Friday, February 28, 2020

10 years of my favorite album: The Family Jewels

February 12, 2020
Photo by Wendy Guzman | The State News

On the brink of the 10th anniversary of the release of my favorite album, The Family Jewels by Marina, I wanted to look at the importance of Marina Diamandis' music not only to myself, but to an entire music subculture that would not exist without her. 

One of the jokes that goes around the office quite frequently is how “terrible” my taste in movies is. This is because my favorite movie is "The Social Network," and I refuse to watch anything that isn’t set in a school or have superheroes in it.

But, as terrible as my taste in movies might be, I am a firm believer that my taste in music is quite respectable. 

Now, I’m not discriminatory at all (aside from country music, my apologies). From classic rock, to rap, to obscure indie, to Top 40 radio hits; I know what’s good, and I'll listen to anything that’s recommended to me. 

So with that, it’s safe to say that whoever takes the spot as “my artist” — the one who awoke my soul, defined the way I look at the world and sets my standard for any and all music that crosses my ears  — must be very deserving of this title. 

She really is. 

Formerly known as “Marina and the Diamonds,” the Welsh singer’s debut album, The Family Jewels, was released on Feb. 15, 2010.

When this album was released, Billie Eilish and I were not even 9 years old, Lorde and Melanie Martinez were in their early teens, and a young Lizzy Grant had only just released her first album under her then-stage name, Lana Del Ray.

At the top of the charts was the indescribable classic "BedRock," as well "Hey, Soul Sister" by Train and "Baby" by the one and only, Justin Bieber.

One could say this was not exactly the right point in time for something as heavy as what Marina brought with her rather “quirky” debut. The Family Jewels has since been named one of the most overlooked pop albums of the 2010s by Billboard, and I absolutely agree.

Songs such as “Mowgli's Road," “Hollywood” and “Oh No!” were fairly successful around the United Kingdom, but never got to the desired attention in the generic pop radio wave. “Obsessions,” however, was recognized by the likes of Perez Hilton and Kanye West — who, for added flavor, I’d like to add is probably my second favorite artist — who shared her music video on his blog in late 2009.   

The Family Jewels sadly didn’t cross my path until around 2013, when I was in sixth grade. Around this time, I cut my hair in layers for the very first time, I started my One Direction Instagram fan-page and I had just memorized my first Drake song to its entirety (it was "Headlines"). 

I first came across her song “Oh No!” that was featured in Just Dance 4. Marina’s lyrics in this particular song resonated with me in a way music never had before. I finally was able to hear someone put into words the emotions I was feeling and explain why I was the way I was. 

Maybe it is all a test, because I feel like I’m the worst so I always act like I’m the best,” was the lyric that first stuck out to me, and it still gives me chills to think about. 

I don’t think I was even old enough to fully apply myself to those lyrics at that time, but to this day I haven’t come across such powerful songs that hide behind its Technicolor music video, flashy choreography and sound effects in the same way as Marina’s music. The words explained a part of myself that I was never able to explain. 

The oddball-pop album focused on something different from love interests with annoyingly catchy choruses. It focused on personal reflection, social values, family struggles, class differences, gender roles and the fascination with American commercialism.

Why wasn’t all music doing this? 

The music I was hearing at the time was worried about other things, not our feelings or understanding of self. 

I’m not saying expressing yourself through music did not exist before her, but Marina was one of the first artists to do this is such a unique, raw, and upfront way. The artists I mentioned before are all incredibly successful in tackling the idea of battling oneself in their music, and I believe Marina is to thank for that. 

It took about a year or so for me to get around to listening to the album all the way through for the first time. In short, it really changed me. 

By that point I had already discovered Marina’s infamous album Electra Heart, for which she is still recognized best for to this day. 

This album meant so much to so many people for much different reasons than her debut. Electra Heart began as a side project Marina was working on that her label decided to capitalize on in order to get her name more into the mainstream world. 

One could consider that mission successful. Her arguably most recognizable image is that of the famous black heart drawn on her cheekbone with her bleached blonde hair in vintage rollers, which graces the cover of this album.

This more electronic-pop album was based around the life and death of the character Electra Heart, who is explained through songs by various archetypes: the "Teen Idle," "Primadonna," "Homewrecker" and "Su-Barbie-A." The songs were released periodically through a storyline of music videos.

Songs on this album cover the female’s identity as well as the emotions going through a breakup. I like to look at this as an album that tackles hardships one faces by masking it with a false ego, and as the album progresses we get to see how sometimes this ego isn’t enough to get over the hardships and regardless you are still hurting inside. 

Although I would not consider this album authentically Marina, as it was more an attempt to boost her music commercially, the impact it had on the “sad girl” alternative subculture that practically took over the internet in from 2011-2015 is untouchable and quite remarkable.

Every girl on Tumblr at that time was endlessly reblogging images of 50s-inspired clothing and retro style text boxes with subliminal messages of love and existentialism. Everyone wanted to be like Marina and don her aesthetic. She was the original “E-girl.”

Marina is almost single-handedly responsible for establishing this openness of females in music to produce alternative-pop and be successful. 

It is a shame that Marina has never reached the lengths of her similar counterparts, like Lana and Billie, who this year attended and swept (or, were robbed at) the Grammys. 

But that’s okay, I don’t think Marina wants that. 

No matter the success of any of her music it is always clear that the music she produces, no matter the album, is for herself and whoever will listen. She has successfully managed to be in the line between generic mainstream music and underground, and consistently stay there.

I am proud to say I have been on Marina’s side for many years now. 

I have seen her release two additional albums, Froot in 2015 and Love + Fear in 2019. She was my first ever concert, and I am currently anxiously awaiting her fifth album, which she just confirmed is in the works

I have seen Marina grow from the confused, sad girl who wrote The Family Jewels to the strong, brilliant woman who wrote Love + Fear. 

Marina will always be a symbol of growth for me. Her music has had a great impact on my life, and I hope to see others as inspired and amazed by her as me. 

If you have not heard The Family Jewels, in light of its 10th anniversary and it being my favorite album, give it a listen and let me know what you think!

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