girl in red Is Telling Her Truth [Q&A]
Photo: Jonathan Vivaas Kise
In 2018, the final new artist discovery piece we wrote was on an artist that we championed as the rainbow flag-waving anti-pop star of 2019. 2019 would see that artist tour across the world, release a highly-praised sophomore EP, and establish herself as a definitive voice of Generation Z. girl in red, the artist in question, is the bedroom-produced project of Norwegian artist Marie Ulven, who has been heralded as a painfully authentic queer icon for queer teenagers the world over.
Her music speaks to the heartbreaking and euphoric nature of young queer love, fleeting feelings of isolation, and the overall inner turmoil of growing up and attempting to figure out life. By no means is it unexplored territory, but the level of candor, delivered in a fashion that blurs the lines between her bedroom-produced contemporaries and the garage-rock heroes of yesterday, can at times feel groundbreaking.
As our final new artist discovery of 2018, it only seems fitting that our first interview of 2020 is with girl in red. We sat down with the artist hours ahead of her final US show of 2019 to talk about the tangible effect her music is having on people, the revolution Greta Thunberg and Billie Eilish are leading, and painting the world in red.
Ones To Watch: Does it ever begin to feel larger-than-life knowing the palpable impact your music has had and is having on people?
girl in red: Yeah, it comes out of nowhere really. I make songs and stuff, but I don't realize what kind of impact it has on people. Because I'm just living my life and that song is just out there, and I don't know what people are doing with it. So, I think that it's really cool and weird to suddenly meet a real person that has listened to one of my songs and be like, "That shit saved me." It's really weird because I didn’t know any of that was happening, but it was, and I like that.
Was there a certain point in time where you started noticing that impact?
I mean, I think I started noticing that things were happening, maybe like, when I released "girls." That's when things started getting even bigger, and I got like 20k followers, and I was like, "Woah that's two digits right there." I was really excited then. "girls" has been one of my strongest anthems for people to use to embrace themselves. I feel like after that song there have been a lot of people sending me messages like, "Hey, I came out to this song. I used it in the car with my mother."
Given my walk today here, it's not terribly surprising. There is already a line of girls down the block camping out to get into the show.
Wow, already? It's mostly girls. I like to meet boys too; I like seeing boys out there. I think it's super cool there's people out there so early because that's what people do for like really cool artists and stuff, and I'm just like whaaaat? Because I don’t feel… I just feel what I've always felt. And now people look at me in a weird way that I don't see myself. Sometimes I’m on stage and someone wants my towel and II don’t see myself as someone that people would want a used towel from.
I imagine people fall in love with your music due to the level of candidness in your songwriting.
Yes! And we need that! Just some normal people that are making music and telling their truth. And I think that maybe I'm doing that. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just doing something that I think comes naturally to me and then people sort of gravitate towards it for some reason.
With that being said, is it hard to just put it all out there in your songs? You're opening up to millions of people after all.
But when I make music, it's just me. I'm just being honest with myself when I write and then it happens, I just happen to put it out. In some ways, it's affected my thinking. Are people going to like this song? I can't lie and be like, "Yeah, I don't feel anything. I don't feel like I’m writing to anyone." I definitely have had some unsettling feelings, like is this line too graphic? I have a line now that is like, "Was she good? What you like? Did you cum? How many times?" And that's a pretty like, you know, I haven't heard that in a line before. It's a pretty vulnerable and jealous feeling. When I write that, I'm like can I put that in a song? I've met girls at meet-and-greets that are like 12-years-old and listen to my music. Like, what are people going to think? But, this is something that came to my head. I'm just going to block out all these questions from people because that is just going to mess up what I'm trying to do.
How do you feel about being placed in this new wave of "bedroom pop" artists?
This bedroom pop thing? In the beginning, a lot of people called me that, but I don't feel like a bedroom pop artist but a lot of people put me in this bedroom pop movement because it’s easier to understand something if you put it in a box. I think this is happening because music equipment is getting more affordable. Obviously, I'm very privileged. I live in the richest country in the world. I've always had a roof over my head and grandparents and shit. I've been lucky to have equipment available and stuff and I also think that some people that also have that same privilege get the equipment and start messing around because they're bored or something. I don't know why people start making music.
Why did you start making music?
I don't know. It's not like I wanted to be Taylor Swift or some other artist at the time. I just wanted a guitar and I wanted to make music, I'm not sure where that came from. I just had the urge to make something. I didn't get my guitar and start covering songs. I was like let me start writing. So, I think it's cool what's happening now because equipment is so affordable and putting it out is so easy. There are so many online distributors you don't need to be signed anymore. Like, I'm still indie you know? I'm working with a distributor like I have signed something, but I don't have like a big ass label behind me. And I think it's like as long as you make good music you're going to go somewhere. That's the only thing. I just want to make good music, and I think everyone can make good music and put it out.
Do you mind explaining the chapter element behind the music you have released thus far?
I don't look at them as EPs. I look at chapter 1 as 2018, and the reason I have chapters one and two is I've just been making music and putting it out as I move along, so I want the songs to be like, chapter 1 is the beginning of something. I didn't want it to be like, "Okay. Now I can make an album." I wasn't in that state of mind, I just want to continue this, because this is what felt natural to me. They're more just like labels, ironically. This is 2018. This is 2019. I've now got other types of ideas, my head is working in a different way, so now all my work I see in a different bigger body of work. I didn’t with the other songs. I didn't see them in like an album. But now with the stuff I make, this is like track number four, number one. That's how my mind works now. That's what the music has been about, just progressing as a songwriter and a producer.
What do you hope 2020 holds for you?
2020. What the fuck. That's so weird. I'm definitely going to be making a lot of music. I know the first few months I won't be touring, I'll just be making music and then hopefully I'll release an album. That's like world domination, world in red, just make an album, JUST make an album. Then probably some touring, some really cool festivals would be nice. Oh, I'm getting a dog!
What kind of dog?
Bernese Mountain Dog.
What are you going to name it?
Burner, very original!
As we move into 2020, music and politics as a whole are becoming more female. So can we talk about two people you avidly admire, Billie Eilish and Greta Thunberg?
Greta Thunberg is blowing up. Not long ago she had a couple hundred thousand followers, and I was on her Instagram the other day and she had like 3.3 million followers. Then I checked later that day and she had four, then after her speech at the UN she had six. She is so cool she is literally the front figure of the biggest revolution right now. Like, I consider this a revolution it's crazy. I was thinking about it, you know the French Revolution and the American Revolution? I'm pretty sure at that time they didn't necessarily think that of it as a revolution. I feel like we're in the middle of something that is going to be really, really big and it's so cool that out of nowhere this little Swedish girl comes out. And there's so many old people personally attacking her because they don't have anything to I don’t know, they can't fight the science. I think she's really cool.
I think Billie Eilish is really cool also. She's also leading some sort of revolution, right now. They're kind of similar, they're both really really important people, and they have great voices. I was talking to Isaac [Dunbar], and we were just talking about Billie, she's like literally the biggest star on the planet right now. And it happened so quickly. I followed Billie when she had 200,000 followers in 2017, and I listened to her EP, dont smile at me, and she was my most listened to artist that year. And that's so weird, she's changed so much. Artists that can just renew themselves like she's doing are the most important. Like David Bowie, he was renewing himself always, making cool music and making new characters and shit. She's going from dont smile at me to WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, like such a big cool change. And FINNEAS' production is the future! He is so talented. I met him at a festival in Belgium and he was so nice and he smells really good too.
What does he smell like?
I can't describe it. It's like I've never smelled anything like that before. It's like some next-level future perfume. They're a power duo.
Who are your Ones To Watch?
I'm definitely excited about this one artist called BENEE, from New Zealand, she is really cool. beabadoobee also has some cool stuff going on. We've grown sort of a lot this last year. I’m excited about Clairo because she made a really good record. I'm just excited about all of these people that I have been following for the last two-and-a-half years that are suddenly blowing up. I remember I followed Clairo when "Pretty Girl" just came out and had like 9000 streams on Spotify. I'm so excited, because I followed these people so long ago and they were so small then, and now they're so much bigger. I wonder where they're going to go.
Anything else you want to say?
World In Red