By Erica Russell
A breakup can send even the strongest person into mournful exile, but on Hannah Diamond’s Reflections, the British pop artist refuses to recede into the shadows of heartache. She instead exposes her broken heart in bright, glossy high definition for all the world to see.
The long-awaited debut album from one of underground pop’s most quietly influential artists, Reflections, which releases today, projects the raw pain and insecurities of heartbreak through the lens of celebrity and perfectionism. Beneath its futuristic-nostalgic, cyber-Y2K aesthetic and pristinely synthetic production, the album brims with all the inherent imperfections and messiness of a relationship (or two, or three) unraveled, capturing the impossible sound of a diamond shattering in the process.
“The standoff between perfection and imperfection on the album [reflects] my real life,” the self-described “overly self-critical, ultra-perfectionist” musician and photographer tells MTV News. There are two sides to Diamond: “One side is the photographer and image-maker, which deals with super-detailed retouching and visual output, and the other is my personal life, which is highly imperfect and full of chaos. I feel like my music is where these two energies meet up and combine.”
No song better encapsulates the relationship between these two opposing worlds than “Invisible,” the bittersweet lead single off Reflections. The shimmering techno-pop track captures the devastation of seeing your ex with their new lover for the first time, as well as the eventual strength that comes with realizing you’ll probably be just fine on your own. (“I was born on my own and I’ll dance on my own,” Diamond sings.)
Long before she peered inward on Reflections, Diamond ventured into experimental territory as a part of electronic music collective PC Music. “At the start it was basically a group of friends. We did lots of stuff together, did lots of shows, went all over the world,” Diamond shares of her origins with the group, members of which, including Danny L Harle, have since worked with pop stars like Charli XCX, Clairo, and Carly Rae Jepsen and inspired countless emerging artists.
But Reflections is firmly a Diamond document, tackling the crumbled romances of her past. The breakups Diamond has been through haven’t made her bitter, though — they’ve made her stronger: “You have to learn to love yourself and reprioritize the other things you love so they take up more space in your life,” she says. “I don’t know if heartbreak ever goes away. I think your life just gets bigger around it, making it feel smaller or harder to see as it gets further away. That growth is beautiful.”
Inspired by the sleek visuals for Jennifer Lopez’s 1999 single “If You Had My Love” as well as the 2002 film S1M0NE about a virtual computer-generated actress-turned-pop star, the retro-futuristic music video for “Invisible” represents an immersive “hyperreal reflection” of the singer’s life. In it, the artist is presented as a high-tech celebrity doomed to infinite self-imposed loneliness and uncertainty while simultaneously confronted with idealized images of herself everywhere. This hyper-visibility is at paradoxical odds with how Diamond feels “totally invisible to the one person who I really wish would notice me.”
“It mirrors aspects of my day to day, like the multi-screen editing suite where I work on my images and my lonely tube journey across London,” Diamond explains. “It explores the process of constructing my own image as I work to completely digitize myself into this pixel-perfect version. I guess the hope is that I will be remembered virtually forever — that the things I do and the time I spend here on Earth will mean something.”
As a child, Diamond was always “drawing and dancing and making stuff.” Growing up amid the lustrous advertorials of the early 2000s, preteen Diamond found herself drawn to the art of high fashion commercial advertising. When she was about 11 years old, she began poring over high-gloss fashion magazines, entranced by the celebrity-modeled promos for designer Gucci handbags and department store perfumes from Dior and Chanel.
“I think that must have been a really formative age, because I always return to the tear sheets I collected back then for inspiration,” Diamond says. “I was always more interested in the advertising than the editorials, especially perfume adverts. I think those are most inspiring for me because to create an image or visual representation of a smell, you have to really get into semiotics and associations to trigger those clues about what the smell is like. It’s really similar to making music imagery — creating a world around something invisible.”
Diamond’s preoccupation with commercial imagery, particularly the work of famed fashion photographers like Nick Knight, David LaChapelle, and Inez & Vinoodh, sparked an interest in photography and fashion, the latter of which she later studied at Middlesex University after moving to London when she was 19. While majoring in fashion design, styling, and promotion, she made ends meet by working various retail jobs, all while building her photography portfolio on the side.
It was also in London, during an internship at SUPERSUPER! magazine, where she met producer and PC Music founder A. G. Cook. The two began collaborating on songs like 2013’s “Pink and Blue,” a sticky bubblegum-pop of a debut that juxtaposed baby-coo vocals and star-twinkle production with diaristic lyrics about unrequited love; and 2014’s “Attachment,” a moody, high-pitched ballad about obsession. The tracks were critical hits, proving that PC Music, and Diamond, had successfully tapped into the vein of a burgeoning new age for pop, one marked by digital hyperreality.
Today, Diamond shares, PC Music is “a bit more intangible” now that its members are mostly dispersed across the globe. “It feels like so much has been inspired by [PC Music] and the stuff we put out back in 2014 and 2015,” she adds. “I think everyone’s output has become more visual-focused, too. But I can’t tell if the world was heading in this direction anyway and we were just ahead of the curve, or if we inspired people making pop to get a bit weirder and a bit more experimental.”
Over the years, releases like 2016’s icy “Make Believe” and melancholic “Fade Away” submerged fans deeper into Diamond’s pure poptimistic fantasy, allowing the artist a space to ruminate on the surreal intersection of music, fame, fashion, and the internet. “There are so many levels to what celebrity means. I’ve realized that all fame is performance. It’s something that can happen on its own, but mostly it’s a constructed image,” Diamond says, revealing that she makes all the promotional photos, artwork, and visuals for her music releases.
Indeed, Diamond’s own “constructed image,” the fragile yet resilient digital-age pop star, is plastered across Reflections like the polished advertorials she obsessed over in her youth. It’s there on the album cover — a surreal, cosmic image of Diamond poised atop a crescent moon bearing her own facial profile — and it’s there embedded in the A. G. Cook-produced music: 10 glassy, luminescent tracks about self-doubt and self-esteem (“Reflections”), life after love (“Shy”), and moving on (“Love Goes On”).
While there may be a multitude of complex concepts at play, Reflections is, at its core, an emotional breakup album. Beneath the shiny facade, it seems Diamond is just like anybody who’s ever picked up the pieces following a string of sour relationships.
“Patterns in my life were repeating, and the whole world around me was becoming a hall of mirrors that was reflecting my energy and the way I was reacting to things,” Diamond says of the experiences that formed the record’s soul-baring narrative. “I learned that relationships can become mirrors. I lost my sense of self in someone else and then I lost them. I had to learn to be fine on my own again.”