sorry, can’t let this go ever apparently
“Would you do anything for me? Buy a big diamond ring for me?” (Primadonna)
“Um, do you think you’ll buy me lots of diamonds?” (National Anthem)
The same challenge/question to the suitor (who is the other end of the gaze, right? It’s a sexual challenge in both cases so if you’re not interested it’s not for you). The same three-quarter face and come-hither eyes. Both videos also have this retro vibe and destroyed color quality like an old TV. Both actually use TV footage, to really hammer it in that we’re watching. Addressing the screen, Marina plays it flirtatious, and she lets nobody else on (the primadonna prefers to solo). Lana goes the dour route as her character wistfully recalls better times through flashback.
Are the both riffing off classic lady tropes, including the famous Marilyn-originated, Madonna-visited one about precious jewels being a girl’s biffle, without any really cool smart subtext? Are they just messing with us? God, I really can’t tell.
Back to Black & 2012 pop music
We know that Amy Winehouse’s darkly retro loneliness anthem album Back To Black inspired many, many pop acts with its luscious Motown-reworked sound. She was the rebellious older sibling that cleared the path for the Adeles, Duffies, and all their 2.0s, along with those supervintages like The Pipettes, whose sound was less reworking/’modern take’ and more pure revival.
But Amy is still influencing music, as I have realized, listening to two pop albums this weekend: Electra Heart by Marina & the Diamonds (the project of one Marina Diamandis), and Born To Die by Lana Del Rey (shut up, I was doing research). Rohin has written already to dismiss the false connection that critics tried to force between these two albums, which I think is fair, because the albums themselves are two very different beasts. Nevertheless, I think Back to Black is the thing that comes in to complete the gestalt of their relationship. The connection comes lyrically and thematically — it’s all in the content, not the packaging. Let’s examine!
“Lies” by Marina & the Diamonds / ”Just Friends” and “Love is a Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse. The Marina song, in summary, is about two lovers living a lie. They don’t like each other and are too proud to admit it. But the narrator is a little bit more invested than the other party. Tragic? Sure. And maybe we’ve all been there.
But the Amy connection is obvious in these lines: “You only ever touch me in the dark / Only when we’re drinking can you see my spark.” The saddest love affairs are the chemically induced ones, when we are nothing to each other but drunken fumblings, miserable BAC-powered attempts to stave off the lonely. The Winehouse narrator is familiar with the other side of this, as we can see in “Just Friends” — ”It’s never safe for us, not even in the evening / Cause I’ve been drinking.” She is the flip side of the story in “Lies,” the one who swills the vodka, then turns to the other, whom she would, in sobriety, see platonically.
The opening couplet of “Lies” also features a note to another Winehouse song. “You’re never gonna love me, so what’s the use? / What’s the point in playing a game you’re gonna lose?” laments the speaker; in 2005, Winehouse’s song “Love is a Losing Game” had already made the same observation. Although they both acknowledge a loss, both also imply that we’ll always continue to play the game. Love as a gamble is not really a new idea, but I have to mention it since the song already houses another Winehouse reference.
(“Lies” video here | “Just Friends” here | “Love is a Losing Game (live)” here)
“Dark Paradise” by Lana Del Rey / “Wake Up Alone” by Amy Winehouse. The Lana Del Rey album sometimes lacks narrative coherence — it relies heavily on breathless observations about the beloved, and also about outfits — but on a couple of tracks a consistent story exists. “Dark Paradise” is one of these. However, the thesis of the song is pretty much the same as in “Wake Up Alone” by Winehouse. “Everytime I close my eyes,” croons del Rey, “It’s like a dark paradise, / I’m scared you won’t be waiting on the other side.” The beloved has died or otherwise disappeared, and the narrator is holding on to dreams of him, but is also fearful that she can’t continue on. Winehouse’s “Wake Up Alone” relies on the same desperate dreams of vanished love: “This face in my dreams seizes my guts / He floods me with dread / Soaked in soul / He swims in my eyes by the bed / Pour myself over him, moon spilling in / And I wake up alone.” Winehouse’s imagery is far more evocative, but the message is the same — except that there’s no ghostly hope of an ”other side.”
(“Dark Paradise” here | “Wake Up Alone” here)
And actually the thing I love about Back to Black is that there’s a kind of redemptiveness in the loneliness that the narrator experiences because the voice is so consistent and powerful. The songs are all first-person and do not assume a character (like Diamandis) or an affectation (like del Rey).
Perhaps irrelevantly, I’d like to say that of the two newer albums, in my opinion the Marina album is the superior, in that she has created an entirety that’s listenable by using a narrative identity that is distinguishable from her own. I also believe it’s very possible that she is making reference to del Rey with her Electra Heart look on purpose. But those are other posts!