Marie Ulven, 'Girl In Red,' Talks Fame, Sexuality And Her New Album

May 2, 2021
Originally published on May 3, 2021 10:08 am

"Do you listen to girl in red?"

It's a question that means more than you think – it became a coded way for women on social media to ask each other if they're queer. But girl in red is a real musician, also known as 22-year-old Marie Ulven, and her debut is finally out. It's called If I Could Make It Go Quiet.

She joined me from Norway for a conversation this past week – we spoke about her music, her openness about her sexuality and her mental health.

Note: Some parts of this conversation address thoughts about self-harm.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Weekend Edition: Before we get to your new music, I want to talk about this meme, about listening to girl in red. What does it feel like holding this space in LGBTQ and Gen-Z culture?

Marie Ulven: I think it's really dope – because I feel like nowadays it's really hard to be able to make that kind of cultural impact. I also just think it's iconic, [Laughs], because people have been connecting with the music so heavily that it now has turned into this.

When did you become aware that this was happening, that this was becoming this insider code?

Ulven: I realized it was a thing when everyone was commenting, "Do you listen to girl in red" on everything I was posting on TikTok or Instagram, and people DM'ing me like, "Do you listen to girl in red?" I was like, "Um yeah... is the world having a stroke right now or what is happening?" It was really funny.

You do, of course, sing about your love life on this album – there's a great song, "Period" on the album. About that feeling of being too scared to speak up about how you feel. Tell me about what it means to you.

Ulven: This was back in 2019 when I was very much in love with a girl, and she liked me as well – but I really needed the "Do you listen to girl in red?" phrase back then, because I was so unsure if she liked girls. Then I went on tour, and things changed that month that I was away, and that song is about how I wasn't able to speak up about my affection for her.

You're also very honest about mental health on this record, Itoo – 'm thinking of the song "Serotonin."

YouTube

Ulven: This one I started writing last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, and I was not doing well. I started making music because that's always what I do when I don't know what to do with myself. And suddenly, all of these lyrics were coming out of my brain – I'v ebeen struggling with intrusive thoughts my entire life, and I'm just mentioning a couple in this song, but it's been a lot of those. I've had many different weird hangups, like I haven't been able to swallow food for longer periods of time because I've been so scared I was going to die... just going through so many weird things.

I mean, mental health is a really hard thing to talk about so openly. What do you hope your listeners take away from this song, and your experience?

Ulven: I really hope that people feel less crazy. I think it's so important to just hear that, that a lot of people have these thoughts. I've been scared about jumping in front of trains, been really scared of being at train stations and I've had so many people message me about that, like "I relate so much to this song, I'm so scared of taking the train because I'm scared I'm going to jump in front of it when it comes..." And I've been in the exact same position, sitting down at the closest bench, leaning against the wall... I really hope people feel less crazy, and less alone, and that whatever's happening up in your head is probably happening in someone else's head, too.

You end this album with an instrumental track, called "It Would Feel Like This." Why did you make that choice?

YouTube

Ulven: I feel like this album is really full of a lot of feelings – it's very big and noisy. And that's kind of what I want to make go quiet, and this last track feels like that quiet place. A white room ... a place that's heavenly, almost.

The album is called If I Could Make It Go Quiet – is this what that sounds like to you?

Ulven: Yes, that's exactly the connection – if I could make it go quiet, it would feel like this.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Do you listen to Girl in Red? That's a question that means more than you think. It became a coded way for young women on social media to ask each other if they're queer. But Girl in Red is a real musician, also known as 22-year-old Marie Ulven. And her debut album is finally out, called "If I Could Make It Go Quiet." She joined me from Norway for a conversation this past week. And we spoke about her music and her openness about her sexuality and mental health. We should note that some parts of this conversation addressed thoughts about self-harm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE FELL IN LOVE IN OCTOBER")

MARIE ULVEN: (Singing) My girl, my girl, my girl. You will be my girl, my girl, my girl, my girl. You will be my world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we get to your new music, I do want to talk to you about this meme about listening to Girl in Red. What does it feel like sort of holding this space in LGBTQ and Gen Z culture?

ULVEN: I think it's really dope because, you know, I feel like nowadays, it's actually really hard to be able to make that type of cultural impact. And also, I just think it's iconic because it's, like, people have been connecting so heavily with the music that it now has, like, turned into this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When did you sort of become aware that that was happening and that it was kind of becoming, like, this, you know, insider code?

ULVEN: I think I kind of realized that it was a thing when everyone was commenting, do you listen to Girl in Red? - on everything I was posting on TikTok or, like, Instagram and, like, people DMing me being like, you listen to Girl in Red? I was like, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I do.

ULVEN: Like, is the world having a stroke right now? Like, what is happening? And, yeah, I just thought it was really funny.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You do sing about your love life, of course, on this album, and I want to play the track "." as in the punctuation mark. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, ".")

ULVEN: (Singing) It's been so hard ever since you broke my heart. But I'll never tell - honey, I'm not doing so well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a great song - very vulnerable but relatable - about that feeling of sort of being too scared to speak up about how you feel. Tell me about this song and what it means to you.

ULVEN: OK, so this song is like - this was when - back in 2019 when I was very much in love with a girl, and she liked me, as well. But I really needed the do you listen to Girl in Red phrase back then because I really - I was so unsure if she liked girls. Then I went on tour. And things kind of changed in that month I was away and that song is just about how I wasn't able to speak up about my, you know, affection for her and that I really liked her.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, you are very honest also about mental health on this record.

ULVEN: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm thinking of the song "Serotonin." Let's listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEROTONIN")

ULVEN: (Singing) These feelings. Dig deep, can't hide from the corners of my mind. I'm terrified of what's inside.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about this song.

ULVEN: So this one I started writing last year and - in the beginning of the pandemic, and I was written - not doing well. And I started making music because that's always what I do when I don't know what to do with myself. And then, suddenly, all these, like, lyrics were coming out of my brain. I've been struggling with intrusive thoughts my entire life. You know, I'm just mentioning a couple ones here in this song but, you know, like, it's just been a lot of those. And I've had many different, like, weird hang-ups. Like, I haven't been able to swallow food for longer periods of time because I've been so scared I was going to die. And I've just, like, been going through, like, so many weird things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, mental health is a really hard thing to talk about so openly. What do you hope your listeners take away from this song and your experience?

ULVEN: I really hope that people feel less crazy. If...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Word.

ULVEN: ...Yeah, right? Like, I think it's so important to just hear that, like, a lot of people have these thoughts. And, like, I know that, you know, I've been scared of jumping in front of trains. I've been really scared of being at train stations. And I've had so many people message me about that. Like, I relate so much to this song. I've - like, I'm so scared of, like, taking the train because I'm so scared I'm going to jump in front of it when it comes. Like - and I've been in the exact same position. I kind of like - I've been, like, you know, sitting down on, like, the closest bench or like trying to, like, hold myself and lean back to the wall just so that I'm not going to even have time to run over the - like, to the train. And, like, I've had so many messages from people being like, thank you so much for speaking up on this and even, like, therapists texting me and being like, hey, this is an incredibly important song. And I really hope that people just feel less crazy and feel less alone and just feel - just know that whatever is going up in your head is most likely happening in someone else's head.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is an incredibly powerful thing because just by articulating that, people might feel less alone. You end this album with an instrumental track called "It Would Feel Like This." Why did you make that choice?

ULVEN: I feel like this album is really full of a lot of feelings and full of a lot of different things. It's very big and noisy, and that's kind of what I want to make go quiet. And this last track feels like that quiet place. It feels like just a white room that just feels really quiet to me. Like, that would be playing in a place that is heavenly, almost.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I guess the album is called "If I Could Make It Go Quiet." So is that what being quiet sounds like for you?

ULVEN: Yes, that's exactly what - that's the connection. If I could make it go quiet, it would feel like this. There should be, like, a - what's it called? Like, there's a break between - like, in a sentence - I don't even know what those things are called in English.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like an ellipsis.

ULVEN: Yes. Oh, my God. What a hard word for a tiny little thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) That is totally true. That is a hard word for a tiny little thing. That's Maria Ulven, also known as Girl in Red. Her new album is "If I Could Make It Go Quiet." Thanks so very much.

ULVEN: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDNIGHT LOVE")

ULVEN: (Singing) I know I'm the last one you try to call, but I always give in to give you it all. Oh, oh.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDNIGHT LOVE")

ULVEN: (Singing) Oh, in this light, I swear I'm blind. Oh, oh, oh, in this light, I swear you're mine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.