Girl in Red is The Musician Soundtracking Our Queer Love Stories

Revisit our #9 'The Make Noise Issue' cover story with Girl in Red.

PHOTOGRAPHY Arvida Byström
WORDS Grace Goslin

As a queer woman — or any queer person for that fact —you often find yourself searching for references of your identity within pop culture. Actively seeking relatable nuggets of wisdom that say; you’re not alone. 

This is exactly my first memory of listening to Marie Ulven, better known as her moniker, Girl in Red. I was hosting a radio show in October 2018 when I nervously played the song We Fell in Love in October, palms sweating, knowing that the girl that I was dating was listening eagerly on the other end. This is the very same woman-loving focused track that saw Girl in Red reach viral status on TikTok over two years later with the query ‘Do you listen to Girl in Red?’ becoming a cultural phenomenon and signifier for queer women globally. However, over three years since my feeble romantic efforts of 2018, Ulven’s musical efforts have been quite the opposite. Instead, the Norweigan native has continued to produce strong well-polished bedroom-pop which confirms why she is a Gen Z musical tour-de-force.

Girl in Red’s most recent singles, midnight love and serotonin, push queer romance to the forefront in a way that is far from soppy, rather direct and unavoidable in both melody and backing. Serotonin is a magnified look into what Girl in Red’s highly anticipated debut if I could make it all go quiet, will look like and is produced by no other than Finneas O’Connell -brother to Billie Eilish and half of the duo responsible for Eilish’s 2020 Grammy success sweep. 

Girl in Red is a project that undoubtedly lends itself to both whirlwind romances and mosh pits alike. An unexpected but welcomed collaboration and you’d be right to eagerly anticipate her imminent album release that sets to further solidify Girl in Red’s rapidly elevating career. 

“I’ve got to the point where I want to work my ass off!” proclaimed Ulven about 15 minutes into our Zoom natter. At this point, we’ve already discussed a mutual love for Taylor Swift and self-titled albums, and Ulven put forward a strong case as to why I should listen to Shawn Mendes. “I was you for the longest time but then I watched his documentary, and I was like ‘You work really fucking hard, you deserve the world.’” At the three year mark in her career, Ulven’s desire to work hard and take inspiration from those who work hard too is paramount. The music industry is notoriously far from a walk in the park and whilst she feels supported as a queer artist in a heteronormative industry and society, she in no way takes it for granted – Ulven’s enamoured ambition for Girl in Red is palpable. 

“I have so much support from, you know, Spotify and Apple Music and streaming services. So, I feel like I’ve been supported and I feel like I’m still being supported. I know that not everyone shared the same experience… I mean ideally, one day it’ll be that everyone with good music gets supported, you know?”

In her apartment, Ulven surrounds herself with art in one form or another. Whether it be abstract paintings or her glorious centrepiece piano, her space seems like the perfect place to incubate creativity, and I’m happy to have a virtual tour, MTV Cribs style. After all, this is an environment that has aided the creation of so many of her near enough perfect tracks – it makes sense that an artist who openly champions a DIY musical process also has a home that emulates that same energy.

“2020 was just a very weird year for me,” Ulven recalls. “Like, I thought I was going to die 24/7 and then I was working really hard and I just didn’t want to be inside in my room, but now I wake up every day, I turn on my speakers, I have my little morning ritual, and then I start making music again. So the album baby, it’s on its way!” she continues. This declaration alone summarises a global feeling of what it’s like to be a musician – or, in fact, any person – trying to function during a pandemic. As bleak a hellscape of confusion this past year has been, creative expression remains a fervent source of hope.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of being an artist operating during the apocalypse is the devastating lack of live shows. When you have gained as much traction and positive attention as Girl in Red has recently, it would normally result in securing a host of live shows, tours, album runs, the whole lot. A frustrating reality for any artist at this time, especially one that is very much on the up! 

“I thought I was going to die 24/7 and then I was working really hard and I just didn’t want to be inside in my room, but now I wake up every day, I turn on my speakers, I have my little morning ritual, and then I start making music again.”

Girl in Red

“I was going to play Coachella which was really big for me and I was going to play a bunch of other cool festivals, so really all these moments that I never really got to experience would be, like, my next highlights.”

Girl in Red’s live show is a spectacle in its own right. A sweaty, stage-diving affair that drives home the rock elements of her music’s production. If you find yourself in a Girl in Red crowd, you should go in expecting to lose the friend that you’ve come with. Ulven’s sense of anticipation for the return of her live show seems to stir deep inside her when I broach the ever-sore topic. “I wanna, like, barely survive. I just want to go all out. Hopefully, I’ll just be able to play my entire album and then people lose their shit, that would be so cool. And mosh pits, I want to be in mosh pits,” Ulven confesses. 

At this point, I am sure that most of us would do unspeakable things just to witness a mosh pit, let alone be in the throngs of one. “I want to be like ‘Hey, can the crowd split in two?’ and then we’ll have this big wall of death and I’ll be in the middle and with, like, a red flag and people run into me or something.”

Whilst the prospect of live shows remains firmly on hold, many artists have used the last year to consolidate their identities URL. With some of Girl in Red’s songs swirling among TikTok’s viral algorithms, this happened naturally and the spectacle of it confused her at first. She remembers that once she began to understand that her songs were going viral, she was really excited.”I was like “Wow this is really cool”  it’s fun to be a part of tiny fractures of culture.”

Arguably, Girl in Red is part of more than just a “fracture of culture”, and rather has played a significant role within the online LGBTQI+ community, specifically a community of queer women who use her songs as a backing track to openly showcase their queerness. “I like how the internet can make these new spaces for people to have the same feelings,” Ulven says. “The internet is an evil place, but it’s also nice so it goes both ways,” she continues. 

“I like how the internet can make these spaces for people to have the same feelings.”

Girl in Red

When it comes to what we can expect in her future, an album release is certainly top of the laundry list of other exciting things that are pending for the dedicated artist. Sonically, you can expect a positive and subtle diversion from what we’ve heard from Ulven previously, but only in the way that an artist’s music changes with development in skill and age. Ulven describes a ‘lag’ between the music that is out and the music she’s currently working on, but thrilled to be putting out a body of work that has “progressed”. Since her last release, Girl in Red admits she’s “grown as a person and therefore feel like the music has grown also.” She professes that she’s not trying to go in a different direction or anything of the sort, she’s simply “You know, vibing, straight up vibing with this album.”

And ‘straight-up vibing’ feels like the aptest way to exist at the moment. There is no doubt that with the release of her debut and the ever-growing support of her loyal fanbase, Girl in Red will continue to triumph in a world, post-pandemic. 

Girl in Red is an artist as authentic as they come, in both demeanour and musical style. Her honest romantic pop is the kind that calls out directly to the heart, and wouldn’t shy away from leaving a dozen voicemails or a bouquet of roses on your doorstep. She is just one of the trailblazing artists at the top of her game, and Girl in Red will continue to commandeer and steer queer pop music as we know it. 

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