Marina and the Diamonds. Photo: Christian Schultz
Marina Diamandis and Charli XCX look and sound similar enough to successfully pull off a Parent Trap-style swap––beyond being British teen idols (well, Marina is Welsh, actually) they’ve recorded together, they have the same bratty ’90s pop aesthetic and yes, they really do look alike, especially when you’re drunk and bouncing up and down in a packed venue. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t crossing my fingers for that scenario––it would have been cheesy and campy and a fun way to play out their brand new single, “Just Desserts.” Even if they never did do the switch (though it was entirely possible––Marina left the stage for numerous costume changes), both artists performed excellent sets of the kind of music that has made them both icons of electronic pop.
The venue was packed with Marina’s fans––whom she calls her Diamonds (their trademark—a tiny sharpie heart on the left cheek). I expected the throng of tank top twinks sure enough––bombastic princess pop is the soundtrack of our wet dreams—but what surprised me were the near equal amounts of polka dotted teenage girls. Marina’s song “How To Be A Heartbreaker” was recently featured on Glee, so she must be better known than I would have first guessed. This crowd was eager for a giant ecstatic pop dance party. Forget Pride––between the Glee fans, gay fans and Forever 21 fashionistas––this pop concert kicked off gay summer SLC two weeks early.
Charli was set to play at 7:30 sharp. Sure enough, 30 minutes after the doors opened (In The Venue has an awful habit of starting shows with a backed-up line of ticketholders), Charli came onstage. Though I do love Marina, I came for Charli. She’s a 20-year-old experimental pop artist, whose early singles (ca. 2011) whetted my appetite for catchy and cool pop songs. If you haven’t yet, you’ll hear about her soon enough––she wrote that summer anthem “I Love It” for Icona Pop and duets with rising post-Internet rapper Brooke Candy on her recent debut album True Romance. She is a confident pop visionary and a great performer as well. She opened for Santigold last year around this time, on the eve of a similarly sunny day, wearing Tony the Tiger pajama bottoms, a tank top and 4-inch creepers. Yeah, she’s a ’90s bitch. This time, she wore a plaid skirt and performed most of the same songs she did last year, including those early singles: “You’re the One,” “Nuclear Seasons” and “Stay Away.” She also played the newer tracks “Lock You Up” and “What I Like,” “I Love It” (which became a massive sing-along), and “You (Ha Ha Ha)” before closing with the Blood Diamonds-produced track “Grins.”
Between the acts, songs from artists as diverse as Crystal Castles and Britney Spears (Y2K era) were heard overhead. The mise-en-scene for Marina’s stage was curious––amidst the typical synth/guitar/amp setup there was a plush red chaise lounge, a vintage television set, a large male mannequin and a clothes rack from which various dresses and costumes hung. Behind the stage hung a marquee that read “Lonely Hearts Club SLC” and a neon Electra Heart logo. Clips from I Dream of Jeannie and of Marilyn Monroe were playing on the TV screen alongside Marina’s own videos. Her act was filled with bags of gimmicks––homemade beauty queen sashes (that read “Miss Shellfish Beach” and “Teen Idle”), a stuffed “pink pup” poodle, an oversized cheeseburger prop and yellow pom-pom (for the song “Hollywood”) and numerous costume changes. Marina is committed to a DIY diva aesthetic and she borrows generously from retro-intage Americana—she markets herself as British Katy Perry. On the recent album Electra Heart, Marina fully embraced the pop primadonna lurking in dark shadows on her bubbly debut The Family Jewels.
After a bit of waiting, the house lights dimmed and a snippet of a new song, “Electra Heart” played across an empty stage. That song dimmed, and Marina took the stage for the start of “Homewrecker,” before going right into “Oh No!” and then “Bubblegum Bitch.” She was a perfect pop primadonna––dancing and flirting with the crowd. Her band was made up of solid backing players; the Diamonds, though, she insists, are her fans. She admitted that she was totally overwhelmed by the packed house and the crowd’s enthusiastic support––a reaction she presumably wasn’t expecting. Later she said that it was one of the best gigs on her American tour so far.
Over the whole night the band played generously from both of Marina’s albums, in varying capacities. For “Obsessions,” Marina carried the tune by herself at a keyboard. Many of her songs turned into full house sing-alongs, such as the back-to-back delivery of “Radioactive,” “Shampain” and maybe her most clear-cut, radio-worthy pop song, “Primadonna,” where she explores that diva aesthetic with campy innuendo: (“Would you get down on your knees for me? / Pop that pretty question right now baby). She closed with “How to be a Heartbreaker,” another sing-along, after a nearly two-hour animated performance for a dedicated, nearly sold-out crowd. Call me a Diamond, Marina won my heart.