If a concert at the Cambridge Corn Exchange can make you forget that you sat your exams in there, then you know it's good. Marina and the Diamonds’s performance last Friday succeeded. Cambridge was the first stop as part of the UK leg of the Welsh singer-songwriter’s Neon Nature tour and it was brilliant.
The concert was split into three acts corresponding to each of Marina’s albums: The Family Jewels, Electra Heart and Froot. There was a costume change for each; nobody has ever, or will ever, look as good as Marina did in a glittery blue bodysuit. The setlist was a combination of slow and upbeat songs but Marina, as ever, was entirely in control of the collective energy in the room. We would sway to the ballads and then bring out the moves for the next number. In the encore, Marina seamlessly transitioned from ‘Happy’, a slow song, into ‘Blue’, a far more positive one, making sure the performance ended on a high note. She swished her cape and danced, as fully engaged in the music as we were.
The combined force of her powerful vocals and kitsch aesthetic was extraordinary live. The acts had a gentle transition in theme, from social criticism, to identity and then lastly to reminiscence. The visual effects deployed behind her were extensions of the style we see in her music videos; emojis, Roy Lichtenstein artwork, and Love Heart candy. This overt engagement with popular culture was ingenious – it placed her firmly within the genre, but by acknowledging it, also distanced her. This distancing felt vital to upholding the critiques Marina’s music makes of American cultural archetypes in Electra Heart, and throughout her other songs. She is a self-aware gem within pop.
If I have one criticism, it is that the performance was too bold: too perfect. I’ve heard people definitively state that ‘such and such celebrity wouldn’t do that’, as if they know them on a personal level, well enough to predict their actions. I want to say that I know Marina, and that the ‘real’ Marina is as vulnerable and human as her lyrics suggest. I want her to be relatable, not flawless. There was not one glitch or snag in the performance – the whole thing was carefully crafted art. Her joking declaration – “I’m not tardy” to make sure we knew that her late start was due to technical difficulties, and not any fault of her own – was my only, brief glimpse under the shimmer.