“I felt like Marina and the Diamonds had just become this shell and I was trying to break free of it,” the 33-year-old says, sitting on a couch in Atlantic Records’ New York office. “I just felt completely blocked. It was easier for me to just stop being an artist, which wasn’t the right solution.”
She began taking acting classes, which turned out to be a bad move since she was “accessing that same emotional space that was already dead.” But during her second year away, she pivoted completely: The then–ex musician enrolled at the University of London and took two psychology modules for a period six months. Three months after she completed the courses, which focused on attachment theory, she was back to songwriting.
Now, Diamandis has returned with a shortened stage name — just Marina now — and a new double album, Love + Fear. While her actual studies proved enlightening, it was the experience of being in a university setting that offered the real inspiration. During her music days, she had craved normalcy, feeling suffocated by the limited world entertainers often find themselves in. At the university, she was thrust into a place where “you’re all equal and all different ages and different backgrounds.” The experience was freeing, especially in contrast with her hectic 2010 breakthrough years, an era that saw Marina move from New Wave to full-blown pop on 2012’s Electra Heart.
“I think what happens with most artists who have been around for a long time is that your artistic identity becomes a construct just from the fact that people know you,” Diamandis reflects, noting that the motivations she struggled with when attempting to quit were ego-driven. “I don’t care about being a star or ‘idol.’ I love connecting with humans through music. With pop, a lot of stuff gets caught up in that message, so perhaps subconsciously I’ve made [this album] simple and direct because that’s just how I feel.”
Initially, she says, her writing was “quite scattered.” The first song she felt fully engaged in was “To Be Human,” a socially conscious ballad. Collaborating with other artists again was the real fuel she needed. On Electra Heart she worked with mostly older co-writers, but this time, she went into the studio with people in her peer group, like Joel Little (Lorde, Taylor Swift), Oscar Görres (Wolf Cousins) and her boyfriend Jack Patterson’s electronic band Clean Bandit. As she wrapped production on what would become Love + Fear in early 2018, she sat down with the collection and realized she had subconsciously absorbed a quote by psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that she had come across outside of her studies.
“[Ross] stated that all of human emotion stems from love and fear,” Marina says, scrolling through her phone to find the full quote. “It’s the most universal way we’re tied together emotionally.” Ross’ theory was that love and fear were the two primary emotions for all human beings but that they cannot be experienced together. Marina categorized the songs she had recorded according to these two categories: On Love, she explores concepts like freedom (“Handmade Heaven”) and her sense of home (“Orange Trees”), while Fear digs into misogyny (“Karma”) and being taken advantage of (“No More Suckers”).
As she’s been getting back into the swing of being an artist again, Diamandis has felt free of the tension that bogged her down during the Froot era. She feels excited about the prospect of releasing music at her leisure instead of waiting for a new album cycle, and even though she misses being in school, the break made her finally appreciate the fact that she can comfortably leave and return to music as often as she wants. But don’t expect her to take another lengthy hiatus any time soon. Now that the floodgates are open, she can’t help but continue to plan for more projects beyond Love + Fear, like her dream of writing a song for a movie.
“I needed to do so many different things in life,” she explains. “Once you do that, you realize, ‘It’s amazing and fortunate that I’m an artist, but I don’t need to do this for the rest of my life.’”