Marina and the Diamonds: Putting the pop in pop art

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter


Pop star Marina and the Diamonds has created a striking set of artwork for her second album. She shares her secrets of pop iconography with the BBC.

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image captionDiamandis' first album went gold, thanks to singles like Hollywood and I Am Not A Robot

Marina Diamandis - the creative engine behind Marina and the Diamonds - has lofty ambitions for her second album.

Not just a collection of hyper-real pop songs, the as yet untitled record will be accompanied by a series of photos and short films, all of which she hopes to collect for a gallery exhibition next year.

Both the record and its visuals feature Electra Heart, a character ("not an alter-ego") that represents the darker side of American suburban life.

The singer-songwriter talks through some of the early images from her project, and explains how it will evolve over the coming months.

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The first video released for the project saw Diamandis, dressed in the simple black slip she had worn for her previous single Shampain, cutting off her hair in a Las Vegas motel.

"It was a one-take thing. I couldn't mess it up," she says.

Called Fear And Loathing, the song was not directly inspired by Hunter S Thompson's famous work of gonzo journalism - but Diamandis says his themes of "oblivion and losing yourself" struck a chord.

"There's very little focus on my face in the video, and that was all on purpose," she says.

"It's a rejection of identity... Sometimes, you have to get lost to find yourself again."

It's possible the idea was sparked by a public crisis of confidence the star suffered in January, when she told an Australian radio station: "I feel more like a failure than a success.

"I haven't done anything I wanted to. For someone who wants to be one of the best artists of her generation I've done [nothing]."

Ten months later, Diamandis doesn't discuss this incident directly - but admits she "feels calmer" now that her second album is complete.

"This record feels like a whole body of work - not just an album," she says.

"That takes the pressure off things like the singles charting and albums charting. Although, obviously, I'll be looking at where the single charts.

"I've been looking it up on iTunes this morning, 100%."

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The album's first single, Radioactive, comes with a video in which Diamandis plays the Electra Heart character.

"She's a persona," the singer says. "A vehicle I'm using to explore American archetypes - the housewife, the beauty queen, the pin-up, the starlet."

Scratching at the surface of the American dream, the singer wants to explore how superficial appearances affect the perceptions, and even the fortunes, of the people around her.

"For quite a long time, I've been obsessed with the idea of becoming a 'white blonde'," she says of the "$20 hustler wig" she wears in the above photo.

"When I look at female stars of my generation and the generation before, I always see people who aren't natural blondes - Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Dolly Parton.

"I wonder if they'd have had the same level of fame if they hadn't dyed their hair."

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"The record is a love story - a doomed romance," says the 25-year-old.

"I think there are always things going on behind the scenes in a relationship, all kinds of power games."

Diamandis has subtitled the picture Mummy, When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Homewrecker.

"It's about the dichotomy of two ideas," she says. "If you cover up my eyes, you think 'awww, what a sweet girl', but the look is insinuating something else."

This duality represents a lyrical theme of the album: "Everyone seems lovely until you get to know them."

"Or maybe," ponders the singer, "I've just had one bad experience in a relationship and that's what the album's about."

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"Every picture is like a movie still," says Diamandis. "There's a whole story going on.

"So in this picture those are sleeping pills, there, in the foreground.

"It's about misery - the misery of not being loved back."

This image, called I'm Your Dying Beauty Queen, is one of a series of pictures the singer is posting on a microblog called The Archetypes.

She shoots and publishes the images herself, noting drily that "everyone assumes it's going to be a big corporate major record label thing, but it's not".

Many of the singer's images recall the work of conceptual artist Cindy Sherman, "the queen of no identity", whose photographic portraits raised questions about the nature of self.

But Diamandis was only recently introduced to Sherman's work by her producer, Stargate.

"They asked me if I'd heard of her and I went and looked her up," she says. "It was like finding Jesus."

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Partly inspired by films like Valley Of The Dolls and The Stepford Wives, this image is subtitled Suburbia: Dollywood.

"Again, this is a parody of normality," says Diamandis. "I look like I'm about to murder someone - which is at odds with the housewife pose.

"It's very embedded in American culture, that image of the 1950s housewife, where everything was perfect. It's portrayed as a real boom time, that generation. But I want to know the truth… What is the truth of that woman's life?

"A lot of women were looking out with resentment and thinking, 'Why can't I work?' and, 'Why do I have to stay at home?'

"Suburbia seems very polished, but underneath you never know what's going on. I like the dark things. The underside."

Marina and the Diamonds' single, Radioactive, is available now. Her album is due out in the new year.

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