Holy shit! Happy birthday ‘Electra Heart’!
NE2022 enters into a strange ‘rerelease zone’ for these next three entries. I can’t remember if I did this intentionally. It’s difficult to consider ‘classic’ albums alongside newer material. You need to balance out any nostalgia and the unfair ten year start that some records have had to burrow into your subconscious. Yet you don’t want to go too far the other way, and fail to remember the original spark and energy that was originally locked within a song you’ve heard fifteen thousand fucking times already. You can’t give too much weight to cultural importance… but you certainly can’t just blindly ignore it. It’s an extremely complicated equation that I honestly don’t believe anyone reading this will be intelligent enough to fully grasp. Or, I just realised there were a lot of amazing rereleases this year and didn’t want them all clogging up the top ten, so parked them all just outside. Two releases still escaped and made the top ten. There are five records in the top 15 that weren’t released in 2022. Shut up. Ah do warra want!
First though, we get to Marina’s second album, one of the saddest victims of me not making a list in 2012. Despite the success of her 2010 debut ‘The Family Jewels’ (UK top 5, 2nd in BBC Sound of 2010 list after Ellie Goulding, eighth in Necessary Evil 2010…), Marina was suffering from mental strains that she would later up about. In early 2010, she considered the album and her career so far as “More like a failure than a success” (“For someone who wants to be one of the best artists of her generation, I’ve done fuck all”). It was her lack of success in the USA, where ‘The Family Jewels’ peaked at #138, that sparked most of her displeasure. She quite correctly believed that she was at least deserving of similar success to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, Gaga being a similarly artistic electro pop artist with obvious commercial appeal, and Katy… Katy, you sit down. No, no, eyes down. You are not even in this conversation, OK? With US success her main goal, Marina moved to Los Angeles to record the most mainstream pop album she possibly could. On her debut, many people were grouping her with artists like Little Boots and Kate Nash. Fuck that, thought Marina, y’all need to be putting next to motherfucking Cher!
What separates multitalented mainstream artists like Charli XCX from true artistic bedlamites like early 2010s Marina, is that Charli can all too easily put her incredible and boundless creativity under control in order to simply release a superlative pop album like ‘Crash‘. Marina in 2011/12 though? She found it a lot harder to simply ask her artistic bats flying around her creative belfry to remain in a straight line. When she tried her very hardest to make the ultimate US pop album, she ended up with… this. This is definitely a pop record, but it’s a pop record that could only ever be made by Marina and the Diamonds.
OK, thought Marina, perfect American pop, got it. Maybe I’m American? As she became more influenced by Tumblr aesthetic while taking photos around LA – “I was starting to think about our Tumblr generation, and how photos appear on Tumblr and people become almost like mini-stars of the internet, and you don’t know who the hell they are – they’re just anonymous faces. So I started to take photos, and make an effort to look completely different in each one, in different hotels and apartments all across America when I was travelling” – and began adopting different personas for each character. These four characters – or ‘Archetypes‘ – each became different representatives of female steretypes as she plotted a project pitted between The American Dream and Greek Tragedy. And the woman singing the song wouldn’t be Marina, but a new alterego called ‘Electra Heart’. But also, importantly, Elektra was absolutely not an alterego:
Electra is not a real person or an imagined person, the album title represents a series of female character types, so this is personality types not a person. For example I have Homewrecker, the Primadonna, the Idle Teen, and the Housewife.
At the moment all of the photography and the concept surrounding a depiction of, I suppose, questions about love and identity through these characters. They’re just a foil for telling the story really. They’re not really anyone, they’re just me putting on different guises, different images, just how I wore different outfits, different styles for my last album. I’m doing the same this time, I’m just photographing them and putting them into a categoryPress Interview
Yeah yeah, so far, so standard Katy Perry stuff. And the album itself was further evidence for the praise once lauded to her (by me) as the bubble gum pop Richey Edwards era Manics, combining the poppiest and heaviest melodic bangers with lyrics that never need to hit this hard:
Yeah, I wish I’d been, I wish I’d been, a teen, teen idle
Wish I’d been a prom queen, fighting for the title
Instead of being sixteen and burning up a bible
Feeling super, super, super suicidal
The wasted years, the wasted youth
The pretty lies, the ugly truth
And the day has come where I have died
Only to find, I’ve come alive
I wanna be a virgin pureTeen Idle
A twenty-first century whore
I want back my virginity
So I can feel infinity
Of course, the fact that the album resonates so widely a decade later even with fans barely old enough to have learned to not eat their own shit yet when the album was originally released gives you some idea what the rapturous reception the album received was like, and…
Fifty seven out a hundred? Yeah, the critics hated it. Q magazine branded it “high on concept, low on songs”, the Independent went in a little harder by saying Marina’s “shrill Violet Elizabeth Bott inflections proclaim her emptiness“. while Clash Music went in a lot harder – and you might want to sit down for this – calling it “an ingloriously languid statement of Marina’s demise, the final stamp of disapproval on her flailing excuse of a musical career”. Fuck me, Clash Music*! Yeah, ‘mixed or average reviews’. Combined with its generally disappointing sales, why is this now widely regarded as her masterwork??
(*that review ends with the line “There is actually a song called Bubblegum Bitch on this album. ’nuff said” so at least we can just ignore George Boorman as he is obviously a complete piece of shit)
Well, my friend, you be kind to Tumblr, and Tumblr remembers.
Fans who were teenage Tumblers around the time have been asked about the time have said “Electra Heart’s impact on Tumblr was like nothing I had ever seen before”, with another describing how the album seemed to have the site in a “chokehold”. And of course it did – the tragic, 50s Americana imagery; the darkness and sadness behind classic Hollywood nostalgia; mixed with pop feminism and brutally honest mental illness – dude, this was Tumblr. This was the whole freaking internet until the fascists started pushing back and the whole of the web was 4Chanified until Donald Trump became president (long story). Also, and let’s not deny this or pretend that it was never a factor, ‘Electra Heart’ was as gay as all hell! Are you watching, Rina? You’re straighter than a ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ box set in comparison.
I’m being glib – and, be honest, pretty funny – but I believe that’s a serious reason behind the record’s cultural legacy. It’s obviously a gloriously camp melodrama in electro pop form, which is gayer than a Christmas window, but many queer people now credit this album with given them more confidence in their own character and it was a huge companion piece to a lot of LGBTQ+ people of certain ages recognising inner truths.
She was a tragicomic, a lifeforce bursting within a cocktail dress. I was obsessed. According to Spotify, I was one of Marina’s top 0.5% of listeners the year I discovered her. I made fancovers and hyper fixated on the (very sparse) lore surrounding Electra Heart, demo tracks and music-video analysis.
I was closeted at the time, struggling to exist within the harsh identity formation of adolescence. I was gawky; I wore velcro-crocs and hid in the back row of every classroom. I was nothing like the person I wanted to be. And Electra, for all her faults, was everything she ever wanted to be.Christian Butterfield, Far Side Review
However, whatever ‘chokehold’ ‘Elektra Heart’ had on Tumblr – and on an entire subsection of fans – couldn’t possibly go forever unchallenged. Mere moths before ‘Elektra Heart’ was released, Lana Del Rey had released her debut Video Games, and would eventually dominate the demographic that Marina had only just started chipping into. Yet Lana, with all her obvious talents, with all her military level domination of the sad girl aesthetic, has never made a record anywhere near as interesting, as gloriously chaotic, as high concept/high camp insane as ‘Electra Heart’. There are many, many people who will name this album as the most important of their life, more so than other 2010s (justified) critical darlings such as ‘Carrie and Lowell‘, ‘Anti’ or ‘Vampire Weekend‘.
Me? I was in there from the beginning, son, quiet your casual arse down.
Oh! You know what that means?? She is now a:
Absolutely the only reason i did this entire review. I am not, nor will ever be, sorry
I told you, like, two minutes ago