It’s 9 p.m. in Geneva, Switzerland; an appropriate time to hop on a video call with self-proclaimed French dark pop singer-songwriter Marina Kaye. The artist, who just recently announced her return with long-gestating third album Twisted, is well-known in Europe for writing sometimes melodramatic, sometimes vengeful, always moody tales of woe. The comparisons to Lana Del Rey, both in tone and her singing, are apt.
“I actually wake up during the night,” says Kaye, born Marina Dalmas. “It’s easier for me to be awake when it gets late.”
Despite working in Paris, she’s lived in Geneva since she was 17—five years, when the bright lights and noise began to overwhelm her. “It’s too much for me. Too much noise. Too many,” she says. “I need my calm.
Marina Kaye thinks it’s this image of her as a brooding, unstable artist that put fans over the edge when she shared a social media video recently of her with her Swiss banker boyfriend. It turns out that she’s been happy for a while.
“I guess because I write about deep and dark stuff a lot, sometimes they ask me if I’m doing OK, because they think I’m depressed all the time,” she says. “Which is not the case at all because I’ve let it all out.”
Still, the dark pop label really does fit, and that’s what fans should expect on the new album, in part because most of the songs were written in 2018, before she fell in love. But even if they were newer, we might not be able to tell the difference.
“The darker it is, the happier I am,” she says.
Though Marina Kaye is just 22, she’s been working in the French music industry since 2011 when, at 13, she became the first singer to win “France’s Got Talent.” She says that before then—and even after—she wasn’t really in music. She wanted to study to become an oncologist after hearing stories from her surgeon grandfather.
“I was very passionate about it. I’ve always wanted to save people—but using my hands and my brain,” she says.
She didn’t pursue a music career after winning the show. She continued posting her songs to YouTube, however, and a couple of years later got the attention of a producer who knew nothing about her TV fame. Eventually, as her success started growing again, fans would tell her that her music helped them get through their own dicey situations and heal. She hopes she’s still able to save some lives with her voice instead of her hands. Even though it wasn’t a career choice she actively pursued, she now looks at music as a form of therapy she provides to listeners.
Her 2014 single “Homeless” topped the French SNEP singles chart but it was only after releasing her first album, 2015’s Fearless, did she decide that music was for her. That album, which included a song co-written by Sia, was certified triple-platinum in her home country. Its follow-up, 2017’s Explicit, went gold.
“I didn’t really have to chase my dream of being a singer. It just happened to me,” she says.
Marina Kaye is proud that her success is unrelated to her reality TV appearance. She didn’t want the association. “France’s Got Talent,” which was at that in its sixth season, wasn’t known for producing music talent. That honor fell to “The Voice: France.”
“I wanted to be a real singer, because I had things to say. I wanted to talk about my childhood, about my life, about my fights—everything that I had been through—and there’s been a lot,” she says. “We created Marina Kaye, who is not this little girl anymore.”
Kaye isn’t really sure how she became an Anglophile singer and songwriter. She’s listened to American and English singers her entire life, but she can also sing in French. Singing in English makes it somewhat easier to make it onto the radio, she acknowledges. Eventually, she realized that by taking on the Marina Kaye persona and singing in English, she could be someone else.
“At first it was a way for me to hide behind a persona or something,” she says. “But at some point, it just became who I am and what I wanted to do.”
Kaye finished Twisted in October 2018 but spent a year meeting with different labels after leaving Capitol Records. She eventually chose PIAS and released the title track in September 2019, thinking of releasing the album the following spring. The pandemic froze those plans. The album originally got pushed to October before being bumped again to Nov. 6—a surprise release.
We’re just trying to go with the flow,” she says. “The COVID made me feel a bit depressed at some points because it gives you this feeling of ‘nothing will ever be the same anymore.’ … It’s a lot to deal with and I didn’t want to have the album be a problem. I wanted it to be something that I’m happy to put out. And at this point I just figured that since nothing’s going to be the same anymore and things changed, we’re gonna have to change the way we see and think things.”
Each song on the record represents an idea or element of her personality bouncing around in Marina Kaye’s head. The title track, for example is about the unconventional way she says she processes information. It’s something she doesn’t want to have to hide any more.
Kaye co-wrote “Double Life” with Jessica Agombar and David Stewart (BTS’ “Dynamite”) and Eyelar (Charli XCX, Demi Lovato) outside a Jack the Ripper museum in London. The song is about living different public and private lives, and masking parts of ourselves from others. “The Whole Nine,” which Kaye wrote in early 2018 is about how difficult it is to be in a relationship with her.
The latest single, “7 Billion,” is about making the tough call to break away from a toxic relationship. Both it and “The Whole Nine” preceded Kaye’s current relationship.
“I’ve made this mistake and I stayed longer than I should have. And that’s why I wrote the song,” she says.
Kaye calls 2020 both the worst, and best year for her, because of her newfound love. But that doesn’t mean fans can expect some traditionally happy love songs from her anytime soon.
“It’s just not the way my brain works,” she says. “It’s just easier for me to write when I’m feeling down.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.