MARINA Just Keeps Growing Back Stronger

MARINA Just Keeps Growing Back Stronger

by Erica Russell

Like Mother Earth, whose spirit can be found in the hardy tree that weathers the tropical storm, or the delicate sprout that pushes up against all odds through the concrete, MARINA is one of the music industry's most resilient forces of nature.

"Don't underestimate me / 'Cause one day you're gonna see you're in a losing battle / Babe, you'll never stop me being me," the Welsh singer-songwriter warns on her punchy single "Venus Fly Trap." And it's true: Now more than a decade into her career, with five studio albums to her name, MARINA (formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds) is stronger and more self-assured than ever — and her latest record reflects that hard-earned strength.

On Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, MARINA paints a timely, cyber-Renaissance pop masterpiece, coloring each song with her own urgent introspections on the state of the world, as well as her personal musings on heartache. (Ancient Dreams was recorded primarily in 2020, during the course of the pandemic and in the wake of a devastating breakup.)

But MARINA refuses to succumb to despair: one of her most musically experimental and thematically sweeping, lyrically blistering albums yet, the glossy record finds the artist decrying climate change ("Purge the Poison"); waxing poetic on racial inequality, LGBTQ+ mistreatment, and misogyny ("Man's World"); heralding self-empowerment and dignity ("Goodbye"); celebrating empathy ("Highly Emotional People"); and lampooning political discord ("New America").

Perhaps cutting less a straightforward Mother Nature archetype and more of a Poison Ivy figure (the album's theatrical, ivy-wrapped cover even conjures a hint of the tongue-in-cheek camp of Uma Thurman's turn as the supervillain/anti-heroine, whether intentional or not), on Ancient Dreams MARINA postures herself as a sort of rage-fueled earth goddess who's simply had enough of mankind's incessant nonsense. It's a sentiment we certainly share.

Below, MARINA catches up with PAPER about the climate change crisis, old songs finding new life on TikTok and what the planet might look like if it weren't a "Man's World."

The new album taps into a lot of the anxieties facing the world today. What were some of the issues and topics you found yourself preoccupied with when you were working on the record?

Like a lot of people, I think I've had this sense of foreboding; a feeling of like, "How are we gonna solve this problem with climate change? What's our life gonna look like in 10 or 20 years? Do we bring children into this world?" There's all these existential thought processes that are being forced upon us because we really don't have a choice. We are living in quite an extreme time. So that's where it began, and once COVID happened, everything felt so magnified.

If the album had a mission statement, what would it be?

I always say that the theme running through it is the celebration of femininity in everybody because, regardless of what gender you are, we have all been brought up to live in quite a masculine way. I think for myself , anyway, that's what I relate to. Even just the way I've operated in my career, you kind of pick up the masculine side of yourself more to survive.

But also, a message in "Venus Fly Trap," is about not playing it small. No one is trying to be someone that they are not. I think we are all in a process of reconsidering what it is to be authentic. And at times that does include a performative social media post about being authentic. I really feel for young people and people my age too, because we are expected to be authentic as well as performative in the way we represent ourselves in our online presence. I want to break free of that.

Do you ever personally feel pressured to post a certain way on social media, or weigh in on something before you're ready to?

I'm not really that active on social media. It doesn't really affect me that much, but I do see people who have been commenting on political things and they are a voice of education for some people on the internet. They then comment on every single thing that happens as if they are the BBC news. I think after Black Lives Matter, it was very apparent some people didn't care. I think now we are holding people to this level of communicating about issues. Because if they don't, then that means they dont give a shit, right? But I think there must be somewhere in between where we can just exist, because living fully online isn't great either.

The album also has a sort of overarching ecofeminist gloss. I believe there's an intersection between ecological mindfulness — tackling climate change and the way we abuse Mother Earth — and the woman's experience and how misogyny is intertwined with climate change and so many other injustices. Do you think that there's a connection between how we treat our planet and how society treats and views women?

I think the way we treat our planet is linked to the masculine side of ourselves — such as making goals, being disciplined, putting material needs before human needs. We are all involved in that process, but maybe it's time for a new way of living. Going back to your question about women, I think the way I relate to that is that there is a lack of femininity; a rejection of femininity. Maybe it is actually linked between how we treat the earth and women because if we think about our relationship with nature, that is intuitive and nurturing and feminine. Men have been brought up to think femininity is a shameful thing, so they reject it themselves and then women remind them of the things that they have to conceal and reject. Therefore, misogyny is allowed to flourish. That's my theory.

So we see what those masculine values look like in action, but what does feminine power mean to you?

It means there's a lot of strength in softness and in intuition and nurturing. All of these things are painted historically to be signs of weakness. But for me, it means total strength. I've really tried to cultivate those areas much more in my own life in the past few years.

What would the world look like if it weren't a "Man's World"?

There would just be basic respect. If you respect other people, you respect the world around you — you respect the environment you live in, the animals you come into contact with. Even in this survival documentary I was just watching, the people killing the animals for food were doing it in such a respectful way. I mean, yes, they have to kill the animal to eat and survive, but their process shows respect for the animal because it is keeping them alive. It's very different to the harsh industrial farming industry we are used to.

About 11 years ago you released your single "Hollywood." Now, this album includes a song called "New America," which lampoons the US government and the injustice in the US, and the way our country tries to bury its violence. So, I'm curious: are you still obsessed with the mess that's America?

I'm definitely still intrigued and fascinated and terrified sometimes, but I still have a great affinity for this country. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's the most successful country for music. I've ended up living here, which I never thought I would, but I have really fallen in love with it in a different way. So in short yes, but I think it's been this example of what the world was meant to follow for decades. We haven't really seen this kind of empire in our lifetime. When you think of Britain or Rome or ancient Greece, they all had their problems and their violence that they don't talk about anymore. But America is right there now and that's our modern day example. I think that's why it fueled some of my songwriting.

With this record, a lot of fans have pointed out some sonic callbacks to the Family Jewels era. Looking back on your previous albums and eras, are there any you would consider a sister to the Ancient Dreams era? Or does that observation not really ring true for you?

It doesn't! [Laughs] I'm not all that conscious of how or why I make music when I make it. It's always made based on the mood in the moment, and the energy. But I can definitely see why people think The Family Jewels is like a sister record. There's a sass and a rawness to it. One theory I have is that when I wrote The Family Jewels I didn't have any subconsciousness or idea of what it was like for the public to be watching me or expecting things from me, so I was writing from a very raw place. Now on record five, I don't really have anything to lose.

I read that you wrote a little of the album pre-pandemic, and then the bulk of it during the shitshow that was 2020. How was your album creation process impacted?

I think the biggest creative takeaway has been that my demo production is very important and forms what ends up being on the album. One of my main collaborators on this album, James Flannigan, he went about keeping as much of the heart of the demos as we could. That was my biggest learning curve: that it's really useful to have fleshed-out demos.

Even though you no longer go as "Marina and the Diamonds," the "Diamonds" have always been an important part of your journey as an artist. How has your relationship with your fans evolved over the past decade?

It evolved mainly because the more fans you get, the less possible it is to sustain these close relationships. Which is a little bit sad for me because I really enjoy that, but when we meet in person it's always exactly the same. I think there is a connection because the lyrics I write are very specific, so if you connect to that experience or have had a similar experience, it doesn't leave you really. I'm extremely lucky to have a fan base who has stuck around.

The album also deals with heartbreak and touches on your breakup. I'm sorry things didn't work out, by the way. I'm wondering if there were any connections for you between going through a breakup in the midst of all the chaos last year. How did one affect the other, if at all? And where did you find strength? That's a lot to go through all at once.

It is, partially when you have no other reference point for it. It's not something you can google or see how other people are reacting to. But at the time it was difficult because it's not something that I'd ever experienced — that proper deep love of a five and half year relationship. I've never had a relationship like that before, but think in the context of the pandemic, everything just felt way less anchored than usual. But I'm a pretty resilient person and I've definitely grown in a good way because of it. I think the pandemic has, for better or worse, shown a lot of people what is important; what kind of life you want to lead, whether your values measure each other — whether that's your friends or your partner or family. And it's given people the space to really check out what's important. But you know, it's always sad when you lose someone you love when you break up.

Other than that resilience, are there any discoveries you've made about yourself over the past year that you weren't expecting?

Interestingly, it wasn't in the first six months. For me it was way later, like three months ago. Something really started to click and I became aware of it. I think part of that is learning about what your values are in a relationship, and what your responsibility was in it as well as ending it. You can only gain that kind of insight with time. But also, looking back at my life, my childhood, there's a lot to work through and I realized some things about myself that perhaps I really never wanted to look at before. It's all personal stuff, but it's all good stuff. It's hard when you're going through it but I'm glad to have gone through it.

"Bubblegum Bitch" went gold back in the spring thanks to it going viral on TikTok, and right now — I don't know if you know this — but "Hermit the Frog" is also blowing up on the app.

Yes! "Hermit the Frog," "Are You Satisfied?" Honestly, I've had a lot of traction: "I Am Not a Robot," "Oh No!," "Hollywood." I'm very grateful that people give new life to my songs. Especially "Bubblegum Bitch" because I wanted it to be a single and now it kind of is! It's funny, looking at my Spotify all my top songs are these TikTok blowups. It's funny and absurd, particularly with "Hermit," which is a very experimental song.

It's one of your weirdest, which I think is why fans love it so much. Speaking of which, you were the first artist I discovered on MySpace, back in the late 2000s, and now listeners are discovering their new favorite artists on TikTok. I'm curious, where do you discover music?

Oh God, I'm just not cool in that way. I'm more likely to go on Spotify or look at blogs. [Laughs] I think for me, the role that listening to music has played in my life has really changed since I was younger. Because before I was signed it was a huge discovery phase. I was looking for artists who mirrored how I felt. People like Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey, Dresden Dolls — all very unique female voices. Others like The Distillers, Britney [Spears], No Doubt... And then when I began making music and writing a lot more, that emotional need was fulfilled by writing. That's why I don't listen to that much music. It's more like if I want to party or like, lift my spirits, or go jogging. That's when I listen to music.

Photos courtesy of Warner Music Group