As an artist, Marie Ulven (a.k.a. the popular musician, girl in red), lives a dichotomous life. In one sense, she has a rather uneventful day-to-day in her home country of Norway. She grew up in a small Norwegian town, she really likes fingerboarding and she walks her dog regularly. But in another sense, Ulven lives a very engaged life with music and fame at her fingertips. Today, she has millions of fans and even more video and song streams. Since releasing her smash 2018 hit, “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend,” Ulven’s career has continued to take off thanks to her devastating honesty, eclectic sonic sensibilities and knack for saying just the phrase to perk and ear or raise an eyebrow. This week, Ulven will release her debut LP, if I could make it go quiet. The album, which begins with brash statements and keen personal insights, should continue to garner Ulven a large following while still continuing to allow her to live the life she’s always dreamed.
“I absolutely love that it is my whole life,” Ulven says. “It went from going to school and making music in the afternoon instead of hanging out with people to now, where making music is my job. I feel like I’m living the dream life.”
While Ulven is wrapped up in things that give her satisfaction, she also wonders what else is out there. After all, an artist needs inspiration and experience in order to write, right? Continuing to learn and experiment remains crucial for the young, though already established, artist. It was the same way when she began her journey too. Ulven received her first guitar for Christmas at 12 years old, but like most, she wasn’t initially an intuitive player. It took time to warm up to the instrument, to find where she belonged and to learn how to play. A year later, in 2013, Ulven experienced another life-changing moment. She watched the 2012 movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the soundtrack spoke to her in a way that pushed her to dive headfirst into song.
“I was on an island in Canada and I was very lonely and very bored,” Ulven says. “So, I watched the entire music score and made sure to learn it.”
Today, Ulven, who lives in Oslo, the capital of Norway, appreciates residing in an area that’s not saturated in music or the music industry. She certainly has the ability, when possible, to visit musical hubs like New York and Los Angeles. But outside of those occasions, she’s happy making music at home (and fingerboarding). Ulven, who is sponsored at the micro-skateboarding pastime, is considered a professional fingerboarder. She may even one day make a fingerboarding music video for her girl in red project, if she feels so moved.
“I’m not in a music bubble in any way,” Ulven says. “I don’t hang out with other musicians, in that sense. I feel that it grounds me quite a lot to stay here. I feel very lucky to be here.”
A bilingual artist, the 22-year-old Ulven has a keen sense of knowing just what to say to earn attention and appreciation. While she grew up with Norwegian as her “mother tongue,” she’s quite fluent in English too and showcases that fact in her music, including her forthcoming LP. Beginning with her success just a couple years ago with her debut hit, to watch Ulven gain attention in the global music conversation has been astonishing. She’s clearly talented, unique and interesting. But as she puts it, this sort of recognition is unpredictable.
“It feels like a once in a lifetime chance,” Ulven says. “This just doesn’t happen to random girls from Norway.”
While many know girl in red as a “bedroom pop” act, Ulven says she doesn’t like or accept labels or genres. In fact, she shies from them. She understood the moniker when she was coming up, but today, it just doesn’t fit. For starters, her new album was finished in a studio (after much of it was written in her bedroom). But no matter the location of a given creative work, Ulven likes to think of her music as varied, not of any single box.
“I really don’t like labels and I don’t like genres,” she says. “I don’t want to be put in anything.”
To make her debut LP, Ulven says, was very fun, draining and exhausting. It was a learning experience and one, it would seem, that she learned a great deal from. The album features rugged rock rhythms (“You Stupid Bitch”), jaunty pop (“Rue”) and candy coated harmonies mixed with rap (“Serotonin”). Ulven also worked with famed producer, FINNEAS, brother of the multi-Grammy winner Billie Eilish on the album’s opening song. For someone who deeply misses performing live with her “whole body,” creating the new album was a welcomed distraction from the pandemic-induced limitations. On the record, Ulven isn’t afraid to talk about mental health, sex, breakups and more personal details. It’s partly what makes her so special.
“That’s just what comes natural to me,” she says. “I don’t plan anything when it comes to my lyrics. Whatever comes out comes out.”
Photos by Jonathon Kise