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Pop Icon Marina Is Still the Patron Saint of Teen Angst

“I think probably Family Jewels and Electra Heart were angsty records. There was also a lot of anger which I, to be honest, still don’t quite feel comfortable expressing,” Marina admits. By her third album, 2015’s Froot, that anger had dissipated. Her lyrical introspection deepened and grew more informed by spirituality, nature, and the shifting cosmos than culture. On her fourth album, 2019’s shimmering Love and Fear, she summed up the triumph of her career on the song “Soft to Be Strong,” singing, “Took my bitterness and made it sweet/ I took a broken heart and made it beat.”

Her new album Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is a satisfying return to the more pointed cultural criticism of those early records. In “New America,” she asks the country to address its history of systemic racism and colonization that led to the murder of George Floyd and the displacement of indigenous communities. On “Highly Emotional People,” she warns of the deadly consequences of toxic masculinity. But, as she told The New York Times, the central driving force behind the album was “a yearning for a focus on the feminine.” She makes this pointedly clear in the album’s lead singles, “Man’s World” (“I don’t wanna live in a man’s world anymore”) and “Purge the Poison” (“I just want a world where I can see the feminine / Ownin’ female power, takin’ back what’s ours”).

Gender has always been a central tenet of Marina’s songwriting, but she’s now critical of earlier work that may reflect her own internalized misogyny. Recently, she told a live stream of fans that The Family Jewels’ “Girls” feels “catty” and mentioned to Vulture that though Electra Heart’s “Sex Yeah” “felt relevant” in 2012, it wouldn’t be something she’d write today. “[My feminism now] is so different and a reflection of how the discourse and freedom around what it is to be a female doesn’t have anything to do with how you look,” she explains on our call. “I think at the time that was such a big block for me and other women. What you wore, how much you revealed, and what your sex life was like somehow passed comment on who you are as a human being, and particularly a woman. Now, that’s completely blown out of the water. I don’t have any conflicts about that anymore.”

Her outlook on relationships has changed, too. On her first two albums, Marina expressed a voracious desire for success at the expense of everything and everyone else. “If I’m not number one, then I’d rather be lonely,” she sang during an appearance on CONAN in 2013. “Don’t do love, don’t do friends / I’m only after success / One track mind, one track heart / If I fail, I’ll fall apart,” she declared on The Family Jewels’ “Oh No!”

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As a teenager experiencing that song, I remember feeling empowered by her brassy individualism but, looking back on it, Marina sees the pain behind those lyrics. “I think I was poking fun at the fact that I knew [that behavior] was odd,” she says. “I felt like there was no room for anyone else because I was so obsessed with making [my career] a reality. But now, God, I couldn’t feel more different! I’m so happy that I’ve evolved out of that because I think the source of those kinds of things is always pain. It’s not just that someone decides to not depend on anyone anymore. It’s always from a wound.”

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