- We launched the Stay Insider Sessions to connect with artists while the world practices social distancing.
- Next up, girl in red (whose real name is Marie Ulven) tells us about the new music she’s perfecting in quarantine – and why she refuses to write a “coronavirus song.”
- “There will be no Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber song from me,” she says. “People are literally like losing their jobs and lives and ‘Stuck With U’ is romanticizing this thing.”
- Ulven recently received praise for her song on the soundtrack for “The Turning,” which was inspired by homelessness in the US – but admits she wouldn’t have agreed to write it if she’d known it was for a horror movie.
- “I had never read the script. I had never seen any clips from the movie,” she tells us. “I realised I want to be more selective, because I want to know what I’m working for, visually.”
- She says she would be open to producing a soundtrack for “any good movie. Not a Marvel movie, not a DC movie. Something Timothée Chalamet would play in. He is such a great actor. I would go straight for him. I mean it.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Insider launched the Stay Insider Sessions to connect with musicians while they, like many of us, are grappling with isolation and unprecedented downtime. Next up: girl in red.
Marie Ulven has plenty of experience making music at home, alone.
After all, the 21-year-old Norway native is known worldwide as girl in red: the harbinger of fiercely intimate, grainy bangers like “Girls” and “We Fell in Love in October,” just two of the many songs she made in her bedroom, nestled contentedly in queer hearts everywhere.
But while she’s been feeling productive during self-quarantine, Ulven says she hasn’t felt particularly “inspired.”
“I’ve been making songs, but mostly I’ve just been finishing songs that I’d already started working on,” she explains, her phone propped on her folded knee, head tilted thoughtfully. “It’s not like I’ve got the great next hit idea right now, which feels kind of shitty, but you’ve just got to wait for inspiration to come sometimes.”
Ulven had envisioned 2020 as the year of “World In Red,” which is the name of her plan for indie-pop domination. So, even though the world doesn’t exactly feel stimulating or exciting right now, she’s got plenty of material to tinker with.
“I know that there is more important s— in the world than my music, of course,” she laughs self-consciously, “but I think the world still needs music. Everyone is like turning to art right now, watching movies or reading books or listening to music. Everyone is turning to things that give them meaning.”
“I’m not going to make any coronavirus songs though,” she adds.
No songs about being stuck in the house, I ask, with your partner or parents or something?
“No, there will be no Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber song from me.”
I was alluding to it, but I wasn’t going to say it.
“Girl,” she grins, “I’ll say it.”
Ulven, ever charming and disarmingly honest, explains that she has nothing against Grande or Bieber, or even the song itself.
“I don’t think I’ve even heard the song,” she muses. “But who wants to revisit the worst economic time, or this emotionally painful time, you know what I mean? People are literally like losing their jobs and lives and ‘Stuck With U’ is romanticizing this thing.”
“This is actually a disaster for a lot of people. So I definitely don’t want to make a love song of it, when there’s people who are dying.”
Still, Ulven admits that she doesn’t want to put her life and career “on pause” – especially because her music has the power to make people feel less alone.
“I know that a lot of musicians and creators have felt the same: ‘Should I be promoting myself now?’ That’s everybody’s question, or everybody has that question on their mind,” she explains.
“But for me right now, I don’t want ‘World In Red’ or my concept or, just, girl in red to stop. I hope to still connect to others through music.”
Ulven is known for her DIY diaristic pop, but her debut album promises a more developed and mature sound
Ulven adopted her all-lowercase stage name in 2017, largely because she’d already released music under her real name in Norway and wanted a fresh start. Of the stylistic choice, she says simply: “I just don’t like capital letters and I still don’t. They just feel very formal to me.”
Like many of her young, internet-raised peers -some of whom, like Clairo and Beabadoobee, she now counts as friends – Ulven found attention and acclaim by releasing music on SoundCloud and Bandcamp.
Her first official single was 2018’s “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend.” The very first line sees her addressing a female love interest by name.
“Oh, Hannah / I wanna feel you close / Oh, Hannah / Come lie with my bones,” she sings. “I don’t wanna be your friend, I wanna kiss your lips.”
Ulven’s sexuality is woven distinctly, yet similarly matter-of-factly, throughout her music.
This elegance, combined with her raw talent, sounds a lot like the future of music – especially in a world that cares less and less about labels or traditionalism.
Ulven’s newest original single, “Midnight Love,” is the first taste of her forthcoming debut album. It tells the story of a girl who feels used and unimportant in a relationship, finally refusing to be treated as a “consolation prize.”
In real life, Ulven saw herself on the opposite side of this equation. She flipped the perspective for the song, choosing to write from her ex’s point of view.
“It took some time for me to understand that this is probably how she must have felt,” Ulven explains. “I was thinking a lot more about it, rather than just experiencing it, so I had to put dots together to sort of create this narrative that would translate as hurtful for me as well, and listeners.”
Ulven says the cinematic, piano-dusted song is her “best work yet.”
“I’m actually really proud of ‘Midnight Love.’ Every time I say that, ‘my new song, “Midnight Love,”‘ it sounds like I’m doing like some promo, like it’s some rehearsed promo line. ‘Listen to my new song, “Midnight Love!”‘ But actually,” she laughs.
“I really like the line, ‘I can’t be your midnight love / When your silver is my gold,’ because I feel like it’s not cheesy. It’s not too metaphoric, but it’s also a little bit of that. It’s just a mixture of poetry, but also being accessible in a way.”
Ulven’s official debut album, expected later this year, will continue holding that torch.
“It’s definitely more mature,” she says of her new music. “My grandma even said it: ‘Marie, you’ve grown so much this past year.’ So I feel like my new music sort of reflects that growth, that’s sort of been off-screen. Nobody has seen it because it’s not really been in my music yet.”
“So I feel like people will definitely get to know a more mature version of me. I’ve been able to reflect way more on things that are not only happening on my behalf, but also understanding other people’s feelings.”
Ulven has received praise for the song she wrote for ‘The Turning,’ even though she hates horror movies
Ulven was approached to write a song for “The Turning,” a modern take on Henry James’ horror novella “The Turn of the Screw,” starring “Stranger Things” actor Finn Wolfhard and “Black Mirror” favourite Mackenzie Davis – but she wasn’t given any of those details.
“That was a bit weird. Because I had never read the script. I had never seen any clips from the movie. I didn’t know anything. So I was sort of working in the dark,” she says.
The song she created for the acclaimed soundtrack, “Kate’s Not Here,” was actually inspired by the homelessness she saw while on tour in the US.
“I live in Norway and we have an incredibly good welfare system here. So if you lose your job and you lose everything, you still get $US2,000 a month to pay rent and to live somewhere,” Ulven explains. “I’ve never seen that many homeless people in my life. So I had this idea, I just had this line, ‘Who’s going to check up on you tonight? Will you be sleeping with open eyes?'”
“I wanted to have this sort of caring voice, this caring person talking to this girl that I had in my head, who was just roaming around, just walking around, who didn’t have any place to stay.”
“I didn’t even know it was going to be for a horror movie. I don’t really like horror movies,” she adds. “If I knew that, I probably would have been like, ‘I don’t want to do a song for a horror movie,’ but it was interesting. Definitely. I ended up really liking it, but I realised I want to be more selective, because I want to know what I’m working for, visually.”
I mention a few soundtracks curated by artists I admire – Lorde for “The Hunger Games,” Kendrick Lamar for “Black Panther” – and ask what kind of movie would convince her to take on a similar project.
“Any good movie. Not a Marvel movie, not a DC movie. Something Timothée Chalamet would play in,” she grins. “He is such a great actor. I would go straight for him. I mean it.”
I agree. He and Harry Styles both seem to be having a real cultural moment.
“Yes! Oh my god. I love those two. They’re, uh, great men. Or young fellows, young boys. I don’t even know how to talk about men. Holy s—.”
‘I’m shy when it comes to anything that’s remotely about love’
When I ask about other LGBTQ artists that Ulven admires, she immediately replies: “The Japanese House.”
“So good. I love Amber Bain. I’m just waiting for her to recognise my existence.”
I agree, and suggest: maybe you should slide into her DMs?
“Oh, dude! I’m so not going to do that. I’m not the person to slide into anyone’s DMs. I’m way too shy.”
I don’t fully believe that, and I tell her so.
“Well, I’m shy when it comes to anything that’s remotely about love,” she replies, smiling. “I’m so bad at love. I’m terrible. I’m am a bit of a romantic person, I love doing big lovey gestures, but I’m so bad with love. So I’m never going to slide into anyone’s DMs.”
“I should probably take a love course. I need to learn how to love,” she adds, before she seemed to catch herself and release a self-aware giggle. “Oh, that was a great note! That’s a great note to end this on.”
Well, I offer, you don’t seem shy to me. If anything, you project confidence.
“Honestly, that does help! Thank you. That boosts my confidence and my ego a lot.”