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My Big Sister, Marina

By Giliann Karon

“I think you’d like this song; I found it on Tumblr,” my friend said to me in 9th grade, during one of our free periods. I heard an upbeat guitar strum and saw a beautiful woman with bleach blonde hair and an eyeliner heart on her cheek pop onto the screen. “Rule number one is that you gotta have fun,” the woman, Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds, sang. Like a little sibling overhearing her older sister gossiping to a friend about the boy she’s taking to homecoming, I took note of her rules for how to be a heartbreaker like they were the gospel as the track continued, storing her advice in the back of my mind, ready to whip them out whenever I saw a cute boy (spoiler: never needed them). I went home that day and listened to the entirety of Electra Heart (2012) while doing my homework. Thereafter, I spent the rest of highschool knees deep in #marina on Tumblr, reblogging black and white gifs from her music videos, and delving into pictures from photoshoots and fan art.

Though I had a relatively pleasant high school experience, I still had moments where I felt like no one understood me, or like I couldn’t articulate my feelings. When I struggled to put my anxiety and disordered eating habits into words, I turned to Marina for guidance. Since she was 12 years older than me, she felt like the big sister I never had as I listened to her articulating body struggles and mental health issues in a way that made me feel less alone. She didn’t romanticize mental illness, either — she spoke earnestly, but added a hint of glitter, as she did with everything. Additionally, she sang about sex, romance, and alcohol — things I had not yet experienced — but she described them as sensual and glamorous. And when my feminism was in its infancy, I saw her as a woman who gracefully balanced female empowerment with being a public figure in a male-dominated industry.

When Froot came out in 2015, Marina had traded her Electra Heart persona for something more delicate and mature. At the time, I was 17 and had evolved past bubblegum pop, but Marina still had a special spot on my 8tracks playlists, in between The 1975 and Sky Ferreira. The album’s eavier themes about the media’s portrayal of women and economic inequality resonated with my budding political views — as Marina grew, though, I grew with her. And still, I looked to her as the physical embodiment of confidence and maturity that I hoped to one day emulate.

May of that year, my dad dropped me and a friend off at the Cleveland House of Blues, where the line wrapped around the block and down the street, in anticipation of seeing Marina in the flesh. Sandwiched in between teenage girls with eyeliner hearts and tattoo chokers, I wore my vegan leather American Apparel skirt and Doc Martens. That night, we all watched an ethereal being with glossy hair, a silvery jumpsuit, and cherries on her head like she was a preacher and we were the congregation. We laughed, danced, and sang together.

After Marina performed “How to be a Heartbreaker,” the first song of hers that I heard back in 2013, she disappeared beyond a curtain and the lights came on. I blinked a few times, attempting to make sense of what just happened. She had been graceful, admirable, and stunning, with a smooth and infectious laugh. She glided across the stage, neither a hair nor a speck of glitter out of place. I, along with the rest of the crowd, was left in awe of her beauty and eloquence.

Fast forward five years: I’m 22 and trying to make sense of this shit world. I live in Washington, DC, a whirlwind of a place that has been greatly dampened by the pandemic. I’m scrolling through Instagram, where I see that @marinadiamandis has posted a photo. She’s wearing a chartreuse dress with cutouts and a bright blue tail that billows in the wind; pink block letters read “Man’s World” — it’s clear that she hasn’t strayed from injecting powerful feminist phrases into her work, compelling me to open Spotify and listen. As I do, I’m welcomed with dreamy, airy vocals, a stellar reference to Rococo artist Francois Boucher (whose pieces I’d committed to memory as I struggled through Art History 101), and powerful lyrics about the struggle for gender equality. The Marina I came to love seven years ago is still there today, but she’s grown up a lot, just like me.


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