." She's also been releasing video teasers for the album, gorgeously noir clips set to striking new preview tracks such as "Fear and Loathing" and "The Archetypes" that show off her songcraft and remarkable vocals.
So many artists start off strong and then peter out, but Marina has been brilliant since the get-go, with her work getting successively more sophisticated, conceptual and hook-driven. She's teamed up with these mega-producers and developed a dynamic new concept for her album. With Marina, I think, the best is still yet to come.
+ MTV Hive knows what's up: Check out Marina and the Diamonds "Live In NYC" performance.