Everything you need to know about girl in red.
There’s not a lot about girl in red that fits or makes sense in the context within which it’s found. The project moniker of singer-songwriter Marie Ulven recalls the title of Chris de Burgh’s schmaltzy 80s hit, “The Lady in Red.” But you’ll find next to no common-ground beyond the broad ties of a love song and the associated colour scheme.
The country Ulven calls home is Norway, but the music most associated with her place of birth is the church-burning and unrelenting sound of black metal. Certainly not understated, charming bedroom indie pop-rock. Despite being at odds with its surrounds, there’s something undeniable about the music of girl in red. So much so that it’s turned her into one of 2019’s top cult figures.
If you’re new to the world of girl in red, fret not! With only two EPs out and a string of singles alongside them, you’re coming in at just the right time to catch up on everything before it all gets a little bit Billie Eilish. So, here’s everything you need to know about Scandinavia’s latest great pop hope.
Ulven first turned her attention to music properly around the age of 14. In an interview with DIY Mag, she mentions first getting on stage to perform as early as six years old. However an verwhelming case of nerves affected her performance so badly that she ran off stage, supposedly never to return again. That would change in her teens, initially learning how to play guitar before expanding into original songwriting. After a few false starts, the girl in red project kicked off in earnest around 2017 – with just about the humblest beginning a DIY artist in the 21stcentury can have, a Soundcloud account.
Her initial following of only a couple hundred followers on the platform was enough to encourage the young singer-songwriter to properly pursue girl in red. This eventually lead to the upload of one of the first songs she ever wrote, “i wanna be your girlfriend.” Unabashed in its queerness and unadulterated in its wry teenage emotion, the song depicts the age-old story of unrequited love told through the framework of a young lesbian falling for a heterosexual woman. It’s tough to explain just how painful the feeling is when the person not only won’t love you back, but can’t – and yet, the way Ulven writes makes everything painstakingly clear.
Don’t look away
Just look at me the same
I don’t wanna be your friend
I wanna kiss your lips
I wanna kiss you until I lose my breath
When the song was picked up and posted by the YouTube channel Lost Soul, “girlfriend” was sitting at around 5,000 streams on Soundcloud. Now? Nearly 3 million. Factor in the cumulative 13 million from YouTube and the near 30 million on Spotify and you’re starting to see how quickly things have snowballed for girl in red. So, what is it about her music that has resonated so deeply with her listenership? There are a few factors at play.
First and foremost, Ulvin is a fantastic songwriter and decorated multi-instrumentalist. Everything that you are hearing on a girl in red song was written, played, recorded, produced and mixed by Ulvin herself. She is intimately familiar with the craft of building songs from scratch. It could be dreamy, lush, reverb-laden pop, or it could be raw and lo-fi indie rock. Whatever she tackles, Ulvin makes it count. It’s invariably worth time and investment. Nothing dominates or overpowers in the mix. Neither does Ulvin’s voice assert itself as some sort of authoritative centre of attention. Rather, the confessional nature of her lyrics and her vocal delivery have you getting drawn in closer and closer – you want to know every last detail of what she’s telling you.
On that note, the unbridled honesty of girl in red’s music – the kind that can only come with the exuberance of youth – is something that people are innately drawn to. Of particular note is Ulvin’s approach to topics like mental health and homosexuality. Instead leaving precious little to the imagination as she details her innermost turmoil and conflict that comes from the darkside of such topics.
Whether it’s a song like “summer depression” or one like “bad idea!,” Ulvin doesn’t lace her songs with any flowery metaphors or ornate analogies. When you’re listening to girl in red, you’re listening to a woman telling you how she really feels – and there’s a lot to be said for that.
girl in red is playing a one off intimate gig at The Landsowne this coming Tuesday 8 October. Tickets are on sale now.
Words by David James Young