based in melbourne, australia, sophie welsh is a postgraduate journalism student with a bachelors degree in science. her interests include politics, current events, and pop culture.

Obsessed with the mess that’s America

In a world suffocatingly full of cookie-cutter celebrities and plastic faces shielding mediocre talent, Marina Diamandis is a breath of fresh air.

Unlike other musical acts that manipulate the market with the ultimate goal of gaining fame, fans and fortune, Marina warns of its falsities, fallacies and failures.

Under her stage name of ‘Marina & the Diamonds’ (the ‘diamonds’ refer to anyone who shares her vision), Diamandis has released two albums. The first - The Family Jewels - a vibrant and eclectic burst of varied sound and whip-smart social observation, the second - Electra Heart - an imposing and empowering concept album exploring the different stereotypes women are forced to fall into and the way they are viewed by society.

Inspired by ‘modern values, by society’[1], Marina’s music channels her frustrations at the stifling social constructs erected and enforced by mainstream culture, and at the way society forces women to obey the projections of men. By drawing the brilliant comparison between the stereotypical American Dream and Western culture’s obsession with fame and celebrity, Marina is implying that the world we live in is not our own.

Successfully disguising them as eclectic alt-pop or theatrically bare ballads, Marina’s songs are rife with social commentary and drenched in observational wit, forcing us to face the crumbling and insubstantial foundations of modern society and its values.

 ‘I want to be a virgin pure, a 21st century whore’[2] she sings in Teen Idle, a devastatingly simple line that concisely captures the shift in society’s attitude towards sexuality and female behaviour, and the difficulty women have in keeping up with it.

Most of Marina’s work is ‘about [her] own experiences as a female’[1], with tracks such as Girls (‘girls are not meant to fight dirty, never look a day past thirty, not gonna bend over and curtsy, for you’[3]) and Sex Yeah (‘if women were religiously recognised sexually, we wouldn’t have to feel the need to show our assets, to feel free’[4]) expressing her distaste at the way young women – particularly those in the entertainment industry – are taught to adhere to and obey the projections of others.

‘There’s a pattern of trying to sex everything up’, Marina complains, ‘the way the media picks apart female celebrities [is] really sad and unhealthy, and not contributing anything positive towards the world’.[1]

Despite her genuine adoration of American culture, Marina can’t help but feel completely frustrated with the way the entertainment industry tries to control and ‘cannibalise’ women, forcing their ideals and trapping them in a reality that they can neither contort nor escape.

‘No one wants to be a feminist anymore’ Marina sighs, ‘because it’s sad’[1].

And indeed it is – feminism is the number one cause of eye rolling and condescending smirks worldwide. It is so draining and disheartening to be a feminist in a society that refuses to admit that there’s an imbalance in the treatment of men and women. And Marina’s second album Electra Heart channels these preconceived notions of femininity and subservience into four archetypes (Primadonna[5], Teen Idle[2], Homewrecker[6] and Su-barbie-a[7], Marina’s take on a housewife) that bust down social constructs and refute the ideas that our world is built for us – that we shouldn’t be ‘living with identities that do not belong to [us]’[8] (Valley of the Dolls).

Sounding like this century’s Arthur Miller, Marina describes Electra Heart as ‘basically a vehicle to portray part of the American dream, with elements of Greek tragedy’[9]. Describing America as the ‘thread’[9] running through her works and linking everything together, Marina is drawn to the side of American culture that is ‘really vapid and hollow’[9].

‘It’s my view, as someone who’s not American, of the American dream,’ she explains. The album is about ‘“the corrupt side of American ideology” and basically that’s the corruption of yourself. My worst fear – that’s anyone’s worst fear – is losing myself and becoming a vacuous person. And that happens a lot when you’re very ambitious.’[9]

In this modern era, the American Dream’s ideal of ambition equalling success has evolved into ambition equalling failure, which is perhaps the way it’s always been with only fewer realising it.

Marina’s entire body of work is based upon the notion that the media and celebrity culture dictate our world, and her very first single Hollywood explores the idea that the relentless pursuit of fame is the modern American Dream.

 ‘American Queen is the American Dream’[10] she sings, updating the definition of ‘success’ to mean simply ‘fame and acclaim’.

The increased value placed upon Hollywood and notoriety has rendered the concept of the traditional American Dream completely irrelevant, with modern day society being so far removed from that of the 60s that the concept of hard work equalling success is completely obsolete. Instead, everyone is searching for their fifteen minutes of fame. Despite the new updated model, the end result of the American dream is – more often than not – unfulfilling and unsatisfying.

 ‘I want to explore that side that has nothing to do with glamour, and that’s all about loss and failure [despite the] illusion we have of America’[9] she explains. ‘Hollywood infected your brain, you wanted kissing in the rain’[10] she sings, accurately summarising the extent to which the entertainment industry is creating our world for us.

‘I’ve been living in a movie scene, puking American dreams’[10].

The message of this song is clear: the fragile illusions built by Hollywood permeate our brains and cause society to become fixated on the prospect of fame.

Ironically, despite highlighting the shortcomings and pitfalls of the American Dream, Marina is the living embodiment of it. Years of recording demos on GarageBand and selling handmade CDs off her MySpace page have paid off, and Marina is now being heralded as one of the most exciting young figures in entertainment. Given the magnitude of her ambition, this success is important for someone self-described as being ‘paralysed by the prospect of failure’[11], but frustrating when the deeper meanings and subtexts of her work go largely unnoticed in favour of the catchy beats and her melancholy and haunting voice.

All superficialities aside, it’s simply astounding and heart-warming to see someone’s greatest dreams come true, to see someone finally, successfully and deservedly reap the rewards of the American Dream. After all, all Marina ‘ever wanted was the world’[5].

 

Sources

[1] ‘Marina and the Diamonds - Track by Track: "The Family Jewels" - Part 1/3’ (2011)

[2] ‘MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS | "TEEN IDLE" LIVE’ (2012)

[3] ‘Marina & the Diamonds - Girls’ (2012)

[4] ‘MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS | ♡ "SEX YEAH" ♡’ (2012)

[5] ‘MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS | PART 4: ♡ "PRIMADONNA" ♡’ (2012)

[6] ‘Marina And The Diamonds - Homewrecker [Acoustic]’ (2012)

[7] ‘Electra Heart: Concept and influences’ (2013)

[8] ‘♡ "VALLEY OF THE DOLLS" ♡ | MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS’ (2012)

[9] Robinson, P. (2011), ‘A series of questions and answers in which Marina & The Diamonds explains what she has been doing, what she is doing now, and what is likely to happen in the future, but please be aware that she is not psychic so don’t kick off if it all pans out a bit differently.’, Popjustice. 

[10] ‘MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS | "HOLLYWOOD"’ (2009)

[11] ‘Marina and the Diamonds - Track by Track: "The Family Jewels" - Part 3/3’ (2011)

What TV has taught me