Photography by Michael Beckert
Styling by Yael Quint
When I ask about the psychology courses she has taken over the past two years, Marina, formerly known as Marina and The Diamonds, lights up. “It was incredibly satisfying for me,” she tells me. “The things that were really illuminating were mainly to do with developmental psychology, stuff like attachment theory. That’s what I did my essays on.” The London pop star goes on, explaining each of the four different “attachment styles” in detail, her sincere fascination an indication that her coursework was not only an educational experience but a creative revelation.
LOVE + FEAR, a double-album that is being released in two parts this month, is Marina’s capstone project, a self-care album that approaches pop from a psychological perspective rather than a conceptual one. Its title is a reference to Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ claim that all emotions stem from either love or fear, a theory that stuck with Marina for the way it simplifies seemingly complex human emotion.
“I believe it to be true,” she tells me, going on to cite another academic study on how differently people formally diagnosed with depression deal with traumatic events than those experiencing depression for the first time. “The depressed people really got floored by those bad things much more than the people who experienced depression but were able to pick themselves up quite quickly after it.” It’s not about getting hit over the head, she explains, but more about “being able to recover from it in an efficient way.”
And although Marina has maintained her indie-pop status for nearly a decade, as well as a legion of devoted fans, she’s had a lot to recover from, mostly having to do with her own internal conflicts of achieving success. Her 2010 debut The Family Jewels was piano-driven oddball pop, inspired by Kate Bush and cult indie artists like Daniel Johnston. She was fiery and unrelenting, obsessed not only with American mainstream culture but with using her underground, do-it-yourself ethos to break into it.
“It’s definitely something that people have commented on my whole career, and I think that’s because I almost directed that conversation in the beginning. I was set on an idea of success, but success is different for everyone, and our cliched idea of success usually translates to commercial success.”
Back then, her fascination with American success was so fervent that it almost seemed ironic, but it wasn’t. Her 2012 follow-up album Electra Heart is proof of that, and perhaps Marina’s most interesting and layered project to date, a complex case study on authenticity and identity in pop music.
“I was really inspired by Cindy Sherman at the time, and she’s the queen of switching identities.” On that album, she fully committed to breaking into the Western mainstream, completely abandoning her DIY roots and working with staple hitmakers like Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Diplo. But although this may have been a turn off for some of her day one fans, she still put her idiosyncratic Marina spin on it: adopting the persona of Electra Heart, a shapeshifting blonde icon who wears a literal heart on her cheek and takes on the roles of homewrecker, housewife, primadonna, and heartbreaker. The tongue-in-cheek guise was meant to explore the various female archetypes prevalent throughout history in Western culture.
“It was meticulously created,” she reflects. “But touring it and embodying that character was difficult, just with the everyday maintenance of the wig and stuff—that stressed me out.” Being a pop female in 2012, at least one who wanted to reach the masses, you almost had to adopt a gimmick—it was just a reflection of the times, she assures me. “At that time, I was really obsessed with the idea of zeitgeist and somehow embodying that. I was a total Tumblr tween, even though I was twenty-five.”
It’s true, Marina has always been connected and active on social media and, in turn, to the youth. But with toxic “stan culture” becoming such a thing within recent years, especially during her musical hiatus following 2015’s Froot, her Twitter mentions became fertile ground for attack.
Stans carried on narratives about Marina’s financial status, calling her poor and being particularly nasty about her career trajectory. It got so bad that she had to seriously step back. “I’m actually very happy to talk about that because, again, I think about it in a psychological way. There have been trolls since the internet began, but it wasn’t like this where people identify strongly with an artist and it forms their sense of self.” Aptly, Kubler-Ross’ theory of “love and fear” applies here, too.
“There are tons of hilarious, positive, good stans out there. But I think the ones who are making comments to try and affect an artist, that person probably has not a great feeling in their everyday life, and the way they try and re-balance that and feel less powerless is to say something nasty to someone who does have power. And that’s their reason for functioning. That’s all it is.”
You can tell that Marina has put in work to truly understand her highs and lows—at 33-years-old, she feels more balanced than ever and believes that LOVE + FEAR is her best work yet. This newfound clarity and straightforward vision drives the music. On LOVE standout “Enjoy Your Life,” she entices the listener, over a lush ‘80s electronic music bed, to simply let go: “Sit back and enjoy your problems / You don’t always have to solve ‘em / Cause your worst days, they are over / So enjoy your life.” On lead single “Handmade Heaven,” she sings about envying the birds up in the trees for the way they live out their lives so purposefully, yet so simply. In opening up and cutting the fat, she realized the beauty of the world around her.
“After growing up, I have less internal turmoil and I really wanted this album to feel spacious and simple, lyrically but also production-wise.”
Whereas on previous albums Marina put every ounce of energy into forming a narrative meant to catapult her into that dream of pop cultural dominance, Marina in 2019 equates success with happiness. “I personally don’t use those barometers of success anymore. Instead, I look for, what’s my everyday quality of life like? And do I have happy moments in that everyday sphere? If I don’t, then I’m doing something wrong.”
After surprise dropping LOVE on April 5, she is set to release FEAR next Friday, and she assures me that it has “more bops” than the former. I wonder out loud, is there maybe a correlation? Do you think an artist’s best work comes out of their hardest times, or their lowest points?
“I’m trying to challenge that idea,” she tells me. “I don’t think it’s constructive for an artist to feel like they need to have an element of pain or self-destruction to make good work. I definitely think moments of hardship or turmoil can inspire great things. But I also don’t want to be unhappy.”
For Marina now, happiness could be enjoying a cup of tea or getting your morning coffee and feeling great about that—again, living simply yet purposefully. “It’s those little things, for me, that actually amount to a feeling of contentment.”
Video: Michael Beckert & Joshua Steen
Hair: Sean Bennett
Makeup: Mariko Arai
Lighting: Ronan Daly
Styling Assistant: Mina Erkli
Production: Yael Quint, Mathilde Ollivier, Abraham Martinez