- 17 May 21
Boasting A-list fans like Billie Eilish and Matty Healy, Norwegian indie-pop star girl in red is primed to go supernova. She discusses Minecraft obsession, fan adoration, wrestling with demons, and her stellar debut album 'if i could make it go quiet.
Like almost everyone, Norwegian indie-pop star girl in red is tired of lockdown. “Everything is closed, and I just want to go out for a pint with me friends, you know?” she says, feigning an English accent.
She might be tired of it, but girl in red – aka Marie Ulven – hasn’t had a ton of downtime during Covid.
“I’ve had spare time in the sense that I haven’t been going on tour,” she clarifies, “but I made the record, and
I’m doing a bunch of stuff to give that record the best life possible. So I’m definitely filling my time with a lot of things, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Ulven grew up in Horten, Norway – just outside of Oslo, in the “good old suburbs”, with her sisters and half-siblings. “They’re definitely whole people, but half-blood,” she laughs, before adding with noticeable pride: “They’re 5 and 6, so tiny humans!”
The singer spent her childhood immersed in subcultures: obsessed with skateboarding and fingerboarding, watching The Simpsons and playing Minecraft.
“I used to be a big Minecraft girl,” she grins. “Anything game-related. I also used to be really into Pokémon. I didn’t really get music obsessed until I was 14.”
Around that age, she became inspired by artists like The Smiths, revelling in the DIY ethos of their music, and began releasing her own songs on SoundCloud a few years later. However, it wasn’t until she launched the girl in red project that she gained a staggering amount of fans, including the likes of The 1975’s Matty Healy and Billie Eilish. At age 22, much like Eilish before her, Ulven is on the precipice of superstardom – even before the release of her debut album if i could make it go quiet.
Ulven released her first single, ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’, in 2018, and was subsequently scooped up to tour with bedroom pop sensation Clairo. Travelling to Dublin and Paris, Ulven marvelled at the reaction she got.
“I just remember the crowd sang back the lyrics to ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ and I was like, ‘Holy crap, you guys didn’t even come here for me!’ That was insane.”
But Ulven still likes to open up Minecraft occasionally.
“Because it feels like mindfulness, in a weird way,” she says. “Walking around, mining, in a dungeon...it feels good,” she laughs.
My younger sister was a big Minecraft lover as well, and used to say the same thing about its meditative qualities.
“As a kid, I didn’t really think of it like that,” Ulven reflects. “But looking back, I remember I got some really horrible news once. And ten minutes after I got the news, I wasn’t able to process it, so I went upstairs and played Minecraft. It was my way of dealing with life.”
Since her Minecraft days, Ulven’s life has changed considerably. For one, she’s been able to work with Grammy-winning producers like FINNEAS, who co-produced her latest single and the first song on her debut album, ‘Serotonin’, along with Ulven herself and Matias Tellez.
“I really look up to FINNEAS, he’s a great producer and a cool person,” says Ulven. “I had written the chorus, and I had written this rap part I thought was really cool, but then I felt a little lost for a while. He gave it some cool energy and gave me fun ideas, to keep some of the rambling. There’s a part before the chorus where I am screaming gibberish and he was like, ‘Yo, let’s keep this in here!’. I’m so happy it turned out the way it did, it’s definitely one of my favourite songs ever.”
‘Serotonin’ perfectly tees up if i could make it go quiet: this is an intimate, honest coming-of-age album, mining topics like queer identity as well as mental health. Like FINNEAS and his sister, Billie Eilish, Ulven’s songwriting is so relatable it makes you feel like you’re conversing with a friend. It’s an essential part of the reason that Ulven has a fanbase who have quickly grown attached to her.
“My lyrics allow people to be that vulnerable with me, which is interesting,” she notes. “Because I don’t know most of these people. It’s really special and unique to be in that position. If I open up my DMs, I can scroll and see people saying, ‘Hey, I know you’re never going to see this, but I just had to get it out.’ And it looks like a diary entry, really.
“I get a lot of insight into a lot of strangers, because I’ve been so open in my music. It’s strange, but I’m also really grateful for it.”
The key, for Ulven, is understanding when she does and does not have the emotional capacity to deal with every other Gen Z-er’s problems.
“I don’t think any person in the world has the emotional capacity to take on the weight of a million other people,” she says. “Even if you’re a professional psychiatrist, you will probably never have to deal with a million clients. But I’ve realised when I feel that I have the extra energy to open up a DM from a fan, and maybe give a sentence of advice or support, it can only be good. Sometimes I have the emotional capacity to open up more and sometimes I don’t, if that makes sense. I just have to be mindful of my own mental health in all of this.”
Nowhere on if i could make it go quiet is this more apparent than ‘Body And Mind’, an electro-pop track that caused Ulven to engage in some serious self-reflection.
“I went through a lot of crazy shit with my body this past year,” she recalls. “The first line I wrote was ‘I’ve been in the deep end since I realised there’s a difference between body and mind’. I was like, ‘Holy crap Marie, this is some deep shit you’re on right now!’ I’ve just had a deeper understanding of what goes on in my head, and who I am as a person, and that my physical and mental health do correspond, but who I am as a person doesn’t have anything to do with my physical health.
“The song is just about calling myself out for self-hatred, and a bunch of horrible shit. I’ve realised that I’m the worst person in my own life. I’m so rude to myself. My inner voice is the rudest bitch ever. The song is reflecting on having a love for myself, and me trying to comfort myself.”
Has she found herself more capable of self-love inside her writing?
“Yeah,” she nods. “I mean, being able to see how you deal with yourself... I dunno, it can be a painful experience. At least for me, I’ve realised that it’s been easier to talk about it when I put it into songs. You have to have some level of self-awareness to be able to write about these things, right? So I feel like I’ve been very self-aware.
“I didn’t even think about it until I said, ‘Marie, what the fuck are you telling yourself right now?’ Because I’m always like, ‘Marie, you’re the worst person ever. Marie, you just said the weirdest shit. Marie, I fucking hate you.’ I said those things to myself!”
She stops to apologise for rambling, but there’s no need – she’s actually speaking to a feeling that I’m all too familiar with.
“We need to be more kind to ourselves,” she presses on. “The shit that you say to yourself – if you can’t say that to a person you love in your life, you shouldn’t say it to yourself. That’s fuckin’ hard.”
The title of the record is derived from a line in ‘Body And Mind’, where Ulven is discussing her own “mental noise”.
“It’s sort of me pouring my heart out into all these songs, and then I called the last track ‘It Would Feel Like This’,” she says. “It’s this ending point of beauty and quietness – it’s instrumental with a piano and a string quartet playing, it almost sounds like the end of a movie. It’s me wanting to be okay, kind of. And it’s me talking about everything that’s taking up all my brain capacity.”
• if i could make it go quiet is out now.