Traditionally, youthful beginnings tend to be loud. Throughout a series of independent tracks and EPs, the Norwegian singer-songwriter Girl in red has already produced a couple of albums by meeting hymns fermented by quiet introspection. She is typical, but also transcends, the self-produced diaristic bedroom pop which has become predominant in recent years, thanks to the democratization of the means of production that has put power in the hands of younger and more feminine artists.
Ready for the moshpit and refreshingly straightforward, Marie Ulven’s songs about his sexuality (he likes girls) and mental health (top and bottom) have already become the defining of the era, to the point where “Do you listen to Girl in Red?” it has become a discreet online consultation on someone’s guidance. In truth, Ulven’s Gen Z frankness is addressed to all concerned, not just those who are LGBTQ +. Spinning, falling in love, and getting out of it – this is ancient, universal song fodder, renewed again by granular detail and the verve of Ulven.
However, in the title of her first album, the 22-year-old has chosen to underline not her desire to tear the roof off places, but a general longing for peace of mind. Girl in Red’s long-awaited debut is certainly loud, with forays into raucous pop-punk and stadium electronics. But volume and noise are not the same. And the sound and ambition of this album seem, ultimately, to act in the service of a longed-for inner stillness.
If I could make him calm down It ends with a short instrumental, It would Feel Like This, in which a simple piano melody is shadowed by an arrangement of strings. “If I could silence it,” says Ulven, “it would feel like this piano and these strings,” rather than, say, a song like You stupid bitch, where his record peaks bratty yang. Sharing a bit of carpe diem, the cathartic pop DNA of I Don’t Care by Icona Pop and Charli XCXStupid Bitch finds Ulven venting his frustration on a friend who makes poor decisions and can’t see their relationship from Ulven’s perspective. “The only one for you is me!” she screams.
You can isolate two different aspects of Girl in Red’s audacious post-bedroom hubbub here, and how they might serve your ultimate peace of mind. The first is his uncompromising directness, the kind of over-sharing that is natural for the Ulven cohort, plus a little and a little more. Take Hornylovesickmess, a carefree-sounding version of female lust, in which she flails herself on how her raging libido can make her use people.
Even sharper is the smug Did You Come ?, a lively, goth-pop track in which Ulven confronts a wandering lover: “Did you come, how many times?” she demands. “Tell me the truth, wait, it doesn’t matter.” Gossip accumulates. “I explained, you are illiterate,” she says furiously. “Never listen to a monologue told by a lying fraud.”
The second aspect is the new Girl in Red production values: they are not small. Much of their early production had the indie pop homey sheen, a kind of punk, tra-la-la quality that also leaned heavily toward the mainstream. Ulven’s hobby has proven to be a phase rather than an aesthetic choice. On If I could make him calm downShe co-produces for Back of the Sands, largely with the help of Bergen-based Matias Tellez. There is nothing thin on tracks like Rue, which begins with folk-pop verses reminiscent of the first aid kit, but evolves into propellant stadium pop. The helicopter flutters at Hornylovesickmess are just a small detail that shows that Girl in Red has made great strides in her technical acumen.
However, the album’s biggest influence on the ear is Serotonin, where ultra-modern production meets Ulven’s harshest internal climate. Here, she details the intrusive thoughts that haunt her, the downsides of the medication, and how her mind “is so liar.” If it sounds, in parts, a bit like a Billie Eilish emo track, then it’s because the eldest of the Eilish, Finneas, helps. (Girl in Red has since released a moving a cappella version.)
Where this album falls is how much Ulven yearns for all that trademark Eilish audio drama, but can’t figure out how to make it his own. A song like Body and Mind has that old, hypermodern fusion that the Eilish do so well. For everything Ulven is singing about deeply personal matters, his multitrack voice has more than a bit of Billie about it, right down to how Ulven whispers and mutters the album title line.
Ultimately, it only makes sense for Girl in Red to grow and grow in the direction of the music industry’s current source of heat and light. The biggest progression here seems to be not from the ramshackle pop of Girl in Red’s GarageBand days to this sleek, sand-ready iteration, but in the safety of change. Where once there was too crude a fragility in some of Ulven’s music, it has now reached a bold and joyous step in which daily waste has become writing; and music, not only a vector to let off steam, but a place where noise can be tamed into sounds that benefit it.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism