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Marie Ulven, better known as girl in red, is on the verge of releasing her long-awaited debut album, if i could make it go quiet. Her first full-length record, coming April 30, arrives on the back of Ulven’s meteoric rise to stardom. The Norwegian artist, still only 22, has already amassed a huge following thanks to the popularity of her music on platforms like TikTok, cementing her as something of a Gen Z icon—particularly for those relating to her openness on subjects like mental illness and queer identity.
On if i could make it go quiet, however, her sound has expanded beyond the “bedroom pop” label often applied to Ulven’s music, highlighting her growth as both a lyricist and a producer. Just a few weeks out from the album’s release, girl in red spoke to HeadStuff about vulnerability, fame, labels, social media, and how it feels to release your debut album during a global pandemic.
On ‘Serotonin’ you speak openly about the kinds of intrusive thoughts we all have sometimes, though most people would be reluctant to share those thoughts. Does this kind of transparency and openness in your songwriting scare you, or does it come naturally?
It comes naturally to me really, to be honest, but obviously it took a lot for me to come to that point to be so transparent and open, but when it comes to the actual songwriting, it came out quickly. Sometimes a song sort of writes itself, which is the best, and this song kinda did that. But it took a lot for me to get to a point to talk about it and be so honest. Not because I didn’t want to or try to, but I just had to be at that point mentally.
To what extent has the uncertainty and compromise of the last year been an influence on the record and its imminent release? It must be strange to finally release your debut album at a time when touring isn’t possible.
I think that I got so much time last year to make a record, that has really affected and influenced the record. I just got so much more time to write the exact lyrics I needed to write. I spent five months in a studio and twelve months making and writing stuff, I wouldn’t have had all that time if it wasn’t for the pandemic and I wouldn’t have had all that time to really work in such detail with everything. It’s also kinda strange to not be able to tour but I’ve never released an album before so I’ve not toured an album either. I have been on tour but I’ve never done an album tour.
Your career kind of exploded very suddenly and you developed a pretty huge following at a young age. Has this been difficult to contend with? Has it informed how you go about your creative process?
I feel like I wasn’t too young when it all happened so I feel pretty confident. I don’t think my process has changed too much. Obviously now there’s a level of “ok people are actually going to listen to this now” so that’s the thing that’s most changed in the process. Other than the fact I’ve grown a lot. I just think you’ve gotta figure out a way to keep going and love music and make music for the love of it.
“I just think you’ve gotta figure out a way to keep going and love music and make music for the love of it.”
There is a real sense of growth beyond the “bedroom pop” label on if i could make it go quiet. Was this a conscious decision or simply a natural evolution during the songwriting process?
I’ve been making music constantly since I put out ‘bad idea!’ and chapter 2 and stuff, so I’ve grown a lot as a musician and producer. I feel like it’s a natural progression for me as a musician and songwriter and producer and it feels like the right next step for me.
Speaking of “bedroom pop”, is it frustrating to have labels like “bedroom pop” or “queer artist” applied to you when those are potentially quite narrow definitions of what your music is and what it represents to you?
Yeah sometimes I guess. It’s not frustrating in that I put a lot of effort into thinking about it but it’s kinda like “yo this new music doesn’t sound like any of this” and people are so fast to put things in boxes and try to understand things and I’m just like “why can’t we just enjoy and see what happens”. Labels require some sort of expectation, I feel like, so when people start saying “you’re this bedroom pop artist” it’s kinda like “oh, wait but that’s not really what I feel like I am”. I definitely just wanna make music that is beyond those labels and I know I’m an artist beyond those labels.
On songs like ‘Rue’ you confront your mental struggles and the prominence of your internal critic, while also making a commitment to care for yourself and get better. Do you think it’s important to include this hopeful, determined note despite the difficult issues you tackle in your lyrics?
Yeah for sure, I think its really important to be hopeful, especially now, I am hopeful. On the record overall I think it’s very hopeful and I feel like there’s an essence here of “I want to get better”. On all the songs where I sing about my mental health at least, I think it’s important. I don’t want to wallow in sadness, I just wanna be ok I guess.
From reading past interviews, you seem to have a contentious relationship with social media platforms. Of course, they offer one of the few avenues to connect with fans at the moment due to the lack of face-to-face experiences. How do you balance your mixed feelings towards these apps with their prevalence in the music industry?
I don’t know how I balance my relationship with social media yet, I’m still trying to figure it out because sometimes it’s a great place to be, sometimes it’s not, but it’s also a very important thing in the music industry. I’m still trying to figure it out, but hopefully I have some time to figure it out!
What was the creative process behind this album like? You seem keen to retain a lot of control over your work—was this very much a self-driven project, or did collaboration play a significant part? Do you think it’s important to retain a sense of agency when it comes to your own music?
The creative process was about 12 months really, or a year and a half of me making demos and songs, then bringing them to Bergen like “I want to finish this one, this one and this one”. That’s how the process started, and I just went back and forth between Oslo and Bergen throughout the year, and yeah finished the music.
“…it’s really essential to have that emotional ownership of your music.”
The innate ideas are very much self driven, all the track ideas come from me. I did have a co-producer who produced alongside me but everything that’s in the songs is definitely coming from me. I think it’s essential to have a sense of ownership over your own music, both on paper and also emotionally. When it comes to music because it’s my life work, I need to be proud of it. Even though I’m gonna look back maybe in ten years and be like “holy crap I was on some weird shit back then” but even then it’s really essential to have that emotional ownership of your music.
if i could make it go quiet, the debut album from girl in red, arrives April 30 via AWAL.