Much has been made of Welsh-Greek musician Marina Diamandis' recent public shift from Marina and the Diamonds, a play on her last name, to only going by her first. Many undeniably great female pop stars already do: Madonna, Cher, Rihanna, Beyoncé. Even Lady Gaga, who is also undeniably great, is simply called Gaga more often than not nowadays. The mononym is a sign of singularity that carries currents of power. I read a recent review that suggested that pop-star mononyms ought to be earned, which is of course a criticism we never levy at male artists. Another implication of this critique is that a woman's greatness must be proven true in the court of public opinion. But who decides that? The patriarchy?
If you've been following Marina over the years, then you're versed in her anti-establishment traits, which often includes calling out misogyny and injustice towards the LGBTQ community. You're also aware of the freedom she has exhibited within her music from the start. As Marina and the Diamonds, she recorded three albums (The Family Jewels, Electra Heart, and FROOT) and had several internationally charting singles from each (I Am Not a Robot," "Primadonna," "How to Be a Heartbreaker," "I'm a Ruin"). Each album arrived with a fully-formed concept, look, and sound, and showcased Marina's impressive versatility. She sang operatic, stylistically diverse pop songs that were not afraid of lyrical quirks (the cheerleader chant of "feeling super super super suicidal," in "Teen Idle") or emotional range.
On Love + Fear, Marina's first album since 2015, she's showing off that expressive, expansive range across two eight-song recordings. Written and produced after a period of depression and despondency toward the music industry, each track falls on whichever half of that emotional yin-yang it belongs to. Throughout the album, Marina appears fresh-faced and clear-eyed as one can be when they've trudged through murky waters. She's had some time to reflect and offers the forgotten wisdom that love and fear — two core human emotions — are two sides of the same coin, but she asserts that you can only act from one place or the other. Love and fear cannot co-exist, Marina has surmised.
Top & Bottom: Marc Jacobs, Earrings: Annelise Michelson
Singles like "Handmade Heaven" imagine a better world; "Orange Trees" finds peace in the waves of her native Greek isle; "Superstar" upholds triumphant, unconditional love — those songs color Love's ethos. The painfully self-aware "Emotional Machine" and the beautifully tender "Soft to Be Strong" outline Fear. There are also outliers like Love's "To Be Human," which could have just as easily fit on Fear, and has been touted as the album's dramatic political centerpiece. The oft-quoted and criticized line from that one is "There are riots in America, just when things were getting better." It seems unspecific, given Marina's refreshed world view. But the song is perhaps better interpreted as a stream of consciousness from an artist who is, like you and me, just trying to make sense of a time that makes little sense. The song confronts conflict, whether social or environmental, by naming it, but doesn't necessarily offer any resolute answers.
It's a contradiction to the philosophy guiding the Love + Fear project's mission, but it's interesting to note that Marina leaves it. After all, aren't contradictions part of what makes us human? Marina has spent her entire career exploring these ideas, and yet, some wonder if she's earned her name? She has earned her name because it is her name. In my emotionally frank conversation with Marina — which covers everything from social media perception to being true to oneself — I take away the idea that we're all capable of greatness the moment we decide we are. Perhaps Marina is just one step ahead of the rest of us.
On this album, you are exploring nature and humanism more explicitly. What stirred that up for you?
In terms of nature, for quite a long time I've felt really dislocated with the world, as in our natural world, and I'm increasingly worried about our planet and what we're doing to it. I worry about it all the time. I think often about Eden on Earth... how can we each find our own piece of that? "Orange Trees" is written about the island I'm from in Greece, which I hardly ever get to go to. It's creating those snapshots in time. I also think, as an artist, whenever I want something to happen in life, I tend to infuse it in my songs and hope that it happens... I think it must work, because then you end up singing those songs for years. It's a little message to yourself to create the world you hope to live in.
There's something very somber, like a dystopian Handmaid's Tale about the song and video to "Handmade Heaven." Was that conscious for you?
Yes. It doesn't have any correlation with The Handmaid's Tale, which I think is excellent. It's just so that we chose red as the color of that video, but that's definitely at the center of the song. That's why I find it hard to talk about, because on the surface you could be like, "Oh, this person is longing to be in nature." And then they are, and they love it, and they're happy. It's not that. It's dark, and there's a huge ache. There's a real sadness for life, and imagining that it could be better.
How did issues such as climate change or the political landscape affect what you were writing this time around?
I don't know exactly how to put my finger on it, but I definitely felt a shift that I shouldn't be doing things for self-centered reasons. When people ask me why I stopped doing music, I talk about how I didn't have the same motivations anymore and I felt like it was just all pointless. I just didn't understand what the point of music was, I didn't see anything good in music anymore.
Dress: Louis Vuitton, Earrings: Annelise Michelson
Electra Heart embraced a glittery world of celebrity, but criticized the constant scrutiny famous women typically undergo.
Yeah, it was totally setting all of that up. It's like, "I want it! But I don't want it. I want it! But I don't want it." That's my life.
Does that sort of push and pull happen naturally for you when writing?
I'm very good at looking at things in an anti-establishment way. My dad was very much like that growing up — he hated designer brands and anything like it. He hated logos. Growing up, stuff like McDonald's was kind of painted as something you should approach carefully. I'm very anti-corporation in a way, but then there's the part of me that is not judgmental at all and I just like things for liking them. I feel like, in the past, that's always been a conflict in me. I feel much clearer now, but I think definitely in the past that was something that came through.
"That's something we often do to women in this society. We can't take them seriously unless they're barefaced and singing to a minimal arrangement."
One of the first things people will notice about where you are now is a more stripped-down image. It's interesting to think of how everyone from Lady Gaga on down are criticized for being distracting when they have a bolder image.
It's like, "Well maybe she's having fun!" Maybe that's also part of the message, it doesn't have to be a distraction. I think that's something we often do to women in this society. We can't take them seriously unless they're barefaced and singing to a minimal arrangement. It's like you're not authentic if you're not doing that. I think, for myself, that's just how I feel I want to present myself — in a simple way. It's not about doing it because I don't want people to think of me in another way, but I've had those years of playing with how I look and exploring identity and I don't think I want or need to do that as much anymore. I also completely get why I did. Also, what's fun is having a more simple look has really freed me up because I've done loads of photo shoots recently where I get to try something new every day, which is what I've wanted to do for so long. I'm not like, "Oh, I just want my hair to only look like this in every photo shoot." Same with makeup! It's so fun now! I think it's because my identity isn't so tied to how I look, whereas I was almost using a look, in the past, as a vehicle to showcase my music. "Oh, I have to look the same all the time." The album cover is symbolic for the work, but generally speaking, I'm very open now.
Dress: Versace, Earrings: Givenchy
For your whole career, you've always had a 360 concept. In terms of being in the driver's seat, have you felt pressure to maintain that kind of momentum?
I definitely feel fortunate about controlling my own career, because I don't think that that's always the case, particularly in the past with female artists. There was a time, even recently, where if you wanted to be a pop musician, it was kind of assumed that you weren't going to make decisions. Essentially, I was an indie artist who was writing my own songs. It's been slightly different, so I had a long time to develop. When my first record as Marina and the Diamonds performed well, I think it was a nice surprise to my label. Then it continued for the next couple albums [Electra Heart and FROOT], so I've had a very solid relationship with my label and I've had complete freedom for a long time. Obviously with Electra Heart, I was really encouraged to write with big American producers, but that was part of my growth as a songwriter and I would not take anything back, because that was also such a fruitful period for me.
How did you hang onto your anti-establishment roots during that period of commercial success?
Cindy Sherman really helped me with that actually. I thought a lot about how I could work within this system, and disrupt from the inside.
I love "To Be Human." It feels like the thesis of the album and where you were hoping to go with it.
That's literally my favorite song. I knew you would say that. [Laughs] I wanted that to come first, but everyone else wanted me to do "Handmade Heaven," so in the end I went with that. But lyrically and sonically, I knew my fans would love "Human," but I wanted my project to grow beyond my fanbase. It's the core of the whole campaign for me.
Top, Belt & Pants: Balmain, Earrings: Lady Grey
I think artists, more than ever — especially with what's going on politically, in the world, and climate change — are called to speak to the world, rather than to only address what's going on with them.
I wrote the verse first, and I only had that for like, three months. I knew that I was excited about it, but I didn't know what I really wanted to say and it was really frustrating because I tried so many times to write the chorus and nothing came. I wasn't writing it with anyone else, so I was just stuck on my own, and then one day, I just sat down. I literally said to myself, "There's no pressure, just write anything." Then, I wrote the chorus. I was like, Ah! That's what I'm trying to sum up: this message of unity that we are all part of the same planet and that we all feel and experience the same things. It was written one year ago because we were just feeling the effects of Trump's presidency, Brexit in the UK... I think we all felt desperate that all over the world there are these instances of political upheaval and it just feels like we are going backwards. I feel desperate about it, and I'm someone who is privileged. I can't really vocalize it, but I know that so many people our age feel the same. I think I was trying to communicate that in some way.
You did, but it also feels inconclusive.
I had no answers, and honestly, I still don't. It was just like, "I don't know how to be a human being in this day and age."
"In the past I've tried to be as positive or as kind as possible, but that's really hard when your job involves the internet."
What helps you stay connected in a modern world that encourages disconnection?
It's a really hard question, because I don't think I've figured it out for myself. At the moment, I'm really forcing myself to meditate every day. I used to a lot, then I just fell off the planet. I think that's helped, apparently it's really good for Libras, because it connects you to the universe and there's a bigger picture outside your own neuroses. I think in the past I've tried to be as positive or as kind as possible, but that's really hard when your job involves the internet. Do you feel the same?
Dress: Valentino, Earrings: Luz Ortiz
I do feel that way.
It's just so much — so heavy sometimes.
I sometimes wake up with what feels like existential sadness around my participation in the internet. Have you ever just wanted to delete everything?
The negative stuff can kind of really be easier to focus on. On an Instagram post, I might have a thousand good comments and then one asshole who's really sad comes along and ruins it. It sort of makes you think about why you're exposing yourself to it at all. At the end of the day, it really comes down to: does the positive outweigh the negative? I've really toyed with that for the past two years, I think I had three months off Instagram. Usually, I never have any social media apps on my phone.
I read this book called, very cheesy title, How to Break Up with Your Phone. It was excellent because it doesn't paint social media use or phone use as bad. It basically helps you determine: what are the good things about your phone and what are the things that make you feel negative, what are the activities? So, over a month you basically find out what your relationship is like to your phone. It's about converting it back into a tool as opposed to something that is just sucking your energy and making you feel shit. What's the point? There's like a whole world out here.
Do you manage all of your own socials right now?
Yeah. If my management does post something, I type the copy and I just send it to them. There's not much difference, anyway. It's literally just another human is posting.
Except when it's just you, you're engaging and scrolling.
That's why I don't follow many people on Instagram. For a while I followed no one.
Dress & Shoes: Versace, Earrings: Hannah Jewett
You know who else I think seems to do social media really well, in terms of engaging and disengaging?
Let me guess... Lana?
You got me. Lana is great with that! For days, weeks.
Months! And that's totally fine. She's a really great person. But social media — it's just such a noisy place, isn't it?
It is. This is maybe a silly question, but I was listening to the song "True," and I was wondering, "How does Marina stay true to herself?"
I honestly think there's two things, and they're linked. One is having a daily practice of... I'm not going to call it "meditation," I'm just going to call it "giving yourself 10 minutes to do absolutely nothing." So you can open your eyes, if that's just lying on your bed. You're not allowed to do anything. I think that's important because this cultivates a second thing which is strengthening your instincts. I think that's your most powerful tool. We all have the same tool, but when you listen to it less and less, that ability to find out how you really feel fades, but also when you listen to it more and more, it gets stronger and easier to know how you feel about things. One person said something really helpful to me: "You'll be able to know how you feel about something because you'll have a physical reaction to it, you'll have a physical feeling and you should go with that." It's really just your heart sending a message to your body, I think. You should go with your heart.
I agree with that.
Then, once you strengthen that path, all the right stuff will come to you.
Follow your heart and trust your gut.
Following your heart — that is intuition. You really just have to have faith in yourself. That's how I stay true.
"I sacrificed my own comfort. Even though there were good things about taking that journey, my health suffered and I felt very uncomfortable as a person throughout [the Electra Heart] campaign."
Have you ever had a moment in your career, either recently or over the years where you've sort of been asked to compromise parts of yourself and you've just been like, "Absolutely not," or maybe you've gone that direction and have later regretted it?
Yes. I do feel like Electra Heart was complex because of that reason. Even though it's hard to talk about, because it was so fun on one hand, and there was so much genuine creativity, but there were also moments where I did experience working with people who were so successful and popular that I didn't really have a say in things like production. I just felt incredibly pressured to make a certain type of song because I was told that I wouldn't be played on the radio here if I wasn't. The thing is, I did get played on the radio a lot and I sold like, over a million copies of "Primadonna" and "Heartbreaker," so... God, it's really hard, because I feel like those songs really helped me and gave me an amazing fanbase, which I still have today.
So, I think the thing that I sacrificed was my own comfort. Even though there were good things about taking that journey, my health suffered and I felt very uncomfortable as a person throughout that campaign because I felt like I had to be somebody else in order to be liked, which was so damaging to your soul. It takes a long time to recover from that.
Dress: Valentino, Earrings: Luz Ortiz, Shoes: Ganor Dominic, Pinky Ring: Jennifer Fisher, Ring: Annika Inez
What do you love most?
Did writing this album make you realize that more?
I think my relationship with my parents has matured a lot and it's shifted in a nice way, now that I'm older and they know that I'm OK and what type of person I am. Yeah. It sounds cheesy, but that's just what came to my head first.
Do you feel like you see them in a more human way?
Yeah, I do. That's exactly right. I went through that change at around 30, actually. I could see that my parents were just human beings like the rest of us. I totally see them more as people now than parents, weirdly. I'm like, hanging around with this person who's also my dad, and I happen to think he's really nice.
Top & Bottom: Marc Jacobs, Earrings: Annelise Michelson
What scares you the most?
Gosh. This is so hard. I think it's a feeling that comes from a lack of control, but in my mind I'm relating it to the political atmosphere. When you see a clear need for justice, and I feel desperate about things that are wrong but not always being able to fix it. It's more like this mass feeling of problems on Earth. Maybe I'm just an idealist, so I'm like, "This shouldn't be happening." Who knows what's going to happen, politically, in America. I think it's a fear that things will get worse socially.
What if it does get worse?
I don't think that will happen, but I do think what we've experienced in the past three or four years is part of a huge seasonal shift that has happened in history so many times before, but it's just felt so to-the-bone for all of us who just know that anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-misogyny, and so on is the way to live. Basic human decency and humanity... but we don't live in that world at the moment. But still there is hope for the better. We have to hang on to that piece.
"Fear can be very positive and constructive, and love can sometimes be negative depending on what you do with it."
Where there is love there is hope. Your optimism is inspiring.
Honestly, everyone seems to be like, "You seem so happy," and I am. It's not 24/7 happiness, I still have low moments in the day or bad thoughts. That's just how all of us are, but I think in naming the album Love + Fear, that has more to do with it stemming from these two primary emotions that all of our other emotions stem from. I think one thing I want to make clear is that I don't see fear as a negative thing, necessarily. Fear can be very positive and constructive, and love can sometimes be negative depending on what you do with it. I think it's seeing in a more neutral light, in a way, and just seeing them as the base, as the core of our emotional life as human beings.
Dress: Louis Vuitton, Earrings: Annelise Michelson
It's the thing that links us all, and we all are able to make the decision to either play into those feelings or not. I refuse to feel hopeless.
I know, it makes me feel like a wasteoid or something.
A total wasteoid! Same here. Billie Eilish — I think she is making music that is genuinely innovative and she's just reinventing the way we think about pop music. I think she's just got a cool attitude. Beirut, I love them. I just love them as people, and they've got a great song called "Life After." I think you should listen to it.
Um, who else? Lizzo, I think she's onto some kind of incredible magic potion. I'm like, waiting for her to have her full Beyoncé moment. The flute on Ellen began it all. I was like, "I never really thought this was how Lizzo was going to become a superstar, but I'm here for it!" I love her. So fierce, so full of self-love, and she herself is totally stunning. It's like, why is the world only just waking up? I'm so happy that Lizzo is spearheading this change in consciousness, but it's funny that just now we're beginning to see that you can really be yourself and shatter every idea anyone might think to have of you. Because at the end of the day, it's just you, and it's true that as long as you love what you see, then who cares what anyone else says, right?
The time is now for Lizzo and all that she represents.
I have to say also, I'm really interested in chapters in culture and I think every generation has a different job and a different problem to solve. I think, for us, that will be climate change, as well as discrimination. I just wonder what the generation below us will be dealing with. Maybe it will be the same thing, but who knows? I do feel like every generation comes in and something presents itself that they're equipped to deal with and that we won't be. Particularly with young people; I love young people, I really do. They're our future.
Photography: Eric T. White
Photography Assistant: Jiraurd Key
Makeup: Mariko Arai
Hair: Takashi Ashizawa (using Oribe)
Styling: Sandy Armeni
Styling Assistant: Marianne Leslie
Nails: Rachel Shim (using Chanel Le Vernise at MAXimizeBeauty.net)
Location: Dune Studios