Writing performance art pop with titles like “Bubblegum Bitch” and “Teen Idle” for an insular indie audience is one thing. Doing it with A-level producers who’ve crafted hits for Madonna, Britney and Rihanna while coming on like an explicitly feminist cross between Tori Amos and Katy Perry is quite another. On her U.K.chart-topping second album, Welsh singer Marina Diamondis of Marina and the Diamonds battles errant boyfriends, critiques feminine societal roles, and examines her own psyche and how it unravels in failed relationships — all in synch to relentless dance beats aimed squarely at the international mainstream.
Diamondis makes her message even more challenging by freely flitting from satire to sincerity and back again so that it’s never really clear if she’s playing at being a “Primadonna” — a deserved U.K. hit — or confessing that, yeah, she is indeed guilty of self-absorption. Her warbling, dramatic vocal tone magnifies that ambiguity; even when she’s flat-out declaring, “My life is a play,” Diamondis suggests that her theatrical disconnect from her own genuine feelings isn’t simply personal; that it’s part and parcel of being female in a conflicting world. What she sometimes lacks in nuance she compensates with hooks honed by Dr. Luke, Rick Nowels, Greg Kurstin, Stargate, a former Sneaker Pimp and one-third of Swedish House Mafia. This isn’t a women’s studies course taught by a seasoned professor; it’s an unabashed dance record in which an ambitious young singer uses the tools of popular culture to examine both her self and her sex.