The End of Electra Heart

December 1, 2014 • Music

In August 2013, a few months after the last date of her continent-crossing, gif-inspiring Lonely Hearts Club tour, Marina and the Diamonds’ official YouTube channel posted a brand new music video, for the unreleased song “Electra Heart.”  Featuring a fast-paced remix of clips from the music videos for the songs on her album Electra Heart, the song’s lyrics asserted Marina’s persona as the archetypal Electra Heart while at the same time expressing an existential anxiety about that persona’s future. And surely enough, at the end of the video, in one swift move, Marina wipes away the heart-shaped beauty mark she’d worn on her face for the entire tour, symbolizing the end of an era.

Electra Heart was the title of Marina Diamandis’ second album under the moniker Marina and the Diamonds, as well as the name of the constructed character she more or less fully became for the duration of the promotion and touring cycle of that album. The persona was based around four archetypes that Diamandis created to embody a specifically American experience of femininity: the “homewrecker,” the “teen idle,” the “primadonna,” and the “su-barbie-a.” Influenced by her travels through suburban America on tour supporting her first album, as well as the relative anonymity of social media, Diamandis stated that Electra Heart was “the antithesis of everything that I stand for…. she stands for the corrupt side of American ideology… the corruption of yourself.”

Represented by photography, costumes, music videos, and the songs on the album itself, Electra Heart was everywhere in 2012 and 2013. Her distinctive sultry image and sound was splashed across music magazines, fashion blogs, and the Tumblr pages of a thousand teenage girls searching for meaning within her coy and corrupt gaze— surely on some level aware that she was merely a facade, a careful creation of a clever artist, but nevertheless fully entranced by everything that she embodied. Her impeccably styled lo-fi selfies, posted (of course) to the official Electra Heart tumblr, gained thousands of notes mere minutes after being posted, and Lonely Hearts Club Tour concerts sold out from London to Los Angeles. In a narrative arc that was almost too pitch-perfectly meta to be true, Electra Heart had come full circle from an entirely artificial genesis inspired by the “Tumblr generation” to an existence as a genuine social media phenomenon, adored unironically by aesthetic bloggers and anime fans alike.

Before there was bottle-blonde, doe-eyed Electra Heart, though, there was just plain old Marina—a brunette pop songstress from the UK whose debut album, The Family Jewels, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim but not much to show in the way of sales. Diamandis’ first album was classic indie-pop, featuring piano-driven tunes of love and anxiety that, while catchy, well-crafted, and well-received, failed to make a splash,especially in the US. It was only by completely reinventing herself and her sound that Marina and the Diamonds managed to achieve viral success. Electra Heart (the album) was pure dance-pop, electronic and synth-heavy, and Electra Heart (the character) was a negative image of Marina Diamandis, a dark and sinister inverse coated in perfume and faux fur. So, when the era of Electra Heart came to a dramatic end in August 2013, the question on everyone’s lips was: what will Marina do next? And can her next move bring her to the heights she reached as Electra Heart? She had demonstrated great musical talent on The Family Jewels and immense commercial and aesthetic acuity on Electra Heart, but it remained to be seen whether she could synthesize the two into one creatively fulfilling whole.

As it turned out, Diamandis’ next move was to go silent for a few months. After the end of the Lonely Hearts Club Tour, she seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. As Electra Heart, she’d posted social media updates with regularity, showering her fans with pithy tweets and photoshoots. After the end of Electra Heart, however, no new persona immediately sprang up to take her place. Instead, Diamandis simply created, through her absence, a valuable hunger for new content, and turned away from social media to look inside herself for inspiration. And then, as she slowly started ramping up her internet presence throughout the summer of 2014, it was apparent that she would be taking a new (old) tack with whatever her new project turned out to be, moving away from the heavily persona-based approach of Electra Heart, which seemed to have been deemed an outlier, an experiment that, however successful, would not be repeated.

On October 10, Diamandis’ official social media channels simultaneously launched “FROOT,” her first new song in two years and the title track to her long-awaited third studio album. The internet immediately spiraled into a frenzy of analysis, commentary, and excited speculation. Disco-influenced and fruit-inspired, “FROOT” is definitely no “Bubblegum Bitch”— gone are Electra Heart’s favored metaphors of dolls, makeup, and heartbreak, having been replaced by what can only be extrapolated to be the album’s new motifs: fruit, nature, sensuality, and a forward-looking positive sensibility that was absent from Electra Heart’s themes of cruelty and emptiness.

A juicy-plump five minutes and thirty seconds long, Diamandis’ lounge-singer alto voice croons, “living La Dolce Vita / Life couldn’t get much sweeter” over a pulsing, sparkling beat. The song effectively defies the pop conventions that she had so wholeheartedly embraced on her last album: where Electra Heart was heavily synthetic in both sound and narrative, “FROOT” reflects a more laid-back, retro-tinged sensibility, both in the sense of its 1970s influence and its intrinsic connection to Diamandis’ earlier, subtler work. With its funky bassline and jangling guitars, the single’s minor chords and intricate melodies are reminiscent of tracks on The Family Jewels like “Hollywood” and “Girls.” Gone are the sweeping cinematic turns of “Homewrecker” and “Starring Role,” but that doesn’t mean “FROOT” has left Electra Heart’s legacy completely in the dust— its instrumentation retains many of the electronic elements that made Electra Heart’s tunes so appealing to the teenage ear. And, most importantly, Diamandis’ talent for aesthetics doesn’t seem to have deserted her during her brief sojourn.

The simple but impressive music video for “FROOT” features Diamandis lounging around a mansion with perfectly coiffed hair and an assortment of silky gowns, the gorgeous jewel-toned lighting and set dressing vividly evoking a humid jungle. Where Electra Heart was deliberately pale and suburban, “FROOT” takes a turn for the lush and the tropical, both lyrically and visually, and proves that Diamandis remains a force to be reckoned with in the tricky business of aligning disparate elements of an artistic endeavour.

With “FROOT,” Diamandis has stripped away the last vestige of Electra Heart, whether her die-hard fans like it or not. Though some questioned her choice of title for the song and new album, in my opinion there is no more appropriate way to define her current era and set it apart from what came before. The era of Electra Heart was entirely dependent on artificiality, on the facade of the blonde wig, the sickly makeup, the specially-designed dresses and sky-high heels; the era of FROOT is all about the real and the natural, the fresh and the healthy. Though it was her deliberately-fake persona that first won her the love of the internet in 2012, I have no doubt that the February 2015 release of FROOT will soon prove that the real Marina has just as much staying power, musically and visually, as her bygone alter ego.

 

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