Hannah Diamond Is Real
PC Music’s breakout star has been described as the most and the least authentic thing to happen to pop. The truth is somewhere in between.
It’s almost disappointing to realise Hannah Diamond is a real person. After being confronted with the high-gloss, hyper-real aesthetic of PC Music—the consistently confounding, London-based electronic music collective with an output that has been celebrated as the "future of pop" and derided as “post-ringtone” —I half expected her to appear as a Stussy-wearing hologram. But one of PC Music’s best exponents, Diamond is a very real 24-year-old who lives in a normal house share in north London; albeit one where her bedroom is strewn with camera equipment and vintage J.Lo posters. She’s also now on the radar of pop fans the world over, thanks to a collaboration with Charli XCX on a track produced by underground-turned-mainstream pop producer SOPHIE, called “Paradise”—a song Diamond describes as a “an emotional trance kind of banger,” and “a bit like a sad Spice Girls song.”
Chatting away on Skype, the musician, image-maker, and photographer (alongside photographer William E. Wright she creates the majority of PC Music's visuals as Diamond Wright, and recently helped launch online magazine, OKGrl), is an excitable and sweet interview. At one point—eyes wide at the glossy splendor of her computer’s desktop—she utilizes Skype's “share screen” function to show me a moodboard she pulled together for her latest, Baby-G-sponsored visual. The video in question is for her recent single “Hi,” a hyper-ballad about the simulacra of love in the digital age. As with 2013 single "Pink and Blue," and 2014's “Attachment,” it’s an oddly child-like love song, riddled with desperation (I don't want to be alone in my bedroom/ On the internet/ Waiting to say 'hi') and delivered in Diamond’s almost comically deadpan vocal. The result is diametrically opposed to the emotionally overwrought delivery of today’s pop landscape, where fancy vocal techniques like melisma are thought to equal soul. Its sincerity is almost asking to be questioned.
The visual inspirations on the moodboard Diamond shares with me are broad: the glossy fantasia of David LaChapelle's celebrity portraits, TLC's "Waterfalls" video, Nick Knight's early '00s Dior campaigns, and Blu Cantrell in the “Breathe” video (“the retouches are borderline insane”). Musically, her influences are equally varied and nostalgic, revolving around ‘90s Mariah Carey, oft-forgotten British girl band Honeyz, and U.K. garage (“who isn't excited about Craig David's comeback?”).
To some, it's an overly self-aware jumble of references, leading to accusations she and main producer (and PC Music founder) A. G. Cook are fashioning some sort of knowingly clever-clever art project—an archly raised eyebrow at the consumerism of pop that exaggerates all its brilliant elements until the joy's been sucked out. “I wouldn't say there's irony in what I do, but I definitely think there's a humor there,” says Diamond. “I think I'm just a bit of a crackpot. When I'm working with A. G. Cook we'll be joking and having a laugh and there will always be really silly versions of the tracks and we'll crack up about them. Then one of us will be like, 'actually maybe we should keep that bit.'”
Bleeding into the criticisms is more than a hint of scepticism of art school-educated 'hipsters.' “I think a lot of people automatically assumed a lot of things,” Diamond shrugs. “I saw that someone had said I must have gone to private school and that it's all funded by my parents. It's the total opposite—I probably went to one of the worst schools in the country! When something comes along that people don't quite understand then they want to hate it. Maybe it's cool to hate it, I don't know.”
How much of Hannah Diamond is a character?
Maybe not that much [laughs]. Maybe none at all. I am a total sap. With “Hi,” the lyrics are so extreme. No one would admit to being that much of a loser that they'd write messages to people they fancy who don't reply and then get really sad about it, but that is actually me. I'm a melancholy person and I'm really really sensitive. Part of me wants romance to be about gooey stuff and not how romance is boiled down nowadays—booty size and money and cars. But I'm not really interested in masking who I am. There are elements of my personal life that I don't want to share, but I'm not interested in creating some fake thing. Everything I've put out has been written or co-written by me and image-wise shot by me, photoshopped by me, and touched up by me. Even if it is a slightly amplified version of me and the things I'm interested in, it's not falsified.
“I’m not interested in creating some fake thing. Everything I’ve put out has been written or co-written by me, shot by me, photoshopped by me, and touched up by me. Even if it is a slightly amplified version of me and the things I’m interested in, it’s not falsified.”
In the blurb for new single “Hi” you talk about having people challenge your authenticity. Do you think we've become too obsessed with what is and isn't authentic in pop?
I think so, yeah. It's a relevant question online at the moment, especially since basically everyone in the world has a Facebook or Instagram profile that represents a different side to their life to what they experience with their close friends and family. Everyone's obsessed with portraying this super version of themselves online, so I think people generally are obsessed with it. I've been challenged a lot about my authenticity, which is semi-annoying, but the one thing I always find funny is that—and this is just throwing any big name into the hat—an artist like Rihanna has a lot of different people in her sessions but no one really challenges her authenticity. I know she's coming from a place that is far away from me, but with some of those emotional songs the authenticity isn't really challenged, whereas my songs have been written by me and one of my closest friends who knows me really well, yet the authenticity is scrutinized.
Do you think it comes down to presentation? People often assume a guy playing a real instrument is somehow immediately more authentic.
Yes. I personally think sometimes it comes down to being a female in the music industry. There's still this stigma that women are just a voice on a track and there are 10 guys behind her making her the person she is. I wasn't aware of that at all until I got involved in music. There's a real undertone of misogyny in the way people think about women in music.
What did you make of the criticisms of PC Music when it first emerged that the women were being used as decoration?
It's female-fronted in the sense that when we put out [Diamond's debut single] “Pink and Blue,” it got a lot of views and a lot of plays, but it wasn't supposed to be like that. When it started it was really organic and we weren't really concerned with gender. It was me and A. G. Cook and a bunch of friends, and we just thought that if we're all going to make music, then we needed a place where it all could live. But that criticism was so counter-productive; by criticising guys being behind all these girls and pushing them to the front and saying we were just being used as a mascot or whatever, it almost takes any credit away from the roles the women have played in their image, their songwriting, and where they've got to now. A lot of the articles made those assumptions and really played down the parts that we'd played, so it was counter-feminist I guess.
"There's still this stigma that women are just a voice on a track and there are 10 guys behind her making her the person she is."
The suspicion directed at PC Music is that it's all an inside joke that some people don't feel part of. Can you see that?
I can definitely say I'm not taking the piss out of pop music. I listen to pop music pretty much all day. It's not coming from a place of wanting to take the piss out of it at all. Also the music side of what I do sort of happened by accident. I've been musical my whole life—I used to play instruments at school—but I didn't think to myself, 'oh, you know what, I'm going to set out to be a pop star' or ‘a conceptual artist who criticises pop music.' When I was in my third year at university I was studying Fashion Communication, so I was doing a lot of image-making stuff, and I got friendly with A. G. Cook because we were working on the same magazine. So we started collaborating—he made a mix and I did a photoshoot to accompany it. It went from there. We made some tracks and then we were like, “What can we do with them?” So we uploaded them to Soundcloud. It wasn't like we'd planned anything out.
If you wanted to get your personality across but could only use one medium—either music or photography—which would encapsulate you better?
I think it would be music because you can understand what kind of a person I am. The best track for that is probably “Attachment.” That's the one that speaks to who I am the most. I think a lot of people are confused by the imagery because it's very hyper and shiny and glossed up and fake, but then the songs are more raw and emotional.
How did the collaboration with Charli XCX on “Paradise” come about?
Quickly [laughs]. Charli basically got in touch and was like, “Oh by the way I'm putting out an EP, there's this song I worked on with SOPHIE, he told me you love it so I really want you to be on it and will you record it this week?” So obviously I said yes. I recorded it and sent it to her all within the space of two weeks. She'd already recorded a demo for it and she'd already written the song so she asked me to do it as a duet with her. SOPHIE's DJed it at quite a few different things, like Field Day and Pop Cube. It was a demo that they'd had for a little while that they both really liked. I loved it as well, so I was so excited when she asked me to be on it because out of all the things I knew they'd been working on I was obsessed with this one.
Charli's got a knack for taking more left-field stuff and trying to squeeze it into a mainstream place. Are you excited about the PC Music sound reaching a bigger audience?
Yeah, definitely. I'm also excited for A. G. [who Charli has also been in the studio with] and SOPHIE from a friend's perspective. It makes me feel really emotional—it's nice when you see your best friends doing really well and becoming successful. I think with Charli she maybe connects with us because she came from a similar place; I remember before she had a chart hit, I went to see her play at XOYO with Brooke Candy, so a lot of people who were into her music were quite underground. It's so nice that she's supportive of other people, I think that's really important.
What's your favourite line in the song?
[Sings] Sweet like a cherry drop, so please don't let it stop. It's so nice. We did some bits where we recorded some harmonies. You know how in my music, we also do a few fuck-y bits with sound or pitch, we've kept a little bit of that in, but in a more traditional pop way. So still a little bit wacky, but done through a harmony so it's a bit more pop-ready.
How do you think your love of pop music filters into your own music?
A. G. Cook knows the kind of music I love, which is like Mariah Carey and ‘90s and 2000s pop, and so some of the sounds he used were things he knew I really liked in the stuff I listened to. For example, in Mariah Carey's tracks there's like a chime-y twinkle, arpeggios down kind of thing. Little details like that get pulled into it from the pop music I like, and then also stuff from old school garage as well. I really like “Babycakes” by 3 Of A Kind so some of the synth sounds from that I'm really into.
Do you think PC Music will ever move outside of the internet?
Who knows. I guess it depends on whether people outside the internet relate to it. That's how pop music gets big, right? If people can relate to a song or feel like that's their life. But I don't check in on views or play counts or anything like that because I don't want to get too caught up in people's online opinions. It feels transient. I wouldn't want to place my self-worth on that sort of thing.