The music world is littered with female singers who've been groomed for pop stardom their whole lives. Their sound, looks and style are constantly dictated by record company suits. Marina & the Diamonds subverts these traditions at every turn.
It's a fine line she walks and of course there are compromises, but no one strides the line between artist and mainstream pop star quite like Marina. With hit songs like 'Primadonna' there's no denying her commercial draw, but she couldn't be further from the Britneys and Christinas of the world.
For starters, she cites the avant garde American songwriter Daniel Johnston as one of her main influences. The obscure singer was the subject of a 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which focused on his gifted but often bizarre songwriting talents and his struggles with mental illness.
“I think he changed my perception of what pop music could be” Marina says. “The way in which he wrote was in a very pop way but his recordings were completely lo-fi, DIY, like mental all over the place”.
“His voice was not really a technical singers voice so he changed my perceptions on what it was to be a singer. You don't have to be a good singer necessarily to be a good artist and that helped at the time because I had no training whatsoever”.
Marina doesn't come from a musical background, and didn't even decide she wanted to be a pop star until the age of 20. She acknowledges this left her with a lot of catching up to do but she also describes her drive to succeed as 'delusional'.
“I think it took a lot longer yeah, because by the time I had my first album out I was 24, I'm 27 now. It's definitely been DIY in the sense that I was really doing it myself, I was teaching myself everything I could in order to get to a point where I could be considered a pop artist”.
“I think that you have to believe in things that don't exist or that seem like a complete impossibility. It always seems the case with people who I've always admired. They said they were going to do things and in their own belief they were, so yeah, I think it's necessary as an artist”.
While her first record marked Marina & The Diamonds as ones to watch, her sophomore album Electra Heart was a huge step forward upon it's release last April. Working with a number of top writers and producers including Dr. Nick (Katy Perry) and Rick Nowels (Madonna) Marina produced a vastly superior follow up album.
But having written her debut The Family Jewels entirely by herself, Marina was a little uncomfortable at first in her new environment.
“I guess the two big producers on there were Stargate (Beyonce, Rihanna) and Dr. Luke and they actually didn't come until the very end. The only way that we worked together was because my A&R knew Luke and was friends with him. I was really ambivalent at the beginning. I was like 'No, I don't think this is the right choice for me', then I realised that I was just saying no because I was really scared”.
“I thought 'that's not very good, you're not really challenging yourself'. So I went in and I wrote one of the best songs, for me, that I've ever written which was 'Lies'. From then on I was seeing things quite differently in terms of pop and what was generic and supposedly empty and crap and what was good and pure and artistic. I think that's somewhere in the middle”.
There is a sense that Marina's artistic ambitions are sometimes in conflict with the mainstream parameters she finds herself working in. But she has redefined what we've come to expect of a female popstar, to the point where artistic integrity can go hand in hand with commercial success.
“I think the purpose of this second album was not to make a point or anything about how to use that pop model and the pop system that people on the indie side just think is generic or just shitty or a sell out with such producers”.
“I wanted to see if I could subvert that and use it in a way that would be helpful for me and also helpful for them in terms of them working with someone who was not performing from 4 years old on stage, doing adverts and that sort of Hollywood child star environment. It's absolutely the opposite of that”.
Still Marina seems uncomfortable working with such an array of producers and admits that for her next record, she would prefer more input, as she had on her first record.
“Going into these writing sessions, sometimes on the credits there can be up to like 8 people on them, even though there's only 3 people in the room. It's quite a confusing world in terms of that and I think back to my first album which was so simple and I was just writing on my own”.
“I feel like, it was right on this occasion, but I think my strength is as the songwriter of the song. I think I feel happiest doing that. At the moment that's what I'm really hungry for. Probably because I haven't done it for a while. But I don't know, I don't ever want to be black and white about things”.
Electra Heart has helped Marina & The Diamonds to make a name in America, but Marina is curiously coy about how important success on the other side of the Atlantic means to her and once more, the artist in her shines through.
“I don't know anymore because I think I realised you can only do what fascinates you and enthuses you and if that also enthuses other people then that's great. But you really can't do anything more than that. It's all really in the hands of the gods, or the people who control radio! But if this album does become bigger and does better in the States I think I will be really pleased because I think it deserves to. But I dunno... I don't know whether it's important anymore. I think It's just important to feel like globally I'm understood as an artists and I can go anywhere and the fans will talk”