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On the verge of greatness: girl in red releases album ‘if i could make it go quiet’

Breakout indie pop star beginning to solidify her sound, not yet there

Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven, more widely known as the indie-pop icon girl in red, released her debut album “if i could make it go quiet” April 30 to much anticipation by fans and critics alike. 

Over the last year, Ulven has risen through the ranks of the bedroom-pop generation to amass a following of millions. Her journey started with the release of her first track “i wanna be your girlfriend” on SoundCloud in 2016. The song was followed by a number of single releases and multiple small tours. But Ulven’s meteoric rise came during the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown when her song “girls” went viral on TikTok. From there, she became an icon for queer teens around the world, amassing nearly 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 2.1 million followers on Instagram

Much of the early appeal of Ulven was her grit. Her first few releases were completely self-produced, featuring crunchy guitars over simple drum beats created in Logic Pro, a software application that provides software instruments and audio effects. She sang unashamedly about queer love and depression, topics that resonated with her Gen-Z audience. After releasing a string of singles that were later compiled into two EPs, Ulven finally took the next step and released a full-length album via recording company AWAL.

Sonically, “if i could make it go quiet” is a step up. The credits are sparse; aside from Finneas, the project’s only guest contributor on the lead single “Serotonin,” all of the production was done by Ulven and collaborator Matias Tellez. The album features string arrangements, atmospheric sounds, stacked harmonies and piano leads — all steps away from the electric guitar arrangements of her early tracks. The best example is potentially found in “midnight love,” which features a reverbed piano, pads and a muted kick which melt into a lush surround-sound experience that can make any listener’s heart ache with longing.

Still, Ulven’s signature sound isn’t missing from the album. Songs like “Did You Come?” and “You Stupid Bitch” still feature the same type of scream-in-your-room hooks and guitar sounds that drove her initial appeal. While this is arguably the space that Ulven thrives in, it’s clear that she is looking to expand her repertoire.

Tracks like “Apartment 402,” “.” and “it would feel like this” take on a more pensive tone, namely “.,” which combines a toned-down arrangement — for much of the song, the massive crunch leads are traded in for clean electric picking and acoustic rhythm backings — with an absurdly catchy melody and perfectly reverbed vocals. Ulven shines in the bridge of this song, where she dips into the refrain and sings, “Honey, I’m not doing so well” over and over until the song fades out.

Still, while it’s clear Ulven is grasping for greatness, she falls slightly short. At times the lyrics feel clichéd and the melodies often fall flat. In other instances, the instrumentation sticks out like a sore thumb. The reggae-esque electric piano lead on “Body and Mind” feels out of place and some of the lyrical experimentation in “Serotonin” feels forced. 

Lyrically, Ulven is still grappling with the themes her fanbase loves. What’s most exciting about the way she writes is that her queer stories aren’t only about queerness; queerness is simply an added detail that’s written as nothing but ordinary. Her lyrical high point is “midnight love,” a track about refusing to be a lover’s second choice: she sings, “I hope that the right time one day arrives / so, I’ll be willing to let this die / able to look you right in the eyes / say I’m not your consolation prize.”

It’s also clear from her lyrics that Ulven is growing up. She has traded in pining for girls in her childhood bedroom for missing her love while on tour (on “hornylovesickmess,” she sings “I’m in New York thinking of you / wondering what you are up to / from this lonely ass hotel room / with a pretty good lookin’ view”). 

While the lyrics show maturation, they fall dangerously close to repetition of subject matters in her old songs. Ulven’s next challenge will be figuring out how to find new angles on the stories that her fans yearn for rather than simply rewording the old ones.

Nonetheless, these minor inconsistencies are all part of the growing pains of being a star on the rise. With each track she releases, listeners can see Ulven honing her craft and experimenting with various sounds and structures. “if i could make it go quiet” presents her following with a strong debut, marking her career as one to watch.



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