Pop Star Hannah Diamond Is The Blueprint Of "Peak Girl"
The PC Music pioneer on girlhood, AI, and her latest album, ‘Perfect Picture.’
On Hannah Diamond’s sparkly, tender-hearted song “Poster Girl,” the British pop star gazes up at the icons papered to her bedroom wall. All she can see is flawlessness, but when she brushes her fingers against the image, she’s reminded that perfection is just ink: “When I focus on what's perfect/ I never notice that it's the imperfections/ In moments that make life so worth it.”
“Poster Girl” is a highlight off Diamond’s latest record, Perfect Picture. Arriving four years after her debut, Reflections, the album furthers Diamond’s fascination with identity and illusion, exploring selfhood, idealization, and objectification atop bubbly e-girl beats. These subjects have been core themes of Diamond’s music since she emerged in the mid-2010s as part of the experimental label PC Music, who reshaped the pop landscape by using computer-manipulated vocals and eerily glossy imagery to blur the lines between virtual and real. (In a full-circle moment, Perfect Picture will be one of the final new releases on the label, which is wrapping up this year after a decade.)
Though Diamond, 32, continues to examine personhood through artificially pristine vocals and glossy production, the songs on Perfect Picture feel like her most personal yet. “I am building my own world/ I’m the girl who gives her time and energy/ I will always be enough,” she repeats, mantra-like, on “Affirmations,” a joyous track inspired by the notes of self-encouragement Diamond has tacked onto a wall in her home.
Aesthetically, Perfect Picture is rooted in a vision of girlhood that feels especially topical as pop culture creeps closer to “peak girl:” ruffles and ribbons, stuffed animals, ballerina pink everything. But while the media treats the celebration of all things girly like a passing trend, Diamond has embraced it as an almost scholarly pursuit since the early days of her career. “Cuteness was an inherent part of what we all did as PC Music,” she tells NYLON, “especially with an artist like Sophie who would go between extremes of cute and aggressive.”
Every week there’s a new girlie exploring hyper-femininity through hyperpop. But Hannah Diamond is the blueprint: a true internet princess. Below, Diamond caught up with NYLON to chat about the journey behind Perfect Picture, cuteness as empowerment, and what it’s like to still have her design work get mistaken for AI.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
NYLON: Early in your career your hyper-processed vocals and visuals led some listeners to assume that Hannah Diamond was an avatar masterminded by a dude instead of a living breathing woman more than capable of making forward-thinking art. How did that experience shape Perfect Picture?
Diamond: That experience of having my agency taken away, of having my art be accredited to someone else, really impacted my work and how I presented myself for a long time because I was worried about not being taken seriously. Especially with Reflections, I was very conscious of being seen as the bubblegum pop girly. I felt like some of the ways my music was described diminished how multi-dimensional it was, and also how personal it was to me. I was putting all of my heart, my soul, and like really personal things about my most intimate relationships into the songs and people said I wasn’t a real person. All of those things really got me thinking about how [being] a girl—and I don’t just mean cis girls, I mean all girls—is never enough, and this album is really about my journey with that.
It’s really powerful that even after all that you leaned into a visual style that is too often written off as infantilizing.
Even at the start, I think the way I chose to present myself visually fed into cultural stereotypes that people associate with someone not having agency over their image, not being in control of their music. There’s this idea of a manufactured pop star who has a whole team making music for her, which is a very backwards way of thinking, and is not actually the case in most scenarios. I think a lot of people feel that pop stars have less agency than they do, and that’s a really misogynist assumption.
Female pop stars get held to a higher standard, we have to prove ourselves. We have to be more online than men. We have to show our bodies more than men. It can't just be about the work. Sometimes it makes me really frustrated and sad that if you're a woman and you're a musician, you kind of have to become a celebrity for it to be a viable career. A lot of this album is about the crossover between myself as an image and myself as a person — am I the work or is my work the work?
“There’s this idea of a manufactured pop star who has a whole team making music for her, which is a very backwards way of thinking, and is not actually the case in most scenarios.”
What would be on the syllabus if you taught a class on girlhood?
I’ve been doing a lot of research into the color pink and my attraction to it, especially since I dyed my hair. The public reaction to my hair has been quite bizarre. When I’m in London, random men yell “pinkie” at me when I’m out in the street, like three times a day. Would people say the same thing if it was blue? What is it about pink that stirs up such an extreme reaction, especially in men? Is it because it’s a color that somehow feels forbidden and oppressive to them?
A.G. [Cook, founder of P.C. Music] gave me Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl back in the day when we used to make music in his bedroom at his parents house, and that’s been a constant inspiration for me. I know some people find it controversial but to me, it's not about diminishing what a girl is. I've also been reading this book called Girlhood and the Plastic Image, which is about glossy retouched aesthetics and how that relates to girlishness. Another one is Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific, which is about the history of cuteness and the color pink in Japan.
You made this album with David Gamson of the British band Scritti Politti, who PC Music named as an early influence. It seems like an ideal pairing given how Scritti Politti were interested in deconstructing pop music, as well as their frequent exploration of the word “girl.” How did you guys connect?
We met during my first trip to L.A. in 2016 when we did a PC Music showcase. I had a day job back in London so I couldn’t stick around too long but A.G. stayed a bit longer and I gave him a load of lyrics and ideas in case he did a session with anyone. He and Dave were in the studio together and ended up writing the first sketch of “Perfect Picture” using my lyrics, but that song didn’t have a home on Reflections. I later came back to L.A. and wrote “Staring at the Ceiling” with Dave and Jennifer Decilveo. I felt like Dave and I didn’t know that we had such a shared process and mutual understanding about music.
After the pandemic hit, Dave and I started getting on Zoom a few times a week and writing music, it became this fun respite from everything else. “Affirmations” was born on Zoom because my laptop camera shifted and Dave saw the wall where I had written all my affirmations. I was so embarrassed but then we had a chat about how we both have struggled with similar things. It was an “Oh my God” moment where we decided that this had to be a bigger project because we were just so inspired working with each other.
“Want You To Know” was originally a Kesha demo — how did that happen?
Dave had worked with Kesha and the [songwriting duo] NERVO on this song, “Do You Wanna Know,” that ended up not making Kesha’s first album. He felt like it shared a lot of similar themes to the songs we were making and asked them if I could work on it and make it my own. I’m so grateful they trusted me. I have demos from Reflections and other things that haven’t found their homes yet but remain very special and personal to me. So I know that it’s a big deal to give songs away to someone, knowing that it will become something different than the meaning you have behind it when you wrote it.
There was a brief fuss caused by the “Poster Girl” single artwork when Zara Larsson accused you of copying her artwork of her 2021 album titled Poster Girl. This was sorted out and Larsson acknowledged that her photographers were likely inspired by your visual style. Why do you think the bedroom is such an eternal symbol of girlhood?
I think it's because bedrooms are, for girls, not only a space of confinement sometimes but a space of expression, a place where you can be yourself. It’s a place where you can build your own world.
The artwork features a bedroom decorated with objects that you said represent elements of Hannah Diamond’s “past, present, and future.” I spotted a bottle of Britney Spears’ perfume — what are some other easter eggs?
All of these items are things from my actual bedroom. The morning before the shoot, I packed up loads of things from my room — even the sheets are from my actual bed — but I wanted the bedroom to be parts of my real room amplified into the more popstar-ready version. There are a few issues of I-D because my first music video was made with them and Baby-G so I wanted to sneak that in there to thank them. There’s a Roma Radz CD because Roma is sometimes my tour DJ, one of my best friends, and now my housemate. All the Polaroids are of people that worked on the album, there’s one of my friend Oscar [Pollack] who wrote “Poster Girl” with me, there's one of Hyd, I think there's one of me, Hyd, and Caroline [Polachek] when we went to Hyde Park.
“Am I the work or is my work the work?”
You did some post-production work on images of the K-pop band IVE recently, and people assumed it must be AI. To go back to the start of our conversation, did that feel like a full-circle moment for you?
It seems like whenever I hit the ceiling with my current audience I reach a new chunk of people who aren’t familiar with me and all these things come to the surface again. There is something surreal about the images I made for IVE, especially the ones with the popcorn or the gaming console. It’s really interesting to me that AI has allowed fantasy images to become part of our everyday visual language. When I was younger, DeviantArt was kind of the space for weird concept art. Now, the everyday person can create a fantasy image whereas before it took an immense amount of drawing or 3D skills to be able to do that.
It reminds me how airbrushing used to feel exclusive to media and advertisements but now apps like Facetune allow anyone to fashion themselves into an idealized version of themselves.
I remember when I was young the perfume adverts on television felt so aspirational to me, like the Louis Vuitton logo would come on and I would be like, I want to make graphics like that someday. But that always felt so inaccessible, like it was something that happened in a massive production studio. Now, a 10 year old can make that on Blender. Working with technology and creating my own images opened up an entire world for me and allowed me to transform my surroundings into something that I wanted because I didn't always have the opportunities to do that stuff. It’s very cool that you have the ability within you to transform.
Hannah Diamond’s ‘Perfect Picture’ is out now via PC Music.