For the indie and alternative community, the early 2010s cannot be talked about without discussing one major aspect: Tumblr. A myriad of blog posts, fan accounts, discussion threads, the (pretty much now-defunct) site was the safe space for cult fanbases. Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Halsey, even Arctic Monkeys, were the rulers of the platform at this time. But one artist, although adored by her fans, is often overlooked, arguably due to the fact of how her contemporaries’ records performed commercially (hey ‘Royals’).
Marina Diamandis, formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds, and now known as simply MARINA, is someone who was consistently trending on the platform. Even now her cult fanbase make sure her shows sell out and her albums chart, though at the time much of Marina’s music was well and truly panned. Though her debut, ‘The Family Jewels’, performed well commercially, her sophomore effort ‘Electra Heart’ was met with tepid-at-best reviews, with much of the industry really not understanding it, writing it off as “never clever enough to be more than merely toytown…”
Indeed, as embarrassing as it is to admit, the Clash review of ‘Electra Heart’ is particularly unpleasant – cruel, rude, and actually pretty offensive. Yuck.
But now, at ten years old, ‘Electra Heart’ holds up as an absolutely stellar concept pop record. Yes, some aspects are very, very 2012 (hello ‘Primadonna’), but the forward-thinking nature of the album as well as its part in the Tumblr music chronicles has it truly holding its own today.
Conceptually, ‘Electra Heart’ is centred around titular character, Electra Heart, and touches on the topics of female identity, rebellion, and acceptance, portraying four female archetypes throughout the album: ‘Teen Idle’, ‘Primadonna’, ‘Homewrecker’ and ‘Su-Barbie-A’. From the off, concept albums in pop music are not only brave, but few and far between. In the mid-2000s, pop-punk and emo saw its fair share with the likes of My Chemical Romance’s magnum opus ‘The Black Parade’ and Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, but commercial, mainstream pop music was hesitant to even attempt such a mammoth task (even the definition of what a ‘concept album’ is will have critics rowing for hours).
Instead of filling up a sophomore record with half-baked, radio friendly, accessible and digestible tracks, Marina wanted to establish a greater prominence within the music industry, as well as telling her stories using an album style unconventional in pop music.
‘Teen Idle’ is perhaps the highlight of the record, overshadowed by the success numbers-wise of ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ and ‘Primadonna’. The track discusses Marina’s anamnesis of secondary school, the harshness of being a teenage girl and the empty realities which follow idealistic dreams. It touches quite explicitly on suicide (‘Feeling super, super, super suicidal!’), with commentary on slut-shaming and body image. Brave concepts for a second album. Thematically, ‘Electra Heart’ was lightyears ahead of anything else being released in its lane around the time, tackling real issues, albeit in a humorous tone, rather than a collection of boardroom written, soulless songs.
Marina’s signature blend of fizzy pop rock with a touch of theatrics is shown with the most clarity on lead single, track opener and streamed-to-death ‘Bubblegum Bitch’. Two-and-a-half minutes of sheer fun. Every melody is sickeningly catchy, and her over-the-top vocal work is rich with emotion and performance. As the opener, it lays the foundations for what ‘Electra Heart’ is at its core – an outstanding pop album. The buzzy synthesisers are plastered across the album and Marina’s knack for storytelling that was first highlighted on ‘The Family Jewels’ is elevated further on the sophomore LP. Her wit and clever lyricism are undeniable, especially when Marina herself stated “I thought it would be funny to rhyme idol with suicidal…” Dark, bleak but you can’t help but agree. The equilibrium of bubblegum pop with inherently dire and borderline nihilistic lyricism is alluring, exciting and unlike a lot of her contemporaries. It’s easier to write sad songs to sad music, but Marina was simply creating songs to dance to, but also to have an existential crisis to. A genius concept, executed beautifully on ‘Electra Heart’.
It really is a testament to how beloved, adored and how well this era of music has held up. While critics were lukewarm to much of it at the time, especially the output of Marina, every artist from this moment in music is still crushing it today. Halsey just headlined Reading and Leeds, Lorde continues to sell out shows nearly instantly, The 1975 are still one of the most polarising bands in the world. TikTok devours sounds from all of these artists, creating stark contrasts between the 2020s fodder that is churned out for the app. And at the heart, is Marina Diamandis. Her forward-thinking music, ten years on, still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did in 2012.
‘Electra Heart’ receives a deluxe vinyl re-issue on September 23rd.
Words: James Mellen