In March of 2016, Marina Diamandis stepped off a festival stage in South America and realised she’d fallen out of love with music. As the idiosyncratic pop star Marina and the Diamonds, Diamandis had built a millions-strong fanbase, but after 12 tireless months promoting her third album Froot, the polished surface of the music industry had been chipped away until nothing but its vacuous core was left behind. “I’d be on stage and think, ‘I’m not feeling alive at all’,” Diamandis says today, her words spaced out by slow contemplation. “I’m not sure how to talk about it, because it has been quite a large chunk of time, and I felt very confused about whether I wanted to continue as an artist.” Another pause. “Very confused.”
Today, Diamandis gazes out of a Crouch End café window onto an unseasonably warm winter’s day, every bit and nothing like a pop star. Unlike her evolving line-up of artistic personas, Diamandis herself has seldom changed over the past decade. She has a trio of top 10 albums, and some 800 million streams worldwide, but is still self-deprecating, good-natured, and willing to have a laugh. Her die-hard fans scream when watching her on-stage, but your mum could walk past her in Tesco and barely bat an eyelid. After a lengthy period spent out of the spotlight, though, Marina is back, and she’s armed with some of her most cinematic, complex music to date.
To kickstart a new era, she’s swapped her ‘Marina and the Diamonds’ moniker to release music simply as ‘Marina’ instead. It’s taken her a serious dose of contemplation to reach that point, though, and it’s not without some repercussions. Her name change was quietly announced on Twitter back in 2018, and it threw her ‘Diamonds’ (the nickname she gives to her fans) into a frenzy. It wasn’t an attack on them – they’d simply misread her motive. “It took me well over a year to figure out that a lot of my identity was tied up in who I was as an artist,” she says of her new name, “and there wasn’t much left of who I was.” And so, the effervescent project transformed into something more simple.
But how does someone who’s fallen out of love with the very thing that once brought them joy find a way to adore it again? In Diamandis’s case, she had to learn how to be herself.
2008, when Diamandis first arrived, was a transitional year for chart pop. As major label behemoths took a year off (Beyoncé’s I Am… Sasha Fierce aside), the space was opened up to more low-key singer-songwriters like Adele and Duffy. That polite period gave the Myspace rebels of the new millennia the chance to grab their moment. And so Diamandis, alongside the likes of La Roux and Florence + the Machine, burst into clubs and open mic nights across London, lapping up label interest in the process. Together, they proved that the public were more than willing to invest in ambitious, off-kilter pop stars who weren’t afraid to write risk-taking songs.
Marina’s debut LP The Family Jewels, released in 2010, rode that wave: it was a freakish collection of jangly piano pop that dissected the fickle conventions of fame and success she never wanted to submit to. “I listened to it again about four months ago and realised it was absolutely batshit crazy!” she laughs now. It was a critical and commercial success, but fearing that the shelf life was short for an anomalous pop star like her, she was pushed towards a more chart-friendly sound for its follow-up. After plenty of bartering from label bosses, Diamandis warmed to the idea – but only if she could do it on her own terms.
2012’s Electra Heart was a thundering electro-pop record produced by Stargate, Diplo, and Dr Luke (before the allegations of abuse came to light) that felt more in line with the sounds of the time. It was a sonic shock for fans at first (although its first promotional single, “Radioactive”, remains one of Diamandis’s most underrated bangers), but instead of sounding like a facsimile of every other chart topper about, Diamandis used the medium to create a subversive, satirical narrative about a female Hollywood archetype. “I feel like I kind of used that mode of expression to explore my identity, because it was so shaky in my early 20s,” she reflects now. It worked: Electra Heart became her first UK number one album, and is now certified gold.
“It took me well over a year to figure out that a lot of my identity was tied up in who I was as an artist, and there wasn’t much left of who I was” – Marina
Her work, both past and present, has always been “pop cultural” rather than straight-down-the-line pop in that sense. While chart music, the kind made by Diamandis’s conforming contemporaries, is made to slide seamlessly into the public realm ready for consumption, she was able to take the well-mined tropes of contemporary society – self-obsession, overexposed celebrity culture – and show us exactly what was so shitty about them through her songs. She was criticising the very system she naturally had to assimilate into. “I was this opinionated person who wrote my own songs, but at the same time I loved the idea of following the zeitgeist,” she says when I point out that dichotomy to her. “Sometimes, those two things don’t necessarily cross with being a pop star.”
Being something of an underdog earned Diamandis swathes of fans, who passionately respond to every one of her posts on social media. But when you’re taking a break from the pop world, little nuances – like those behind her subtle name change, for example – are something the most fervent ones don’t take note of. Sifting through her mentions, you’ll find pop stans gunning for viral fame, joking that her hiatus has lead to her becoming “poor”. “For the most part, my fans are all intelligent and nice, and it might just be the nature of being young and online, but there’s a lot of misogyny that I see – even in my own fanbase,” Marina says. She knows much of it is said in jest, but petty comments about financial status never wind up in the mentions of men taking a break, only the kind of women who fans think will work faster to appease those they don’t know.
As a result, she’s learned to step back, and only share what’s absolutely necessary with those who might love her but don’t know her IRL. “I have boundaries now,” she says. “I love and adore all support for my music, but people online don’t own me, and I won’t give them any illusion that they have any kind of entitlement.” It’s a noble stance for a pop star to make when the line between life, art, and commodity is continually blurred. “I think it’s really unhealthy to play into that, so I don’t post about my personal life online at all. Any other stuff that’s not about my music, I can just... put on a private Insta!” So, Diamandis has a finsta? She suddenly takes a keen interest in whatever's on the ceiling, before bursting into a fit of laughter. Next question.
Away from the rigid structure of the album cycle, in early 2017 she started MarinaBook: a project that saw her channel the emotion that once went into her music into blogs about her encounters with anxiety, and navigating life as an artist on hiatus. It’s interesting, I say, that her private life is off limits on Instagram, but is dissected in fine detail on that blog, one she updated sporadically before taking a step back at the end of 2017. “I think that’s why I didn’t go back to it, because it freaked me out!” she says, laughing at how nauseous the experience was for her. She sees the long-term benefits of it now, though. Dissecting the human psyche, both within her music and as a person, has always been something that has fascinated her, so much so that she decided to enrol on a psychology course at Birkbeck University in London. For a few months, if you were to wander into the school's library, you could find Marina Diamandis writing essays on modern psychology and theories of personality.
I wonder if the degree was a conscious decision for Diamandis, a curious person in professional limbo, to try and make better sense of herself or to help those around her. She claims it was both, but a course on attachment theory really struck her personally. “It helped me understand a lot of my own motives and my childhood much more.” She pauses for a sip of her now lukewarm coffee. “I’ve done a lot of therapy, and that definitely brought something new to me.”
Times have changed now, and a pop star discussing their mental health so openly is no longer such a taboo subject, but is Diamandis, who rose to fame before this transitional period in pop, comfortable with talking publicly about therapy? “I think so, because I just told you – and we just met!” she grins. “But maybe I wouldn’t have before, because I was always keeping up this perception of an artist that was so narrow. I haven’t done loads of therapy, maybe only two years of it in total, but I, like many in our generation, have had a lot of struggles with my emotional health since I was very young. Perhaps I’ve gravitated towards that subject naturally because I always wanted to solve it.”
“We’re coming into a moment in time when artists are talking about it in real time,” she says. “They will be on tour and say, ‘I’m feeling awful at the moment’, which I would have never have done during Froot. I didn’t feel well at all on that tour.” It wasn’t the critical reception it received, which was glowing, nor the way her fans reacted to it. Instead, “it was to do with family. A relative was really ill, and shortly after that two very dear family members passed away – all in the space of three months. I just felt like I couldn’t cope anymore, but I had a commitment to be on tour. I was on stage every night realising I didn’t want to be looked at, but I couldn’t speak about that publicly because I didn’t want to spoil the illusion for people coming to see you, who’ve paid for a ticket and waited outside.”
In her time away from the spotlight, Marina has grown accustomed to becoming a normal, non-pop star again. She’s playing around with falconry (“I really hope my boyfriend gets me a course for Christmas!” she laughs), is practising yoga, spending much more time with real friends (yes, that includes Lana), and is frequenting a life drawing class not far from her home in North London. Feeling alive and in love again with the craft that once felt so far detached from her, she seems happier, more whole and content than ever.
She’s also been back in the studio, making what she calls a “contemporary pop record”, collaborating with some of the most talked-about writers and producers of the past decade. “Perhaps that’s why this new album isn’t really as conceptual!” she jokes as we part ways, the death of old personas allowing her to live a much freer existence, though she admits that it’s still a work in progress. “I’m not sure what that looks like yet,” she claims, referring to the ideal life she hopes to create for herself, in which Marina the artist and Marina the woman exist separately. “But I feel like I’ll be able to do it.”