On a personal note…with Kate Epps
“Fear and Loathing”, Marina and the Diamonds
From Electra Heart, 2012.
I fell in love with Marina when she released The Family Jewels back in 2010. At the time I was a little preoccupied with reading Marilyn Manson’s autobiography and listening to Nine Inch Nails, but I loved Marina all the same. “Obsessions,” “Numb,” and “Rootless” drew me in, emotionally raw in their simplicity and honesty.
When I heard “Fear and Loathing” for the first time in late 2011, I was coming to the end of my first relationship. Things were getting nasty and my self-esteem and self-image were taking a beating. I was 17 and I’d never felt so uncertain of who I was, and whether I liked me or not. I’d spent over a year moulding myself into something for someone else, only for that projection of myself to be rejected and to crumble, leaving something uncertain and cracked underneath. It’s something I’m sure you can relate to, even if you’re not as dramatic as I am.
“Fear and Loathing” is somewhat a contradiction – it’s like a full circle in itself. It’s the first song that Marina shared from Electra Heart – and in a way, a taste of what was to follow in the next year or so – but it closes the album itself. Listening to it without the context of the album evokes feelings of new beginnings, of resolution, of determination; with the rest of the album preceding it, the full story emerges of a battle for identity gone wrong, of defeat, of “I’m done.” It’s sparse and hollow; but it builds, swells and deepens, just like the narrative character of the lyrics.
It might have been easy for the casual radio listener to dismiss Electra Heart. Its biggest singles, “Primadonna,” “Homewrecker,” and “How to be a Heartbreaker” were tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, almost parodical – Marina herself said that Electra Heart was the “antithesis of everything I stand for”. But, based on hearing these songs alone in a shopping centre, it would have been easy to believe that Marina had abandoned her kooky indie roots in favour of slick Hollywood submission. And who could blame her? But the songs on the rest of the album – fan favourites like “Teen Idle” and “Starring Role,” were darker explorations of bitter love and shaky self-image packaged in sparkly synth production. (If you warm to “Fear and Loathing,” I’d recommend you check those out next.)
“Fear and Loathing,” and Marina’s wider songwriting, has had a genuine impact on the way I write. When I started writing songs aged 15, I wrote about bizarre topics and relied on what I considered (emphasis on considered) “clever” wordplay. I wasn’t saying anything. (And I do believe 15 year olds have the capacity to say something!) This time around, when I picked up the songwriting pen again aged 20, I had a burning desire to write something that was true. In the last year, I must have written close to 50 songs that I abandoned completely at or before the demo stage because they weren’t authentic. No matter how much work I did on them, I couldn’t get to believe the lyrics. They were just words mashed together with rhythm and rhyme – and I believe songs have the potential to be so much more than that. To me, it’s even more important that I learned this from Marina – that I learned not to settle until I had expressed what I was feeling, and to embrace vulnerability as a topic to tackle – because for all intents and purposes, Marina writes pop songs. Marina’s work opened my eyes to the limitless ways that pop music can be used to connect with others, to express yourself; honesty, self-loathing, authenticity and rawness wrapped up in a clean-cut, well-packaged, slickly-produced #1 pop album.
“Fear and Loathing” is one of many songs that made me realise that I didn’t have to hide or bury darkness in order to write a good pop song and that in fact, sometimes, those elements can be embraced and harnessed to challenge what we have come to expect from our pop songs, and ourselves as writers of them.