Tag Archives: Elton John

Interview: Marina and the Diamonds

I had a chat with Marina Diamandis for Epigram just days before she announced that she’d been wearing a wig for the last 9 months 😦

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In a sea of pop stars stripped down to their bra and knickers, Marina Diamandis stands out, decked in ribbons and prom dresses, a bubblegum brunette living out her teenage fantasies in the twilight years of her twenties. ‘I’m going to be 27 soon,’ says Diamandis, ‘so this is an excuse to be ultra-girly, until I have to really grow up’. It’s not surprising that the singer is trying to hold on to her youth; her teenage years were spent trying to get 10 A* at GCSE to please her father (in the end, she was awarded 5A* and 5A), before embarking on four different university courses in the space of four years.

‘I went to a different one each year, got the student loan, and waitressed and lived off that while I became a better songwriter and started to produce my own stuff. I went to uni mainly just to appease my mum and dad and make them not worry, and not feel totally weird and out of the system.’

Since giving up on university aspirations for good, Diamandis has used her work discipline to claw her way into the music industry, and has at last reached a level of recognition that she is happy with – her second album, Electra Heart, going straight to number one in the UK charts. ‘I feel like I’m playing catch up all the fucking time! In fact it’s only this year that I feel like I don’t have to do it anymore. It’s so stressful because you never enjoy yourself if you’re always playing catch up; you’re always looking ahead, never living in the present.’ It’s hard to avoid comparing Diamandis to other pop stars, and it’s something she does regularly herself. ‘I think “oh how old was she when she made it?” but it doesn’t really matter in the end because some people make it at 27.’ Though Britney Spears, Diamandis’s pop hero, burst onto the scene aged 16, Diamandis is just as likely to look at Katy Perry, who reached international fame at 26, and slightly less obvious idols, such as Shirley Manson who joined Garbage aged 29. ‘I don’t think it’s something you can really control,’ rules Diamandis, ‘it’s either your time or it isn’t, and you’ve either worked hard enough for it, or you haven’t.’

Diamandis is an intriguing character, torn between wanting to be a Hollywood icon and a respected musician. ‘On the first album I felt really bitter that I was writing on my own, and that most pop girls don’t do that, but then at the same time, I didn’t want to go and write with other people, so you can’t really have it both ways’. This quandary led her to creating the character of Electra Heart for her second album. Whereas Diamandis’s debut,The Family Jewels, is a fairly simple display of her songwriting ability, Electra Heart has allowed her to develop her music to sound more stereotypically poppy, which contrasts with some of the darker lyrics on the record. Electra Heart has also enabled her live shows to become more elaborate. After supporting Katy Perry and Coldplay on their arena tours, Diamandis was impressed by the flamboyance of their shows, and plans to bring this to her own tour. The Lonely Hearts Club tour, which rolls into Bristol on October 13th, will see Diamandis’s Electra Heart alter-ego come to life. ‘It’s set in a teen girl’s bedroom slash sleazy motel, and the theme is sort of wedding meets homecoming,’ she giggles. She anticipates that this will be the perfect outing for her fans, who often turn up to gigs in prom dresses. The whole thing sounds so saccharine, it makes your teeth hurt just thinking about it, but it’s intended that you take it in with a pinch of salt. ‘This image is so sweet, it had to be a joke,’ laughs Diamandis.

In a world where rake-thin, half-naked air-brushed women are often heralded as demi-goddesses, Marina Diamandis represents a refreshing change to the status quo. Her Electra Heart persona allows her to have all the fun of dressing up as a quintessential starlet, while being able to laugh at herself. The change from the Marina from Abergavenny to peroxide blonde Electra Heart might suggest that Diamandis was beginning to buckle under peer pressure, but she disagrees: ‘I don’t think that there’s a pressure to use your sexuality to sell songs. If no one was sexual, or if no one pushed the boundaries or posed naked, then I think that would be a bad thing as well, because it would become a total taboo.’ While she supports singers like Rihanna, who she believes is ‘just a really sexual person’, she doesn’t believe it is a pre-requisite for all female singers to take off their clothes, ‘I think we’ve kind of done that in pop and I think that we’re now at a stage where you don’t really need to do that.’ This stance doesn’t seem to be holding Diamandis back – she’s already planning her third album, but is keeping quiet about what it will sound like, saying only, ‘I think every album I do is going to be quite different from the last, sonically speaking’.

Speaking to Diamandis, you get the sense that she has worked hard to get where she is today, and is enjoying every minute of it. Her transformation to becoming a teen idol is nearing completion, with an appearance on the cover of her favourite magazine in the pipeline, as well as the occasional pinch-yourself moments. ‘I’ve met Elton John a few times, and I went to his house. And then last year I met the Queen.’ Who was better? ‘Of the two queens?’ Diamandis laughs again, ‘I’d say Elton was more entertaining’.

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Blue, Eurovision and the Return of the Man Band

Photo: Ian West/PA Wire

Now that the Easter holidays are over, and the Royal Wedding has been and gone, there’s really only one thing left to look forward to in the upcoming weeks of revision and exam hell: Eurovision. Instead of the leering Andrew Lloyd-Webber hosting some half-hearted televised audition process, called something cringingly outdated like ‘Making Your Mind Up’, this year, somebody came up with the excellent idea of recruiting noughties boy band Blue to fly the flag for Great Britain. You remember Blue; they sang that song ‘All Rise’ full of bad law puns, and somehow persuaded both Stevie Wonder and Elton John to duet with them. Their latest offering sadly lacks the hallmarks of a great Blue song, namely, the half-way rap, as heard in classics such as ‘Fly By II’ and ‘All Rise’.

“It’s because Simon’s cut his plaits off”, says my flat mate Leanne, an authority on Blue’s resident rapper ever since he kissed her on the cheek in 2003, “without the plaits, he can’t rap”. We can only hope that the live performance of ‘I Can’ in Dusseldorf will feature the characteristic stage moves we’ve come to expect, from the Anthony Costa head nod, to the knee-lifting dance routine, not forgetting the timeless throw-back-your-head-and-think-of-England high note from Lee Ryan.

Blue are just the latest in a long line of nineties/noughties band reformations. 2006 saw the return of Take That, a band so popular, the government had to set up a nationwide helpline to console heartbroken fans after the band split in 1996. Their return could have been a disaster, and for those who are not fans of their music, it was. Despite the absence of wild child Robbie Williams, who was busy drowning in an addiction to Xanax and Lucozade in L.A., the four-piece took the nation by storm. Abandoning the cheesy dance routines the band had embraced for old hits like ‘Never Forget’ and ‘Relight My Fire’, they returned as a fully-fledged man band.

The video for the first single from their album Beautiful World, ‘Patience’, saw the band in the roles of singer, roadie and geography teacher, as they dragged microphone stands around the Icelandic countryside, with the aim of reaching a craggy cliff top and belting out ‘just have a little patieeeence’ to an audience of steaming geysers. Since then there’s been no escaping them; if they’re not on the radio, they’re in Marks and Spencer modelling menswear, or in the background of a Morrisons supermarket advert. Williams finally rejoined the band for their sixth album, Progress, which became the fastest selling album of the 21st century, and despite earlier concerns, he is supposedly now writing another album with the band, so may well be, um, back for good.

Perhaps the worldwide economic downturn has been the greatest incentive for musical reunions. Pop stars are notoriously big spenders. Elton John famously spent £293,000 on flowers one year, whilst two members of JLS racked up a hefty bar tab of nearly £7000 in one night, just a year after competing in The X Factor. For this lifestyle to be maintained, musicians need to keep churning out hits, and this is possibly the reason for the abundance of has-beens releasing new material.This phenomenon is not exclusive to this side of the Atlantic either. American heart throbs Backstreet Boys are currently on tour around the US with New Kids on the Block, despite the members being neither ‘boys’ nor ‘kids’ any more, however it seems unlikely that ‘N Sync will follow suite whilst Justin Timberlake continues to have success as both a musician and Hollywood star. Even ancient band The Monkees are reforming this year for their 45th anniversary, despite the fact that they have staged a number of revivals since 1980s.

Whilst arena tours are the manufactured pop groups’ comeback venue of choice, summer festivals are the place to find recently reunited rockers. Last year, Reading and Leeds Festival saw the return of both Blink 182 and The Libertines, the latter causing such excitement that their sets had to be stopped part-way through to control the crowd. This year sees the return of defunct glam rockers, The Darkness at Download Festival, whilst Pulp, who have been on hiatus since 2001, are playing at a number of European festivals ranging from T in the Park to Exit Festival in Serbia.

Sadly, not all reunions have been such a good idea. Queen reformed in 2005, even though their legendary front man Freddie Mercury had been dead for 14 years, whilst All Saints’ reappearance in 2007 was a massive flop, with their third album Studio 1 only just scraping into the Top 40 in the week it was released. The Spice Girls also failed to conjure any lasting interest when they reformed in 2007, although Jennifer Saunders is apparently penning the Spice Girls musical; another treat to look forward to whilst you sweat it out in the exam hall. In ‘I Can’, Blue prophesise ‘We’re not the first ones to be divided/won’t be the last to be reunited’, but if 5ive, Another Level or Daphne and Celeste are reading, please don’t bother.

The Eurovision 2011 Final will be shown on BBC 1 on Saturday 14th May at 8pm.

Jedward will be battling Blue for Eurovision victory on behalf of Ireland.

-This article is from Issue 238 (9.5.11) of Epigram. You can read the rest of the Music section here

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