April 27 marked 10 years since the release of Welsh singer MARINA’s — known as Marina and the Diamonds at the time — second studio album, “Electra Heart.” A concept album, the electropop project centers around the fictional, hyperfeminine character Electra Heart who represents “female archetypes in popular American culture.” These archetypes are the Housewife, Beauty Queen, Homewrecker and the Idle Teen. Heart’s overall persona and aesthetic take inspiration mainly from ‘50s Hollywood with some apparent nods to the ‘60s and ‘70s. While the album itself was not a massive hit in the U.S. upon its release, ranking No. 31 on the Billboard 200 chart, “Electra Heart” has made a huge impact on music, online spaces and the pop culture landscape.
Early 2010s Pop Music
When the album first came out, pop music sounded different than it does today. While contemporary music and media is darker and makes use of sadder elements, the top tracks of the early 2010s were fun, mindless party jams focused on having a good time. Some examples include the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Kesha (when she went by Ke$ha) and LMFAO. Billboard 100 hits from the year include Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” and The Wanted’s “Glad You Came.” These artists and groups produced songs meant to make others smile and dance without having to think too hard. This trend came about in part due to the devastation caused by the 2008 financial crisis. Because a large portion of the American population was in a state of constant financial struggle, pop music sought to provide a distraction from national problems and personal issues.
While happier pop was the norm at the time, 2012 marked the start of a transition toward deeper, more introspective songs. Some artists, like MARINA, began to release pop music with more thoughtful messages embedded in them. The singer touched on the concept in her debut album, “The Family Jewels,” but her sonic choices in “Electra Heart” aligned more with sounds found in commercially successful tracks from the era.
The project took elements from pop music at the time and incorporated messages surrounding topics such as gender roles, teenage angst, mental health, toxic relationships and obsession with celebrity culture, all seen through the eyes of the character Electra Heart. The sonic elements, in some ways, acted as a backdrop for MARINA’s ideas. The apparent vapidness and simplicity had a larger point. From there, successive pop artists began to incorporate similar elements into their work.
An artist that has been open about their appreciation for her work is Billie Eilish. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Eilish started that she liked how the singer’s “lyrics use different characters and situations she comes up with.” She has produced songs with similar ideas. Other musicians that have included aspects of her sound and lyrical content in their own tracks are Melanie Martinez and Lana Del Rey. MARINA and “Electra Heart” continue to influence pop singers and hopefuls.
The Album’s Influence on Tumblr and Vice Versa
At the time of the album’s conception, Marina established her desire to come up with a very feminine character and she began to take inspiration from images and blogs on Tumblr. Through the singer’s use of the social media platform, she formed the album’s lyrics, aesthetic and the character of Electra Heart herself. Furthermore, MARINA’s fascination with the website was not only connected to the content itself but also how anonymous, faceless online accounts and people could be turned into “mini-stars on the internet” practically overnight. Tumblr’s ability to capture the nature of online stardom and the feelings of youth culture fascinated MARINA, which in turn inspired “Electra Heart.” In a 10-year retrospective interview with Nylon, the singer noted that she “literally created [the album] via Tumblr, that’s no exaggeration.” Without Tumblr, “Electra Heart” would have been drastically different, if the project even existed at all.
While MARINA felt motivated and creatively driven by Tumblr, the reverse is also true. From 2012 to 2014, before the site came to be seen as the joke it is now, the platform peaked in engagement and generated content. The artist posted pictures as Electra Heart, complete with bleach blonde hair and a ‘50s aesthetic. The overall look of the character and her link to teenage angst and the “sad girl” style on the site drew many users to the album and posted images. The chic yet destructive nature of Electra Heart connected with teens on Tumblr. Users would reblog and post their own content in the same vein as MARINA; collages with the lyrics, pictures from photoshoots and screenshots from her 11-part music video series were posted on users’ own blogs. Electra Heart, while a critique of all she represented, was also an aspirational fantasy in the eyes of those who followed and tried to emulate her image. She aligned with the imagination and atmosphere of Tumblr at the time. The singer’s interest in Tumblr when she began to make the album and the reaction to its release created a feedback loop of images and ideas on the site. Even though it has been eight years since Tumblr’s heyday, “Electra Heart” as an album and aesthetic has greatly impacted the site and other online spheres.
“Electra Heart” and TikTok
All sorts of different audio clips have the chance to go viral on TikTok. These recordings range from a recently released song to a random sound bite from a piece of media or another video on the site. The app has also found that older tracks can gain traction on the platform and experience a boost in sales like “More Than a Woman” by the Bee Gees, a song released 45 years ago. “Bubblegum Bitch,” the first track off of “Electra Heart,” currently has over 15,400 TikToks made with the recording. This resurgence led to the song, as well as another one, “Teen Idle,” being certified gold in the U.S. Two other songs, “How To Be a Heartbreaker” and “Primadonna,” are consistently used in TikTok videos. Additionally, these four tracks and the album’s “sad girl” aesthetic are still referenced, analyzed and respected in pop music spaces.
The Future of Pop Music
Pop is constantly shifting and changing just like any other genre. This type of music seems to be moving in all sorts of different directions. Some artists seem to be incorporating elements from songs of the 2000s while others are moving toward more distorted and futuristic sounds found in subgenres like hyperpop. Even though many elements of music from a decade ago have been phased out, perhaps reflected by MARINA’s symbolic “killing” of Electra Heart with “sleeping pills,” the album is still relevant for modern pop music today.