“Do you listen to girl in red?” If someone’s ever asked you this they’re either genuinely interested if you listen to the Norwegian pop icon, or they wanna know if you’re queer. Regardless, listening to girl in red’s new album takes you on a journey through the mind, in which tricks are around every corner.
Though girl in red, otherwise known as Marie Ulven, has just released her debut album, if i could make it go quiet, this is far from the first time we’re hearing from her. Making her musical debut in 2018 with her breakout single, “i wanna be your girlfriend,” Ulven has never been anything but honest. But much has happened since then and it seems as though her new record is the encapsulation of just that.
From explicitly talking about her sexuality on the snarky “Did You Come?” to blatantly calling out her crush for not realizing they belong together on “You Stupid Bitch,” to making her intrusive thoughts an open book on “Serotonin,” if i could make it go quiet hits the nail on the head of every human emotion it touches upon. Through its boisterous sonic landscape, we’re able to hear just how loud it is inside of Ulven’s head, as well as in our own. But no matter the volume of the music, having someone detail thoughts that you’ve been too scared to say is sure to make your mind a little bit quieter.
We caught up with girl in red to talk about the phrase “Do you listen to girl in red?,” working with Finneas (Billie Eilish’s brother/producer) on “Serotonin,” and how her dog Luna has really helped her mental health:
So I actually wanted to start off by asking you about your first single, “i wanna be your girlfriend” because I feel like that song was obviously written from a queer perspective and was the first song that you ever released, so how did it feel to release something so honest and kind of come out from the very beginning?
I actually did put out other music before that too. But that song and “Summer Depression” and “Say Anything” kind of came out at the same time and that was kind of like my debut I guess – my very first debut. I mean I had come to terms with my sexuality like two years prior to this song coming out, so I was very much comfortable with my sexuality. Plus I didn’t really think anyone was gonna hear it, so I wasn’t like wow I’m actually being really open or anything right now. I kind of just did my thing and didn’t think too much about it.
And then like jumping from that to this album, you talk about queer relationships, honestly like no other artist I’ve heard before. So can you talk about how it felt to write about that, as well as the growth from “i wanna be your girlfriend” and “girls” to “Did You Come” or “Hornylovesickmess?”
I mean what I’m singing about in those songs are very much human, normal things. Like most songs they came really just to me very naturally and it just made sense to write it as honestly and as real to my life perception and from my reality. I don’t know. The journey’s been very long since “i wanna be your girlfriend” times until this, but I feel like I’m just continuously learning new stuff about myself and therefore writing songs that also grow with me.
I wanted to talk to you about the phrase “Do you listen to girl in red?” How do you feel about that phrase and the implications behind it?
I think it’s dope. I mean I think that anyone who can use that to ask anyone if they like girls, I think that’s really fun and they should use it. I’m a big “Do you listen to girl in red?” advocate.
A lot of this album focuses on struggles with mental health. If you’re comfortable, can you explain where you were mentally and emotionally when writing songs like “Serotonin” or “Apartment 402?”
Well yes, so “Serotonin” is definitely one of the most honest songs I’ve written. I think all the songs on this album are very honest, but particularly this one because it’s so specific and I’m kind of dissecting my own mental health. I mean I feel like I’m singing about my state of mind which is being unstable and being like my reality is constantly being twisted because of it and my serotonin levels being all whacked out. Which kind of leads to the verses where I’m kind of dissecting everything that’s actually being twisted and everything that’s going on because of that and how I don’t feel like getting any helps works and I feel like my therapist hates me and just feeling like a burden to everyone and feeling like everyone dislikes me. So yeah it’s mostly about my OCD and just general anxiety disorder and kind of just like an overall state of mind I guess.
How has the response been to it from your fans?
It’s been really great! I’ve gotten so many messages from people saying, “I’ve never been able to say this to anyone, but you literally just said it in this song and I’ve never felt more seen.” I’ve gotten so many messages like that of people feeling very seen and heard, which I think is awesome. Literal therapists being like, “Hey this is the only song I’ve ever heard about OCD and anxiety in this way.” People really seem to like it and I don’t think I’ve ever had a song stream like “Serotonin” either. So the reactions have been really cool.
And then I know you brought on Finneas (Billie Eilish’s brother/producer) to help you produce “Serotonin.” Can you talk a little bit about what the collaboration process was like for that, cause I assume it was probably virtual?
Yeah it was remote, just over Zoom. So I sent the song to him when I felt like this is a really cool song, but I wanna get some fresh ears on this and he loved it. He said he loved my rapping and that he thought it was great which I thought was really nice and exciting cause I think he’s great. Then I started sending the stems over to him and he started sending the stems back to me. And we kinda did like that back and forth and then we did a Zoom call every now and then to talk about what we’re doing with the song and the direction. Then we kinda just went on like that for a few months. It took some time to get it done. Finally at some point we were able to send it into the mix guy and get it to sound how we wanted it to sound exactly. So yeah it was a long, long process, but I’m very grateful that he was a part of it.
At the very end of “Serotonin” do you say something in Norwegian?
Yeah I do!
What is it that you say? What’s the translation in English?
I say that it felt like my heart stopped beating and can you feel it when a blood clot goes through your brain. And I just said that my chest started to feel very heavy or some shit cause I was talking to a doctor about what I had just gone through which was just a gigantic panic attack. I was just wanting to confirm that I wasn’t dying so I was just asking him a bunch of questions and my friend recorded it.
That’s really cool. That’s a really nice touch to the song.
I think so too! Cause that’s the reality sometimes. I just created this universe in the song, but then like on the end of it that’s kind of like me actually experiencing something because of the statement, “I’m running low on Serotonin.” I think it’s nice.
“Serotonin” obviously comes from a very dark place. How is your mental health doing now?
I’m doing really good now. I’m in a much better place than I’ve been in a very long time. And I think that’s probably because of my dog and also just because I’ve had time to be kind of settled down into this life a little bit. I had just moved out and then I was kinda thrown into touring for a year straight and I had never done that before. So it was a lot of stuff happening very fast and I wasn’t able to understand it. But now I feel really good and I feel very happy.
That’s great! Happy for you about that.
Thank you! It’s good! Hopefully I’ll still make some great music out of this shit. We’ll see.
Do you feel like it’s harder to write from a happy somewhat stable place than it is to write from an unstable, unhappy place?
Usually I write songs when I’m happy and then I write about the bad stuff that has happened. Cause usually if I’m really sad I don’t wanna write songs. If I’m depressed then I just feel really confused, I don’t know what I like cause I feel like I don’t like anything anymore. I like to think that I write better songs when I’m happy and I think people and other artists deserve to be happy and deserve to think that they can be happy to make really good music and art or whatever they’re doing.
Yeah absolutely. I feel like this album does a really good job at capturing the fact that your mind can really play tricks on you.
I have a line in my song “Rue” that says, “ Can’t trust my mind / It’s such a liar.” Cause I tell myself the weirdest shit about myself, and the world, and yeah everything really. So I’m really having to take everything I say with a pinch of salt. But I’m good now, which is good! And the album is out! I’m happy! I have a dog!
The last track is instrumental and the least distorted of the album. Can you explain the decision behind that if there was one?
Well, it’s called “it would feel like this” because I feel like if I ever make it go quiet it would feel like this. If it was quiet it would sound like what that sounds like and it would feel like what that song gives me and brings me. So that’s kinda like the idea. So there’s like this little conversation within the album and with myself I guess in a way. And I just feel like it sounds really beautiful and it sounds like a place that I would like to be.
Last question: what’s your dog’s name?
My dog’s name is Luna. You should follow her. I don’t have an Instagram account for her, but a fan of mine has made an Instagram account for her called Luna Ulven (@lunaulven). You get all your updates right there!
CONNECT WITH GIRL IN RED
photos / Jonathan Kise
story / Sloan Pecchia