Saturday, 10 August 2013

Second thoughts about Electra Heart

So, this week saw Marina Diamandis bid farewell to her Electra Heart persona. Initially I was relieved - and I still am, as I miss Marina being Marina - but now I've started looking back at the whole Electra Heart era. When she first introduced us to this new stunt she said that she created the character to be able to do things that she'd never normally do, things that are the total opposite of her. "Such as conquering the charts with radio friendly, commercially accessible electropop while sporting a Hollywood blonde hairstyle", I thought. Which is actually exactly what she did. I was cynical.

Quite often story arcs need closure to be understandable. You know, that one little twist that causes all the jigsaw pieces to fall into place. So was it for Marina's Electra Heart thingy as well. After the final part was uploaded in Youtube, I skimmed through all the previous videos back-to-back and lo and behold, things started making sense! I started to see a storyline, one I believe is rather close to what it was meant to be, so here's my interpretation of the video series:

Part 1: Fear & Loathing - The beginning of it all

A woman, not Marina after all, is seen sitting in the bathroom looking solemnly at her reflection in the mirror. It is implied that she has recently been in an abusive and unhealthy relationship - "Don't wanna live in fear and loathing" - and she also hasn't found her place in the world yet, her true identity: "I've lived a lot of different lives / Been different people many times". Then she proceeds to cut her hair - a much used trope for the discovery of newfound identity and/or strength. Electra Heart is born.

Part 2: Radioactive - The breakaway

Part 2 sees Electra Heart going renegade and leaving everything behind. She's living on the road, driving from a motel to a motel with her new guy, smashing rooms and terrorising grocery stores and diners as they advance. Now sporting a blonde wig and singing about her blood burning radioactive, she's clearly looking for distractions in the wake of her transformation.

Part 3: The Archetypes - Electra Heart learns of new ways to be

In the third part the character learns of four different archetypes of women: housewife, beauty queen, homewrecker and teen idle. She appears curious and, as we later come to see, adopts these new personas. Not much else happens, though. The instrumental is taken from "The State of Dreaming", an album track on Electra Heart.

Part 4: Primadonna - Electra Heart's life as a queen bee

Now establishing herself as a beauty queen, she's living a life of luxury and glamour. She enjoys being the center of attention while she's being filmed by someone (presumably her new lover). All she ever wanted was the world, she states as she's exploring the possibilities of a new identity. Her signature heart has also made an appearance on her cheek.

Part 5: Su-Barbie-A - The horrors of settling down

Accompanied by an instrumental piece from "Valley of the Dolls", the fifth video sees Electra as a suburban housewife - another persona she learnt of in "The Archetypes". The simplistic yet haunting clip is all in black and white, and centers on Electra, who - though dressed in a pretty dress - doesn't seem too happy to have settled down. Actually, we don't even see her face which is hidden in the shadows. Maybe the distraction-seeking, attention-loving character can't handle living an ordinary life, as it turns out in the next installation.

Part 6: Power & Control - Electra finds herself in a ruined relationship

Electra's relationship with her man has turned sour, and the two are seen in a nearly empty house with hardly any furniture. The unlit house, hardly a cosy or a homelike one, is likely a representation of their relationship - not much of it is left. The man, seen throwing a tennis ball (and later, a can of paint) at a wall in frustration, seems to be more affected of this than Electra who, as we've probably seen already, has turned quite hollow. Perhaps they're competing for power and dominance as the song title suggests. The affair, though they are occasionally seen snogging or hugging, is obviously doomed to fail. She's become a homewrecker.

Part 7: How To Be A Heartbreaker - Finding solace in promiscuity

Electra, now obviously no longer engaged in a relationship, has turned into a promiscuous man-eater. Surrounding herself with hunky guys, she's listing the rules of being a heartbreaker, such as advising not to get attached to someone you could lose. Her previous misfortunes in love have clearly taken their toll and now she's just playing around, afraid of getting emotionally involved with anyone. Using men as mere toys, she's more insincere than ever before. Also, in the parts 6 and 7, her cheek heart is at her biggest before starting to diminish, probably indicating that this is Electra Heart at her most formidable.

Part 8: E.V.O.L - Electra is alone, once again

She's shown in a bathroom, mirroring the first chapter of the story, but instead of looking gloomy she appears to be quite content with herself. She's smiling and looking confident. She's reminiscing about her past days as a housewife, which could indicate that her days of glory and power are now gone and she's now merely wallowing in her memories of better times. She appears be in a state of denial.

Part 9: State of Dreaming - Coming to terms with the truth

For the first time, the Electra Heart persona acknowledges her flawed existence: "My life is a play." "Living in make-believe land" hasn't ultimately satisfied her after all, and now she's left to deal with the emptiness of her soul. Her shallow and superficial character is further emphasised with the theatrical stage backdrop. In the end of the video, the vibrant colours fade to black and white, leaving the lonely Electra sitting on the stage. It's all downhill from here.

Part 10: Lies - The end is near

Having faced the cold realities of life, Electra is left crushed in the penultimate clip. She's wearing plain, dark clothes that reflect her state of mind. She is shown sitting outside in the rain at a table full of dishes and dinner leftovers, deserted after all the others have gone. The heart on her cheek has grown smaller and smaller, symbolising the diminishing of Electra Heart - she's no longer the force to be reckoned with that she used to be. Then she's seen walking into a dark forest, deeper and deeper. Nothing good can ensue.

Part 11: Electra Heart - The death of Electra Heart

So there she is, alone and abandoned in the heart of a forest, singing in regret "Can we go back / go back to the start?". Well, of course she can't, and there's nothing left for her to do except looking back at the life she led. The dramatic song is briefly interrupted by a funeral-sounding organ solo, which foreshadows her impending fate. You start to realise she's not looking back at her life, but it's rather her life flashing before her eyes. And you know what that means. Indeed, in the end, she wipes off the heart from her cheek. Electra Heart is dead. What's important though is that we don't see the woman herself die, it's only the persona that she adopted in the beginning. Electra Heart is of no use anymore, and living a lie hasn't ultimately taken the person anywhere. The woman's fate is left up for speculation.


So what is my final verdict on the concept? Well. Originally I wasn't exactly impressed with it as I thought it was nothing more than a mere instrument for Marina to go pop without losing her credibility. Music-wise, I still think that. However, seeing the story as whole has opened my eyes a bit. She has been respectably ambitious with the project, telling a story in the process. In her interview with Popjustice she did explain what Electra Heart was all about but it made little sense back then, considering we had only seen the first part. It all sounded rather messy, pretentious even. Also, her constant obsession with the hollowness of America! She acknowledged it as well: "In the beginning I had exactly the same thought – “oh God, I’m still inspired by America, I don’t want to make ‘Hollywood Pt II’”. And it’s not like that. I’m just really inspired by that topic and that culture and I think I always will be."

"-- and I think I always will be."

Oh dear.

It's all getting a bit weary, isn't it? Also, what I was worried in the beginning, was how largely the emphasis was on the music videos and the stories they told, not on the album. Now it's apparent how important the story was in fact, as the album isn't really comprehensible without the videos, but in the end it all comes down to the music itself. Not the music videos, not the accompanying apps, not the hype. That is not to say that the concept wasn't brilliant - it is, and there were some great songs involved - but it still occasionally felt like an excuse to write songs like the cringeworthy "Bubblegum Bitch" or "Radioactive", which showcases Marina as a Katy Perry wannabe. And that's not good. 

Basically it all depends on Marina's next move and the musical direction she chooses. Now that she can no longer hide behind the back of Electra Heart, what is she going to do? Her next steps are going to be very interesting to follow. All that being said, you can't help admiring the ambitiousness that she's carried out the execution with, like it or not. It takes a lot of courage and vision - two things she most certainly doesn't lack. Electra Heart also establishes Marina as an excellent storyteller: even though you'd find the Electra Heart character unconvincing and dislikable (like I did), in the end you do pity her. Ultimately, against all odds, she makes it work. The last two installments serve as a fantastically climactic ending to the whole Electra Heart saga. Marina Diamandis is indeed among the most talented songwriters at the moment - now we just have to wait and see how she decides to harness that talent.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Though I never spent that much time thinking about what this Electra Heart business means, I always felt a little annoyed by it. But yes, how annoyed we'll be in the future, it all depends on what she does next.