"Can we do one more?" asks Marina Diamandis, poised behind a neon microphone stand. The singer-songwriter, better known as Marina and the Diamonds, is taping a musical segment for Conan. The ginger-coiffed host isn’t around, but the room is nonetheless buzzing with staffers, one of whom balances on a ladder by the backdrop, fiddling with the moon.
Diamandis has already recorded two versions of “Forget,” an arresting, mid-tempo confessional from her new album, Froot (out now on Neon Gold/Elektra), but she’s not entirely satisfied: Her vocals—sensuous and intoning—were perfect, but she neglected to move very much at first, and was only starting to loosen up on the second go-round, holding the gaze of the camera and undulating her arms to the line “Ever since I can remember / life was like a tipping scale.” The crew honors her request, and a hair-and-makeup team rushes over for one last pat, pluck, and spritz.
Third time’s the charm. Diamandis comes alive, swiveling her military-grade abdomen and pulling the neon stand to her side with a relaxed swagger. She looks pleased to have nailed it, not only because this is one of her first U.S. television spots in support of Froot, but also because, in some respects, this is a new style of performance for her.
On the last Marina and the Diamonds album, 2012’s Electra Heart, the singer affected a pop-star persona that she fully committed to: With a platinum wig and bubble-gum-pink pleated skirts, she practically took to the stage skipping. Froot, on the other hand, is a ripe, beautiful, and achingly sincere album. “It’s a big jump,” she says later. “I’m coming to grips with being OK just standing still for a song.” Today, the 29-year-old looks nothing like her former alter ego, in a copper-colored leopard-print pantsuit and black bandeau, her thick brunette hair falling in natural waves around her shoulders. She smiles and thanks everybody as she heads back to the dressing room, but not before obliging a lucky audience member. Even in the middle of the day, midweek on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California, Diamandis has a die-hard fan—a teenage girl who played hooky so she could deliver a handwritten letter in person. Trembling, she says, “You’re just the best. I tell my friends: ‘Marina is the only artist I listen to.’” She secures no fewer than three hugs and several pictures, which is not unusual—the Diamonds, as the singer calls her fans, are a devoted bunch, and she engages them on a level that few artists do.
She can also relate. Last night, after one of Britney Spears’s residency shows in Las Vegas, Diamandis met her teen idol—for about 15 seconds. “Dizzy and nauseous,” she replies instantly when I ask how she felt then. We’re making a beeline for the high-end Brookstone massage chairs in the Conan greenroom, which are capable of full-body Swedish treatments. Diamandis describes Spears as “shy,” and speaks with the faintest regret that the circumstances were so artificial. After a minute of conferring over whether the machines are grabbing our calves a bit too firmly, she admits: “It’s awkward—it would be different if she knew my music, and we were meeting as artists, you know?”
But the timing of her introduction to Spears is uncanny, considering the pivotal juncture that Diamandis finds herself at now: As the titular character from Electra Heart, she came closer to the orbit of the “…Baby One More Time” singer than ever before, working with bigwig co-writer/producers such as Diplo and Dr. Luke. “I was like, ‘Am I going to pull this off if I just go and work with this guy?,’” she says. “That’s what I was interested in exploring. And it bloody well did get me on the radio. I had a certain level of success, where it was about to tip, but it didn’t quite.” Electra Heart, her sophomore effort, entered the U.K. charts at No. 1, but moved just under 150,000 copies in the States. And if the intent was to subvert the vapid and corrupting influence of stardom, even Diamandis admits the distinction got blurred. Her collaborators were credible people in the industry, “but they just didn’t really understand what I was trying to do,” she adds. “And I was responsible because I was on the fence as well.”
In that regard, Froot is more than just her third album: It’s a statement of intent, a record written entirely by herself, and an official kiss-off to the hit-making industrial complex. “It’s great to have Rihannas and Katys, but you also need people who are really purist and idiosyncratic,” she says. “This is a lifetime record for me. I don’t think I’ll do something of this ilk again.”
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