10 Years On, We Look Back At MARINA’s Chaotic Tumblr Masterpiece ‘Electra Heart’

From tumblr to TikTok, MARINA's 'Electra Heart' has curiously stood the test of time.


Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Marina and the Diamonds’ 2012 ‘tumblr-core’ album Electra Heart is eliciting a new wave of fascination and popularity amongst TikTok users (mostly children too young to have properly experienced it the first time around).

Album track ‘Teen Idle’ went Gold last month, a full ten years after its release — as did Electra Heart opener (and another non-single) ‘Bubblegum Bitch‘ back in March 2021 — and it’s all thanks to those trusty, tastemaking TikTok teens, reposting MARINA (as she’s now known) classics and falling in love with a ten-year-old album as though it was brand new. Which, to a teenager in 2022, it is.

The record was the first truly radio-friendly offering from MARINA — working with the likes of Diplo, Benny Blanco, and disgraced producer Dr Luke, Electra Heart embraces jagged synths, overwhelming four-on-the-floor beats and some truly impressive topline work from the vocalist. Looking back, the album’s dance-pop sound has definitely dated — but the best songs still stand the test of time; ‘Radioactive’, ‘How To Be A Heartbreaker’, even ‘Teen Idle’ with its wide-eyed, earnest charm, are particular highlights.

There is something about Electra Heart and the little eyeliner heart on her cheek that ignites deep emotion within audiences, even after the primary frame of its existence — the heavily online, concerningly unregulated world of tumblr — has faded into obscurity. That emotion is not just the nostalgia of ageing millennials — young people are still discovering Electra Heart and her chaotic, complex world, and feeling all those feelings, for the first time.

Upon release, Electra Heart received mixed reviews, failed to make any serious splash on the charts, and did not propel MARINA into global pop stardom in the same way that similarly themed albums did for her peers (e.g. Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die). However, it has endured amongst young people online, made the leap from tumblr to TikTok with ease, and continues to provide a gateway for teens who love pop, but are cynical about the world around them — and let’s face it, what teen wouldn’t be feeling cynical about the world right now?

A Love Letter To The Chronically Online

The overall theme of Electra Heart is, at first glance, fairly clear — a young woman using pop music to comment on the vapidity and toxicity of celebrity culture, and the crumbling morals of society in general, with a feminist flair that is, while admittedly of its time, a credit to MARINA’s longstanding passion for gender equality. It’s a thread that can be traced throughout every one of her albums.

With further interrogation, MARINA’s Electra Heart becomes a chaotic, complex web of online content — beginning on her tumblr (now painstakingly archived by MARINA’s fan Wiki) trickling through all her interviews, and flourishing on her YouTube channel, where several songs and music videos exist from this era that never made it onto any official album edition, but still have millions of views on each, and contribute to the story told on the record.

It all meant something, even if it wasn’t always totally clear what that ‘something’ was.

There’s Electra Heart, the main character; the narrator of the album. Then there are the four archetypes — housewife, beauty queen, homewrecker, idle teen — and each archetype has a series of songs on the album (or *not* on the album, but of the era) that correspond to their particular plight. There were multiple photograph series, all shared to her tumblr page, in which MARINA portrays a different archetype, all played by the titular Electra Heart — characters within a character. Not unlike Taylor Swift and her hidden messages in liner notes, every little thing about Electra Heart was intentional. It all meant something, even if it wasn’t always totally clear what that ‘something’ was.

MARINA was fascinated by the way tumblr turned people into ‘mini-stars’ of the internet — anonymous faces reblogged hundreds of thousands of times; a user could be famous in an instant without a single person knowing their name or even what they really looked like. During the Electra Heart era, MARINA used Tumblr just like her fans did — in a time where that did not feel cringe, or contrived, like it does nowadays when we see massive celebrities jumping on TikTok trends or otherwise trying to appear relatable. She used and appreciated the platform for what it was, spending enough time on it to understand its function and how young people were, for better or worse, completely and utterly addicted to it.

The lore of this album is deep, rich, confusing, and sometimes downright contradictory. Part of the fun of the record is in the analysis, in reading up on all the archetypes, watching every symbol-laden music video and plotting Electra Heart’s journey right up until her unfortunate ending (MARINA says she ‘killed Electra Heart off with sleeping pills’).

As a tumblr user herself, MARINA must have known that her fans would love to pull Electra Heart apart in this way. The tumblr user’s urge to both reach for online stardom via anonymity, and to dissect a piece of pop culture until every last piece of content has been completely over-contextualised, hasn’t died down among young people online — they’ve just moved platforms over the years.

Why Wasn’t It Commercially Successful?

While Electra Heart enjoyed huge success among online communities, the album didn’t perform overly well on the charts or on radio at the time of release. Again, the obvious comparison is Lana Del Rey’s monumental album Born To Die, released around the same time, and exploring similar themes; the trajectories of MARINA and Lana’s careers, where once they overlapped, split quite certainly after the release of their respective 2012 albums. Lana went on to global pop stardom, while MARINA bubbled beneath the surface, underrated still to this day.

It’s impossible to definitively say why Electra Heart didn’t propel MARINA into the mainstream upon release. It could be that the album required a certain level of online literacy to be properly enjoyed — and without it, perhaps the tracklist felt bloated, the lyrical content overdone or simplistic. Or perhaps MARINA’s unique, classically-influenced vocal style was just a little too left of centre for radio at the time.

It could just be that some of the songwriting on this album is perhaps not always particularly good — not offensively bad, but the highs of this record — the effervescent ‘Radioactive’, urgent ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ and sweeping epic ‘Valley of the Dolls’ amongst a few — are wedged alongside more forgettable themes, production choices and chord progressions; MARINA does tend to favour the same cycle of four chords for a lot of her writing.

The rollout of Electra Heart pioneered a world of new online possibilities for album release campaigns — wholly embracing the concept of the ‘era’, MARINA leaned into Electra Heart’s world, sparking an endless stream of content for her fans to enjoy and recreate. The Electra Heart rollout was genuinely unique and ground-breaking — but it was also somewhat messy and chaotic.

For unknown reasons, starring tracks ‘Radioactive’ and ‘Sex Yeah’ were not released on the standard edition of the album (except for in the US). The excellent ‘How To Be A Heartbreaker’ was written too late to be included in the UK edition of the record. It’s impossible to tell if the lack of these key tracks on the UK edition of the album made any definitive difference to the reception, but it couldn’t have helped.

In 2012, the music industry — and society at large — was really only just beginning to grapple with the power of online communities — YouTubers, for example, were still a fascinating oddity, often made fun of in television segments for their perceived stupidity. Prior to the influencer boom, they were not the multi-millionaire celebrities that we know today.

Even though Lana Del Rey was able to capitalise on ‘Video Games’ going viral, the concept of virality was still effectively in its infancy, and what it was able to do for artists was still largely unknown. Even so, MARINA never actually had a truly ‘viral’ moment — it was more that she was a Tumblr trendsetter, influencing the aesthetic of the ‘underground’ platform without using it as a jumping-off point into the mainstream, like Halsey would go on to do with their debut EP Room 93 just a couple of years later.

The Electra Heart Legacy

Perhaps MARINA’s goal was not to achieve global pop stardom, anyway. If the album’s purpose was to connect with young people, to explore and interrogate the archetypes within Electra’s vapid, angst-ridden world, MARINA succeeded beyond all expectations.

The album that meant so much to young unsupervised people scrolling away online continues to appeal to the new generation. Although she canonically died long ago, Electra Heart lives on to this day, pulsing her way through hundreds of thousands of TikTok For You pages across the globe.

Eilish Gilligan is a musician and writer from Melbourne. She streams at and tweets at @eilishgilligan.