A face that launched a thousand think pieces, Hannah Diamond is PC Music's original poster girl. As one of the first members of the London-based collective that would go on to shape the sound of 2010's experimental pop, it's impossible to have any serious discussion about PC Music without including Diamond. Before Charli XCX's Pop 2 there was "Pink and Blue;" before Caroline Polachek's Pang, there was "Attachment;" before PC Music's rising crop of producers were taking over the pop charts, Diamond was their prototype.
As a seasoned photographer and artist, Diamond was instrumental in shaping a lot of PC Music's early visual identity. Retouched to perfection, many initially assumed Diamond wasn't even real — a Lil Miquela-type simulacrum of a pop star. And her music further supported this theory with its glacial walls of glossy synths juxtaposed against Diamond's disaffected vocal inflections. She sang about love and heartbreak with such a pure, almost-childlike earnestness. Many dismissed it as hollow, unsure of where to place it in the modern pop canon.
It was easier to rationalize PC Music as an uncanny valley of post-ironic pop, or to see Diamond as this compression of early 2000s pop princesses rather than entertain the possibility that A. G. Cook and company were genuinely making pop because they loved the genre. Believing the collective was cynically co-opting it as a jaded joke was perhaps much easier to swallow than confronting the question: what if Hannah Diamond is serious?
Now seven years since PC Music was founded, it's safe to say that the label has influenced an entire new generation of artists. As the torch gets passed on, it's fitting then that Diamond's debut album, Reflections, would come just in time to close out this first chapter. A project that has notoriously been in the works for practically as long as PC Music has been a thing, much of Reflections' tracklist will come as no surprise to die-hard fans. Now finally compiled into one 40 minute-long album, we start to get a more well-rounded idea of who she really is as an artist.
Familiar themes of heartbreak, isolation and love in the digital age finally start to combine around one cohesive voice. Diamond's desire to be seen by her love interest on "Invisible" is later revisited with a more sobered acceptance that she will move on in "Fade Away," as the doe-eyed unbridled optimism of "Love Goes On" is balanced by the bitter betrayal that drives "True."
Now with the final release of Reflections, Diamond brings the promise of PC Music full circle. And much like the holographic pop star that gains sentience in the Disney Channel original movie Pixel Perfect, Diamond has outgrown her artificial veneer into something that feels fragile and heartbreakingly human. It's an incredible triumph in itself that this album saw the light of day at all, but in talking with Diamond it's clear this is only the beginning. Along with the promise of more music on the way and an ever-growing list of live dates, Diamond is proving that she isn't going away any time soon.
Now that the album is finally out, how do you feel?
So good, really happy. I actually am suddenly feeling more like a pop star. It feels more legit now that the album is out.
This album has notoriously been in the works for a long time. For lack a better way of putting it, it begs the question...What took me so long? [Laughs] A bunch of different things. I had loads of hurdles and speed bumps that went wrong. I was ill for a bit, and then I was really ambitious with what I wanted to make. I was working on it with A. G. Cook and he had a lot going on too. I also made a really crazy music video with one of my best friends that took ages. I'm glad I spent the time, even though it took ages. I feel like I made something really coherent and I'm really proud to call it my first album.
"Perfection is impossible, so the more possible it looks the more fun it is for me."
You are a very visual heavy artist. Why was it important to make sure you hit the visuals on this album really well?My music project is a place where I get to do all my personal work and the things that I really really want to make. I don't always get to do that in my work for other people. There are so many things I visually want to make that are super interconnected with my music. The lyrics often inspire the visuals that I make for the artwork or music video. But sometimes, it's the other way around. For me, it wasn't about making a music product, it was about making something completely audiovisual. That was the only way I feel like I could've said everything I wanted to say.
"Hannah Diamond," as a concept or brand, feels like it inhabits its own complete world. What informs certain choices you make in the project?
I don't think there are any explicit rules. Musically, the main thing I cared about was that this is my first album. It has to come purely from me and had to be about me and stuff that was going on with me. That would be the most genuine thing I could get up on stage and sing about. Visually, I have this memory bank of images I love or inspire me, but the music all came from this personal place of real experience — all the shit that went down in the past few years. A lot of it was quite negative and sad and upset me a lot. Having the visual element for it helped me transform that into something beautiful — something more fantastical, something that is easier to deal with.
Your aesthetic is very glossy and hyper-commercial. Does that come from doing commercial work or was it more of a personal choice?
No, I was doing that before I did commercial work. I think the reason I ever bagged any commercial work was because I was already making things in that way. If anything, I know I have to simplify it and make it a bit less OTT for clients. They get too scared. I was willing to take things too far and on purpose. Like with retouches I was always conscious of what retouching really means and what you are trying to remove or what you're trying to say about what women should look like. By overdoing it, it's exciting because it's super obvious that it's been retouched and takes it to this realm of fantasy. Perfection is impossible, so the more possible it looks the more fun it is for me. It's all coming from that place.
What about that personally appeals to you?
It's that element of fantasy and creating a world around it. The images I am always most inspired by are things like perfume campaigns. It's like trying to visualize something that doesn't have an image. The smell is intangible, so you have to pull together all these hints and clues and references — sort of like Easter eggs to help it make sense visually. I think music is a quite similar thing in the same way you have to communicate what it feels like to listen through an image. That's what is exciting for me.
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but you haven't done many interviews up until now?
The reason why I haven't is because I didn't have enough music to talk about as a full project. It definitely makes sense to talk about it now. I also think it is really hard to communicate through an interview what you're about or what you do when there is not much to talk about. Even though all along I felt all these things about my project, I think it would've been wrong to talk about this stuff then, because it wouldn't have made much sense.
What are some misconceptions people might have about Hannah Diamond?
There was a bunch of them at the start! I feel like they are all disintegrating now, which is nice. There were those saying "I wasn't a real person" or "I was an avatar" or "I'm just a model who doesn't have a voice" or "I'm A. G. Cook pitched up." Some of them were quite misogynistic, weird, or didn't have anything to do with my own work. I feel like people are starting to get it now.
How did it feel being viewed as just a pop avatar?
Kind of shitty. At that point in time I was putting a lot of myself into my musical project — all my money and everything I had. I felt really excited about it and really passionate about it. There was so much critique, which was good in a way because it meant that I was making people think about stuff, but at the same time the amount was difficult to deal with. I felt like a lot people start making music for a few years before people even talk about it. Having think pieces written about it definitely freaked me out for a while. I feel like I proved people wrong.
Another part of what made PC Music such a phenomenon is how crazy the fandom got. Were you aware of that meme about you being locked in A. G. Cook's basement?Yeah, of course. I probably had three or four messages a day about the basement. I wasn't in the basement. [Laughs] Ever. I don't even think A. G. Cook has a basement? [Laughs] That was probably the most iconic of all.
"Having think pieces written about [Hannah Diamond] definitely freaked me out for a while. I feel like I proved people wrong."
As someone who was a part of PC Music from there very beginning, how have things changed over the years?
There was a point where we were all in the same place, hanging out a lot and doing stuff together. It felt like a community — a big group of friends always together and at the same sort of parties. But now that everyone's living in different places, doing different things, everyone's work has taken off a bit, everyone's doing bigger stuff... it feels a bit less like a community and more like a label.
You mentioned that a lot of this album was drawn from your own personal experience. Could you elaborate more on that?
It would be too simple to say it was about a breakup. It was, but more than that, it was about how the worst part of the breakup can make you feel. How you can lose yourself in people or once it's over, you forget how to be on your own. You have to tear yourself down and rebuild from scratch. I've had to do that, and my self-esteem wasn't that good. I was really down every day, and that was when I wrote "Reflections." I was chatting with one of my friends about all the things I thought about myself and they said to me, "What would you think if I told you I thought those things about myself?" I said to them, "I would cry, I would be so sad because none of it was true." They were like, "Well that's how I feel about you." It made me think, Damn, I really need to rethink this. Why am I thinking all these bad things about myself? Why am I stuck in this loop? It's whatever you want it to be, but I think it's this fight song to remind myself that I'm good enough as I am and not to rely on one person's opinion of me to build my opinion of myself.
Navigating interpersonal relationships in an era of digital communication pops up a lot in your work. What's your take on love in the age of the internet?
It's weird, I think dating is strange. That's a new thing I'm dealing with. I feel like a lot of digital communication is really inhuman. You could text someone and the other person might read into it as one thing, you could read into it as something else and maybe be offended or take it personally but actually it wasn't that deep. I think it confuses a lot of things. But then also it can be really good because you can connect with people like friends of friends, and people that you wouldn't necessarily have met in real life. It's harder and easier.
Where else were you looking to for inspiration on this album?
I've always been really into trance, hardcore trance and UK Garage. I like trance because it's sad, and there are loads of sad trance songs that really make you feel something. You can be dancing to them in the club and feeling super euphoric, but then it gives you that pang in your chest at the same time. For some reason that really draws me to it. I think that really inspires a lot of my songwriting, as well. Favorite movies, I really like that Al Pacino film, Simone, about the digital actress. Have you seen it?
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It's so good. Basically Al Pacino is this film director and he's trying to find the perfect actress to play this role. No one wants to work with him anymore because he's burnt out, and his last two films didn't do very good. He meets this crazy tech guy who has created this simulation of this girl called "Sim One," so he calls her Simone. He makes a film with her in it and the film does really well and then he has to somehow live the lie because he doesn't want anyone to know that she's not real. It all spins out of control, and it's a really big inspiration for me and Daniel [Swan] who I worked on the "Invisible" video with.
Speaking of, where did the concept for "Invisible" come from?
"Invisible," the song itself, is this sad pop song where maybe you just had a breakup and you're in the club and you see the person you used to be with dancing with someone else and it really, really fucking hurts. But you're trying to play it cool, pretend that it's not hurting you and that you're going to be fine on your own. At the same time, it also makes you feel like you never want to ever go out on your own again. With the video, we wanted to create this HD, alternative hyper-reality that communicated all those feelings but on a rise to stardom. It's about being completely visible to everyone, totally on display all the time, but inside feeling really invisible to someone you wish would notice you.
How did that then translate into the video?
The scene of me on the tube... there's adverts of me everywhere, but I'm just normal me. Even if I'm really famous, I'm just a girl who's feeling really heartbroken or invisible. Throughout the video, I'm trying to work out how I can become more visible to this person. I start working on fully digitizing myself into this hologram pop star so I can do this really amazing performance in the hope that they'll notice me or realize that I'm really worth something. It all crumples at the end because I have this realization that it was me that I was trying to prove myself to all along. I disintegrate and all of my pixels blow away like sand. I become invisible, which is exactly what I don't want.
It reminds me of the Ashley O episode of Black Mirror...
Everyone said that! That was so annoying when that came out because me and Daniel had already shot the video and were already halfway through [editing] it. I was like, "Ah, for fucks sake, everyone's going to say it's like that episode of Black Mirror," but we actually made it first [Laughs]. We all started laughing about it. We were like, "God, this is what happens when it takes ages to make something," when it's just two of you working on it.
What can we look forward to hearing from Hannah Diamond in the future?
Definitely more music. Reflections took a long time to come out, but it doesn't mean that's all I've made in the last three years. I've worked on so much music and I'm excited that now this is out, my time spent making all the visuals, the album campaigns and everything is wrapping up. I'm excited that I can get back into writing and finishing up those things that I started on, but didn't feel like they fit into this album as a project. I'm excited to work out what that next thing will be, and to do a lot more shows next year — do more pop star shit.
Photography: Hannah Diamond