I’m no prude, but typically, I find the adverbial/adjective use of the f-word repelling; it reeks of using vulgarity for cheap pop. Additionally, the word means different things to different people, in different contexts, so it’s never entirely clear what rhetorical effect is being intended — are they angry? Are they overly enthusiastic? Do they just want attention? Needless to say, use of the F-word can get sticky. However, on “Starring Role” from Marina and the Diamonds‘ second album, Electra Heart, the Wales-born vocalist dismisses a lover’s ailing affection by assertively declaring “big fucking deal” and her simultaneous cynicism and confidence is endearing, even alluring. The song proceeds with Marina’s vocal chops descending while she falls prey to her lover’s sweet nothings and subsequently ascending again when trying to recover her aforementioned cynicism. And in tow with these aesthetically pleasing ascents come more sassy barbs (“I send my best, regards from Hell“) and sublimely enjoyable tiptoeing between pop music conformity and defiance.
The best way to describe Marina and the Diamonds is if you took a prominent vocal pop-star of the past two years, got them wet in the bathtub, catalyzing them to multiply into an entire litter of little cute pop stars. Then, after midnight, all of those little pop-stars got into the snacks in the pantry, going wild on Doritos and Twinkies, causing them to morph into an army of terrifyingly rebellious, reptilian pop singers. Marina and the Diamonds are pop music’s gremlins.
Electra Heart opens with “Bubblegum Bitch,” in which Marina Diamandis brilliantly subverts (though seems to somewhat desire) pop music stereotypes over fierce guitar riffs. Marina’s voice plows through the iconic imagery of diva-hood, seemingly disparaging it, all the while often playing the role better than the ones she’s critiquing. The theme of pop music glory again emerges on “Teen Idol,” where the 26 year-old vocalist squeezes just enough melodrama out of her subject matter before it spoils her sardonic ethos, with lines like “I want blood, guts and chocolate cake” and “Feeling super, super, super suicidal.” Meanwhile, dancefloor-friendly cuts like “Living Dead” and “State of Dreaming” are perhaps Marina’s best showcases of her equilibrium between vocal ability and metacognitive commentary on the very genre that she’s (arguably) a part of.
Sans the surprisingly dull Diplo throwaway “Lies,” the production on the sophomore Marina and the Diamonds album is masterfully crafted electro-pop that organically fuses to Marina’s vocals for a woman-meets-machine masterpiece. Marina’s undeniably ferocious vocals, coupled with her self-awareness of audience expectations, make Electra Heart enigmatically enjoyable and difficult to define.