An introduction to the Norwegian indie singer who has been one of the most hyped artists of 2021 and a verdict on If I Could Make It Go Quiet.
Marie Ulven is a 22-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter better known as girl in red. She writes songs about mental health, anxiety and queer romance, and has been causing up a stir in the indie world over the last couple of years!
Confession: I was late to the party, only picking up on her name last year after hearing her track 'Rue' on BBC 6Music. Better late than never though, eh?
My intrigue in the singer grew even further last December. As a sucker for an indie Christmas song (because the traditional pop ones wear just a little bit thin after the millionth listen...), my interest peaked after she released her chirpy, festive piano-led 'two queens in a king sized bed', a song that went down an absolute Yuletide treat.
With previous singles 'we fell in love in october' (which gained her a top 5 Official UK Singles Chart hit) and 'i wanna be your girlfriend' wracking up hundreds of millions of listens on Spotify, the bedroom pop star was clearly going places coming into 2021.
In January, as I looked up debut albums due for release in 2021, girl in red was definitely high up the list of most anticipated records and this was confirmed when she was nominated on the BBC Sound of 2021 shortlist. Before long, she'd released a couple of brilliant preview singles and was being given extensive play on Radio 1. The UK music scene was quickly falling for the Scandanavian singer.
If I Could Make It Go Quiet
If I Could Make It Go Quiet was finally released on 30 April on the independent label AWAL and I couldn't wait to get stuck in. So, did the album deliver on the hype? Let's find out.
Firstly, some praise for keeping the record succinct. I've always been a fan of a 'less is more' approach when it comes to music and know exactly how tempting it can be for a new artist to overindulge us with material on their debut in an effort to make an impression. She resists this with an 11 track record at just over 33 minutes. Seriously, kudos for that.
It opens with the brilliant 'Serotonin', a track that will immediately make you sit up and take notice. The production is smooth and upbeat, contrasting greatly with Marie's confessions about feeling depressed and how she "can't hide, from the corners of my mind, I'm terrified of what's inside". She then jumps in rap mode to reveal that "I get intrusive thoughts like cutting my hands off, like jumping in front of a bus, like how do I make this stop, when it feels like my therapist hates me?, please don't let me go crazy".
I first heard the track on Radio 1 one afternoon back in March and was immediately impressed with the honesty and vulnerability on show. You just don't get feelings like this portrayed on daytime radio and immediately respected how she was putting her fears and insecurities out there.
The following track is similar in sound, this time moving her focus outward. 'Did You Come?' see's girl in red at her angriest and most frustrated ("I'm not upset, I'm f**king pissed" she declares early on), calling out a "lying fraud" ex-partner who cheated on her. She's again putting her cards out using angsty, emotive language we can all relate with at our angriest. And don't we just love an artist who's an open book?!
On 'hornylovesickness' the tables have turned. The anger of 'Did You Come?' has been replaced with regret. It sees us take a peek into her lonely tour schedule and sadness over a relationship gone bad. Despite her newfound success ("down at Times Square in the rain, there's a billboard with my face, it's so weird how things have changed"), she's obsessing over her role in a ruined romance. Her success has her unfulfilled and sad, contrasting to the seemingly cheery piano ballad sound.
'Midnight Love' has a more dreamy vibe and, again, covers relationship regret. Not a bad track necessarily, but by this point in the album the theme was wearing a little thin for me and my attention began to fade. Time for a reset.
Thankfully, the midway track 'You Stupid Bitch', gives us the energy and kick up the a** the previous track had been missing! Marie is back to being angry again (our favourite of her moods...), but in a slightly more, erm, comforting way than before.
As the heaviest and most explosive rock song on the album, she's telling a friend who has been constantly hurt by broken relationships that the answer is staring her right in the face ("you stupid b*tch, can't you see?, the perfect one for you is me"). For a similar lesbian in love with non-lesbian friend story treated with more delicacy, check out Arlo Parks' sublime track 'Eugene' from her January released debut Collapsed in Sunbeams.
'Rue' is a haunting indie-folk tale of mental health suffering and trying to leave those feelings behind. As mentioned above, this was my entry point to girl in red and was amongst my favourites here. It's undoubtedly the highlight on the second half of the album (which isn't hard, but more on that later...) and gets more emotional the more you hone in on the lyrical vulnerability.
The fact she ends the album on a beautiful piano instrumental is certainly a strange move and my initial reaction was that it was a misplaced mid-point interlude. It almost comes across that she has zero confidence that penultimate track 'I'll Call You Mine' is a closing statement song (which it isn't...) and has therefore put together a half-baked finale. Its a bold move, I just haven't made my mind up if it works. Upon completition you're left thinking "oh, is that it?".
If I Could Make It Go Quiet definitely has its share of moments. The anger, regret, anxiety and honesty certainly leave an impression on some tracks. There's little pretence on show and I enjoyed the fact that she's using her music to get things off her chest, be it about depression or relationship woes. It may not be the cleverest lyrically or most poetic, but part of the charm is the immaturity. She's young, has things to say and doesn't care who she offends. I like that.
Now for the bad. Not to sound overly defensive, but I can hardly praise girl in red's honesty on this album without being honest in my own assessment. In truth, the latter half of the album dragged. There's too many bland moments and it took more than a few listens before I could fully appreciate the album as a whole. It simply ran out of steam.
My initial impatience is certainly surprising considering the short run time of the record (33 minutes is a music bloggers dream!). Tracks like 'Apartment 402', '.' and 'Body And Mind' (which sounds like a mediocre Lorde track) left little mark and I constantly found myself debating whether to hit that skip button. These songs were covering similar themes as before, just without the same impact or quality of hooks.
In all honesty, by the end I didn't exactly leave the record wanting more and this is perhaps the album's ultimate weakness. The obvious reason for that is the scales being tipped firmly in the direction of the brilliant first half.
There's the refreshing honesty of 'Serotonin' and angst of 'You Stupid Bitch', two tracks which feature highly amongst my favourites of the year. Unfortunately, there's a steady decline in the second half and an interest level to match. After the instrumental finish you leave the record feeling slightly perplexed. It limps to an end rather than on a captivating bang that you'd get with, say, Phoebe Bridgers' 2020 Punisher finale 'I Know the End'.
Having said that, there's enough here for me to realise there's a big future for girl in red to grow and mature. Her debut isn't perfect by any stretch and it will certainly divide opinion for several bland tracks and less memorable hooks. However, considering there are a couple of excellent highlights and many more passable moments, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in the long run. She has better in her, for sure.
For an alternative view on girl in red's If I Could Make It Go Quiet, check out Either Or's review. Spoiler: Andrew is not quite as generous as me!