By Marianna Kaimakliotis
girl in red may be one of the few (if there are any) positive outcomes of a year in quarantine.
Marie Ulven, a Norwegian singer-songwriter, is the creative power behind the project, and while still in the beginnings of adulthood herself, she has connected to teenagers and young adults across the world through her work. Ulven grew in popularity during quarantine thanks to her pleaful and soft bedroom-pop release “we fell in love in october,” which has been used in over 399K videos on the TikTok platform. Soon enough, gay teens had created their own 21st century version of the “friend of dorothy?” expression through girl in red’s appeal to young queer girls — “Do you listen to girl in red?” really asks “do you like girls?” Historically, Ulven has reflected on being a gay pop artist, and how she hopes to be a role model for young queer individuals, since she herself had few to look up to when she was young(er).
As of this week, girl in red has finally released her debut album, if i could make it all go quiet, with the assistance of co-producers Matias Tellez and Finneas (known for his fantastic and experimental work with his sibling, Billie Eilish). Throughout the album, she explores love and love lost with new and old influences of folk-pop, alt-rock, and pop-punk.
The record’s first single, “Serotonin” delves into a 21st-century understanding of depression and mental illness; topics such as attending therapy, intrusive thoughts, and feelings of impulsivity and fear sit at the core of the melody. On tracks such as this, Ulven is opening herself up, showing us how she is self-aware, but still can be self- destructive; hurt and hurting others. This self-awareness is something that makes her voice stand out, and it’s most likely how she has been able to connect to so many listeners in such a short span of time.
Through the experiences we hear of on the album’s debut single, Ulven also sets up some of the many recurring themes seen on if i could make it all go quiet. For example, throughout the tracklisting, we see her focus on the struggles of past relationships, tinged with loneliness and a desperation to be seen and understood. In “hornylovesickness,” Ulven recalls seeing her name on a billboard, and how, despite the status she’s earned, it doesn't distract from her desire for a past love; she explores how growing in her career and into celebrity hasn’t kept her feelings of insecurity and second-guessing at bay. In contrast, the next track, “midnight love,” seems to mirror “hornylovesickness” from the other point of view — where the former comes from the perspective of a speaker who longs for someone in the past and reaches out in times of sexual desire, “midnight love” reflects on being the one answering that call, and how love puts us in these contrasting positions. On the track, Ulven writes, “I hope that the right time / One day arrives / So I’ll be willing to let this die / Able to look you / Right in the eyes / Say I’m not your consolation prize.” Here, she speaks of a relationship that isn’t healthy for either party but how she still can’t seem to get over the desire, the longing.
At other points, Ulven also taps into the anger and insecurities involved with being a young adult. In “did you come?,” she begs the question towards a cheating lover — “Was she good? / Just what you liked? / Did you come? / How many times?,” she asks. The speaker's insistence on knowing the intimate details of the adulterous action shows their intention to gain control over the separation and over the situation, despite still feeling small. The power she seeks would come from learning how the cheater made the speaker feel, the knowledge helping them to not shy away from speaking out; to gain and reclaim power in the situation after being betrayed. Instances such as this show some growth in the speaker’s voice, where in “body and mind,” we learn self love isn’t a strength of the song’s protagonist. The complex experiences and juxtaposing feelings give the album a universal, humanistic appeal, as Ulven embodies many different sides and writes honestly from many points of view.
Throughout girl in red’s debut album, there are a lot of strengths, particularly where the music goes quiet. In an album full of self-reflective verses and instances of confession, Ulven is not afraid to take a step back and let the melody carry her feelings forward. In some songs (such as “did you come?” and “you stupid bitch”), distorted guitar and danceable drums rise as a conclusion, while others (like “midnight love and “it would feel like this”) leave space for isolated piano and stripped-down melodies to complete the journey of the music. The decision to end on purely instrumental with “it would feel like this” was a strong artistic choice, reflective of an album being something you listen to in order, and something that has a beginning, and an end.
While a few of the songs feel a bit redundant, perhaps over exploring a theme of “I want you but I shouldn’t,” overall, if i could make it all go quiet has a strong emotional core. Ulven’s voice is clear and able to shift between different genres with ease and intent, making her debut album an exciting listen.
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