Pop

How Girl In Red Realized Her Debut Was 'A Banger Album'

girl in red
Jonathan Kise

girl in red

Twenty-two-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter Girl in Red, born Marie Ulven, always wanted to write emotional, vulnerable music that people could relate to — but she never expected to become a queer icon. Her stage name has become something of an LGBTQ code word, with queer women asking “do you like Girl in Red?” to potential partners to determine if they’re interested in women. “I just think it's such a dope thing, because it's so rare for an artist to make a cultural impact like that,” she says over Zoom. “It's like, 'Yes, go you, get that bread!'”

Girl in Red poured that same kind of high-energy enthusiasm into her upcoming debut album, If I Could Make It Go Quiet. Its single “Serotonin” has helped the singer hit a new level, earning her first entries on Billboard's Hot Alternative Songs and Emerging Artists charts. The hit also allowed the artist to work a favorite producer of hers: FINNEAS.

“He probably gets requests every single day from people being like, 'You made a gigantic record with Billie Eilish, we want the same, give us that,'” she says. “Having someone that you look up to tell you, 'What you've made is so cool’ is just so dope.”

From her humble beginnings on SoundCloud to her hotly anticipated debut, here is how Girl in Red became one to watch.

Ulven grew up loving The Smiths, The Shins and David Bowie but always thought she would be a teacher. Yet once her grandfather gifted her a guitar for her 13th birthday, she thought, “‘I want to pursue music, but if I pursue music, will I be poor forever?’ I knew it would be hard, but I decided to go down that path.” By 16, Ulven — who was then experimenting with pseudonyms like Lydia X and Lyfsuxx — was uploading original songs to SoundCloud and quickly gaining traction for her lovelorn, queer-coded songwriting.

In early 2018, Ulven’s single “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” had captured the attention of millions of listeners thanks to its front-facing, explicitly LGBTQ lyrics — and she needed help capitalizing on the moment. That summer, AWAL senior director of A&R Will Hunt met Ulven over coffee in Oslo to see if the label would be a good fit for her. She ended up working with AWAL for her Chapter 2 EP and its breakout single, “We Fell in Love in October,” before signing a worldwide recording contract with the label in December 2019. “My gut was just telling me that it felt right,” she says. “And it has all been worth it.”

After two years of writing and recording, Ulven is releasing her official debut album, If I Could Make It Go Quiet, on April 30 on AWAL. Lead single “Serotonin” best illustrates how the album expands on the shoegaze-adjacent bedroom-pop that defined so much of Ulven’s early music, with alt-pop jams that she cannot wait to perform on the road. “It’s really just the musical progression that has been going on behind the scenes that sort of led to what it is right now,” she says, “which is a banger album.”

This story originally appeared in the April 24, 2021 issue of Billboard.