Marie Ulven is running behind schedule. Suddenly, the singer shows up on-screen, in a deep emerald oversized hoodie, slouched forwards and nonchalantly munching on a chocolate bar; a Norwegian version of Kit Kat, she tells me. Sat in her apartment, the artist has been ploughing through back-to-back interviews but remains unfazed. Before I can get a question in edgeways, Marie announces she’s having a great day and introduces me to her dog, who’s curled up behind her seat. Immediately after, the lo-fi pop creative swings her screen around to show me outside her apartment; a quaint shot of urban Oslo.
As we dive into small talk about European weather and our favourite seasons, you almost wouldn’t think the 22-year-old was here to promote an album. But, with her animated follow-ups and loose conversation, it’s hard not to divulge into our daily lives. Still, the breakout bedroom pop star has bigger matters on her hands than checking her city’s temperature. In a few weeks, her debut record, If I Could Make It Go Quiet, will be out. At the sudden mention of the project title, Marie’s easy-going smile slips into a reactionary pensive stare. Nodding along to my question, she’s quick to reply. “It’s pretty crazy and I’m scared as hell. I’m really nervous,” she admits. “I’ve worked so long and really hard on it. It’s gonna come out and I feel like I’m not ready, but I don’t know if I’m ever ready for something like that; it’s like having a baby – you don’t know what’s gonna happen.” Pausing, she frowns at her response and swiftly adds: “Not that I know what it’s like to have a baby! I’m just really nervous, because what if people don’t like it. That’s the thing that goes through my head.”
Girl In Red’s ambitious record is an anxiously honest multi-dimensional mosaic of mature pop. Shrouded in infectious alt-pop beats, crunching basslines, and emotionally disorientating ballads, it’s a comeback worthy of recognition. Yet, Marie remains immune to positive takes. “I have this voice in my head,” she begins before backtracking. “I’ve done three interviews today and the interviewers have said it’s really good and my mind is like ‘Yeah, you don’t mean that.’ My inner voice just hates me and it tells me that nothing nice that’s being said about me can be true, so I need to work on that.”
Frank and upfront, Marie hides very little about herself, even the state of her fluctuating mental health. “I feel like mental health changes especially when it comes to my writing. Mine has been so bad for so long… but now it’s actually kind of good,” she laughs, a little sardonically. “So, expect happy songs for me in the future, yeah, I’m done!” Sweeping aside her half-jokes, the singer soon assures me that was just humour. “No, I’m not done, because you have mental health even though you have a good one. It’s actually so weird seeing people say, ‘Why is everyone talking about mental health’ and like, bitch, you have mental health. Just because you’re not sad, it doesn’t mean you don’t have one. It’s probably because when you’re okay, you’re not thinking, ‘I’ve had a good mental health day.’ It’s like when you’re sick, you really notice it’s painful, and it’s the same thing with your mind. When you’re good, you don’t take a second to appreciate how you’re feeling good, which is so sad, but I’m gonna try to be more aware and grateful.”
Like clockwork, Marie peels back from her straight-faced answer and slips back into her jovial self. Not ashamed of her answer, she begins to continue, before suddenly disappearing off-screen while her voice rings somewhere from the background: “Oh, shit, sorry – that’s my phone!” Frowning at her phone, partially in disbelief it’s on low battery, she props it back up and smiles easily. No number of interruptions (as we later learn) can sway the singer from keeping a conversation in smooth stead. Mental health and music cling to the debut record, almost like a superimposed image of inside Marie’s mind, so I ask her how she came about writing hyper-confessional songs. Looking aside, out of frame, she mulls the question over. “If I have an idea for a song, it’s probably because it’s coming from something that I’ve experienced myself, but then I always add fictional elements to it to continue my narrative in my writing,” she explains.
“If I just come up with something, I’m gonna just write it down. It’s easy to get a weird, strained relationship to writing, especially if I overthink too much. I’m just trying to let it go.” She unexpectedly sings the remainder of her answer to “let it go and chill.” It’s to the Frozen theme song, of course. “Some songs are about all these things I have going on and I put them in a track because they tell a broader story, whereas others I know I can make a good type of story out of them, and then some just have a lot more inspiration in them. I was thinking of [Body and Mind] actually when you said that, because that one, especially, feels about that breakdown.” Unprovoked, the singer turns the tables: “So you like that one?” and seems a little relieved with the answer. “Oh my god, I love that one,” she beams.
Since the release of a sporadic array of singles, Girl In Red’s domination over the bedroom scene only continued to grow. As LGBTQ+ fans flocked to her music, she rapidly became a cultural figurehead online, an experience Marie found surreal to process. “I take very lightly on the word fame and I don’t consider myself a famous person,” she confesses. “When someone’s like ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t think you’d respond to my DM you’re famous’, I’m like no, I’m not famous, stop! My song, Hornylovesickmess, is reflecting on that. I was very certain I didn’t want to make one of those songs that’s like ‘I’ve made it.’ I feel like people put a track on their debut about how famous they are and how everything is ruined, but I wanted to reflect that things have actually changed a lot for me. I went from living at home and going to high school to fully live off music, which is really big. Like, people work their entire lives to do that.”
Mid-heartfelt response, the singer cracks a smile and jokingly breaks away from the answers. “Sorry, I just choked on my own spit, but I don’t have Corona, I promise!” she quips. “I feel like that song is about what that did to my relationship and it was kind of hurtful to go back into all of those things, even though that song has a funny, ironic distance to it. It’s also a very self-aware song of ‘oh, look how stupid I’ve been’ and the line hornylovesickmess is like a joke really. There’s some truth in that though, I’d never seen a woman talk about being a horny lovesick mess, so someone had to do it.”
While a lot of Girl In Red’s new music steps up from her previous emotionally soaked ballads, the Norwegian artist realises that some of the new tracks are a little more direct to who she had in mind. “Hornylovesickmess feels like one of the more direct ones on the record, but I feel like that’s the direction artists are heading into recently,” she admits. “One of my favourite songwriters is Phoebe Bridgers. She’s so cool. Her lyrics are so direct, and she tells every story so beautifully and you feel like you’re a part of it either way, even though it’s so specific and you couldn’t have been there.” Thinking through the debut, she settles on another head-on song. “You Stupid Bitch is so direct. I always say ‘bitch’ to people like ‘Bitch, I love you.’ I would never say that to anyone to be like, ‘Yeah, you’re a bitch. I don’t like you,’” she explains. “The song has a kind undertone to it, but also I just like that track a lot. It’s fun and it reminds me of the younger Girl In Red songs and it’s going to go so hard live. I feel like people are gonna mosh like crazy to the song and everyone’s just gonna scream: ‘You stupid bitch kid you see, the perfect one for you is me!’”
Taking a break from music talk, Marie gets up and gives a quick apartment tour, and points out a cream and red-washed Scandinavian portrait behind her. “This dude is really cool. It’s really big, but this corner is really growing on me,” she says switching the camera around. “I have these cute plants and my records here, and the red carpet is like ‘oooh’ – it’s a vibe. I love my room so much now. It’s got that European Oslo style!” Decked out in vintage furniture, stacks of vinyl, and a sweeping Nordic-style rug, it’s an incredibly aesthetically pleasing setup. “Furniture is so dope,” Marie calls out from behind the camera, before sitting back down and getting back on track. The artist returns to running through her new record. Her latest Euphoria-inspired single, Rue, hit the airwaves late last year, and fans couldn’t get enough. “I started writing that at the end of 2019 and then finished it at the beginning of 2020. I was going through some real tough shit. I felt like I was a burden to my family. I felt like I would never be okay again and I had all these dark thoughts that my family would be better off without me and that it was so painful to even allow myself to think those things,” she reveals.
“I know thinking thoughts like that is going down a really bad road, so I feel like that track is about showing that I’m trying so hard. I was going to therapy at that time, but it wasn’t working. I didn’t really connect with my therapist and I feel like she didn’t really understand me.” Shaking her head, she reflects on a moment where it all struck home: “I told her that I have been excessively touring for a year and I have nothing left and I feel like I’m nothing at all and she was like, ‘My god, touring must be fun.’” Parodying the therapist’s words, Marie admits she was exhausted from being patronised. “Touring is fun, but it’s really exhausting, especially if you don’t know how to take care of yourself and if you’re in a really bad mental state. It’s a very rushed way of living and, obviously, now I miss it even though I was crying after each show. I was like, ‘I don’t know how to live anymore,’” she explains. “So, [Rue] was a weight off my chest. It felt like a really important song, because I kind of had to address myself that I’m actually trying, but it felt like I was writing it to my mom and my sister, which is why it has this country storytelling vibe to it in the verses because I’m singing to my sister, my mom and my friend, Isaac, who’s been so supportive of me. It feels like an apology to my family for being so ill.”
Revisiting her previous thought, the 22-year-old acknowledges she doesn’t have to apologise, but the song offered some personal catharsis. “In that song, it says ‘I can’t trust my mind, it’s such a liar,’ because I create these scenarios in my head. No one in my family would think their life is better off without me, you know what I mean? That’s something I create, in my head, and my mom would never ask me to apologise for being sick. She loves me and wants the best for me,” she elaborates. “These are all things that I create, and I project my thoughts, insecurities, and worries onto them. It’s really just me feeling like shit and feeling sorry for feeling like I’m dragging everyone down.”
Much like her answers, Marie has an impulse to be humanly candid, tethered in a steam of self-awareness, the singer-songwriter seamlessly creates waves of hazy beats that ebb and flow over emotionally thorny lines. Mastering it with such ease, the artist carves in a cluster of later songs that hook deep into her ideas of self and sound. “Those songs feel like a real moment of sincerity,” she begins strong before letting her letters trail.
Silence hangs over the conversation as the singer casts a stare aside, ruminating. “I don’t know. I’m Marie but I’m also Girl In Red which is weird,” she responds. Again, the artist’s thoughts get snagged on the questions “I’m Girl In Red… what the fuck,” she mumbles back, in quiet realisation. Turning back to the camera, she shakes off the quietness and explains the irony. “I have to do that introduction so many times on audio like ‘Hey, I’m Girl In Red and listen to my new song,’” she playfully mocks. Picking up the thread of the question, Marie returns back to the tracks. “They feel like really important songs and I really like my vocals on that full stop song that just is a period. Sorry, I spaced out for a second. I don’t really know what to say about those songs, but they need to be there.”
An 11-track pop symphony, Girl In Red’s debut record is as clean-cut as you’d expect, yet its ending is arguably the most out of character. A blanket of piano melodies and soft instrumental, the final tracks cinematically washes over the listener like a delicate end of credits scene. “I like what you just said because the album is called If I Could Make It Go Quiet and that track is called If It Would Feel Like This and it’s that place of quietness reflecting on what I’ve just heard,” she replies, agreeing. “If I Could Make It Go Quiet captures what I have just gone through and what I have poured into this record. It’s like a landing place. If I could make it go quiet and if I could deal with everything in here that I’ve just written about, I would be in this place of calmness. I made that instrumental bit a while ago, but it’s always felt like it should be somewhere, and it feels really nice to have that end of credits moment at the end.” With the record wrapped up and ready to go, Marie hopes the debut challenges expectations, even if she is nervous for the reviews to roll in. “I hope people think ‘Holy shit Marie’s doing a lot and this doesn’t sound like what she’s done before’. I want listeners to take away any emotional support they need from it,” she adds. “I just really want people to check it out and give it a chance. I’ve come to this point where I don’t know if it’s good anymore, so I just want it to be out in the world so that I can put out album two and go full Taylor Swift on that shit.”
With the future of touring still uncertain, Marie hasn’t considered her next move just yet. “What do I want to do next? I want to make a musical,” she jokes. “I’m not going to make a musical. Maybe one day, actually, that could be fun. I just want this album shit to come out and hopefully, it’ll open up some cool doors for me. I also really want to go back on tour so I can feel like I’m actually a part of the world and that I can connect with my fans again. I really miss connecting with my fans during live shows. I just want to hug a fan. I just want shit to happen. I just want World In Red.”