On a rainy Monday afternoon, Marina Diamandis, aka Marina & the Diamonds, is dressed in an outlandish Jean-Charles de Castelbajac blazer and sky-high Asos platforms, sitting atop an Atlantic Records desk devouring sushi rolls and Samoas. Rather than being startled when a reporter walks in the room midbite, the Welsh-Greek singer with wild waves unabashedly asks, “Do you want some?” before she finishes swallowing.
Clearly, Diamandis doesn’t put on appearances for anyone, and the same goes for the 24-year-old’s upcoming indie-pop record, “The Family Jewels,” (Chop Shop/Atlantic Records), which lands Stateside May 25. (The title is a play on her family name: Diamandis means “diamonds” in Greek.)
The 13-track album pairs raspy, Kate Bush-esque vocals with reflective lyrics and stomping beats. In “Hollywood,” she belts, “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America.” In “I’m Not a Robot,” she sings, “Better to be hated than loved, loved, loved for what you’re not.” Such musings are atypical in the peppy world of pop, but Diamandis aims to make an analytical statement about society. “I don’t really care about being famous or ruling the world or anything,” says the Abergavenny, Wales, native. “I’m skilled at observing and seeing people in a critical manner.”
A manufactured Miley Cyrus she is not, but Diamandis acknowledges bubblegum artists inspired her to pursue a career in music. “At 15, when I just woke up and decided to do this, Britney Spears was my template,” Diamandis says. “I lived in this really small village with no Internet or Facebook, and she was a very seductive artist with a seductive campaign that went worldwide. I was hooked by her story.”
But Diamandis had zero experience as a singer. “When I finally told my parents I wanted to do this, they were like, ‘What? You’ve never sung in your life,’” she recalls.
To compensate, Diamandis moved to London and threw herself into dance lessons and every audition imaginable — including one for a reggae boy band. But nothing stuck until she taught herself the piano and started posting videos of herself on MySpace. In 2008, she landed her current record deal, and since then she has placed second in the BBC Sound of 2010 list and performed at top music festivals like South by Southwest and Glastonbury.
But despite being touted as Britain’s next big thing, Diamandis isn’t trying to create a new public persona like some Lady Gaga — to whom she’s been compared, given her flare for vintage Mickey Mouse dungarees, Miu Miu prints and Ashish marching band jackets.
“I don’t like the idea of having a pop star mask,” Diamandis says. “I am the same onstage as I am off. There’s no pretension behind it.”