This week I was struck with what I am fairly certain was a unique thought – is Marina Diamandis the new Debbie Currie? In 1997, the daughter of the egg-hating, John Major-shagging politician Edwina teamed up with ITV’s The Cook Report to front a sham pop single in the style of the hits of the time, in order to prove how easy it was to get into the charts in the supposedly creatively bankrupt pop scene that was dominant at the time. Their point was somewhat undermined when the track – a cover of America’s You Can Do Magic with actual vocals provided by Sinitta – crashed into the charts at number 86.
Marina, of Marina and The Diamonds, appears to be attempting a similar trick with her current single Radioactive. Having had a protracted attack of sour grapes when her first album failed to take her to Florence-esque multi-platinum heights, she’s now launched a new project – not, she insists, an alter ego, but “a vehicle to portray part of the American dream. Electra Heart is… the antithesis of everything that I stand for. And the point of introducing her and building a whole concept around her is that she stands for the corrupt side of American ideology, and basically that’s the corruption of yourself. My worst fear – that’s anyone’s worst fear – is losing myself and becoming a vacuous person”. Rightyho then.
Now I have no problem with artists attempting new and exciting ventures through their music or personas. But the Electra Heart project just feels like a petulant reaction to the fact that her first album didn’t make her the globe-straddling superstar she clearly believes she is destined to be. The Family Jewels was an interesting album that largely dealt with the fickle and destructive nature of being a superstar. Given that she wasn’t one, most listeners reasonably assumed that it was a cynical and tongue-in-cheek piece from a clever outsider who was wise enough to know better than to chase fame and fortune for its own sake, but virtually everything Marina has said or done since then has suggested quite the opposite, from her unedifying twitter rants to her new musical direction.
Radioactive isn’t necessarily a bad song – Marina does after all have a strong ear for pop hooks, but it feels laboured and joyless. By pretty much openly acknowledging that she’s dressing up her music in of-the-moment dance beats and dying her hair blonde in order to make a point that you need to be vacuous to score a hit, she’s basically telling her listeners that if you like this music, you are stupid.
Well pop fans are not stupid Marina, and neither is pop music. One of the greatest misunderstandings about commercial chart music is that merely a case of joining the dots. It isn’t. If writing world-beating hit singles was as easy as embittered indie bores frequently assume it is, everybody would be doing it. Yes, there are a few producers – from Stock Aitken & Waterman to David Guetta – who hit upon a magic formula that becomes the sound of the moment, at which point they do become able to churn out quite lazy re-hashes of their former glories, just as a band like, say, Oasis found a sound that captured the public mood and spent the next fifteen years basically rewriting the same two songs. But you have to find that formula first, and it isn’t something just anyone can do. With Radioactive likely to miss the top twenty today, it seems that Marina is about to learn this the hard way. I strongly suspect that within a few months she’ll have completely disowned the song and persona and moved on to something else. If she’s going to continue in this industry, she needs to decide who she really wants to be. Because right now, it doesn’t seem like being Marina & The Diamonds or Electra Heart is any fun at all.