Lady in Crimson on TikTok Fame, Idolizing Taylor Swift and Embracing a Pop Identification
A few weeks before the release of her debut album If I Could Make It Go Quiet, Marie Ulven, the 22-year-old musician named Girl in Red, told us that Taylor Swift was both her greatest inspiration and her dream collaborator. When the album came out in late April, Swift told her Instagram followers, “Now drop it and support, stream and buy this album because it’s spectacular.” Music critics largely agreed when The Quietus wrote, “Complex and refined, if I could make it, Quiet is one of the most enticing new albums I’ve heard in a long time.”
While the success of Girl in Red seems sudden to some, the Helsinki-based musician has established herself as the singer-songwriter of choice and an odd icon for Gen Z listeners. Two songs she uploaded to YouTube and SoundCloud, Summer Depression and Girls, went viral. They established Ulven as an artist with a skilful twist on adding dull lyrics to catchy DIY tracks about mental health and sexuality. As part of a larger study of Spotify’s nascent Lorem playlist, we spoke to Ulven about the genre, Judy Garland, Ariana Grande, and of course TikTok.
How did you start learning music? Do you take classes or do you check YouTube?
I was self-taught in pretty much everything, including producing. I kind of avoided YouTube videos just because I felt like each video is around 10 minutes long. My questions took three seconds to answer. That’s why I’ve usually only found homemade solutions to certain things. I am self-taught on guitar and piano. I have an untouched cello and an untouched saxophone that I’ll probably never learn, but we’ll see.
Who are some of your greatest influences?
Taylor Swift. She is just a queen. She writes all of her own music, it has evolved over so many years. Your music is innate. It’s naturally Taylor Swift. I find this really inspiring and I want to do the same.
You kind of went viral on TikTok last summer with the phrase “can you hear girls in red?” which girls used to indicate that they were interested in other girls. Did that surprise you?
I thought it was cool. You never know when things will go viral. I was a bit surprised to some extent, but I think it’s really cool to have that kind of cultural impact.
There was a term in America in the 1950s and 1960s that gay men used similarly as “Dorothy’s friend” and that referred to Judy Garland’s character in The Wizard of Oz. So, in a way, you’re like the new Judy Garland.
Ok, that’s an icon.
When I heard children starting to use this phrase, I immediately thought about it.
Wait, “kids?” How old are you?
Well, I’m in my 30s.
Ok, so you’re like a good millennial.
Yeah, I’m definitely a millennial. Do you have any thoughts on the differences between Gen Z and Millennials?
A lot of my friends in the music industry are millennials, and I’m noticing a few things. Most of the time, the only difference is whether you are on TikTok or not. If they’re not on TikTok, that’s very noticeable in my opinion. This is where pop culture and memes are mostly featured these days. So when you’re not there, fall back on modern references.
Right, that became clear when I researched this article on Gen Z musicians.
People who say, “Oh, I don’t want to come to TikTok. It’s just so loud and I don’t understand. “It’s like,“ Girl, you sound like my grandma who doesn’t want an iPhone. Girl you’re falling behind so easy “It’s awkward to learn new shit. I feel like you have to keep track and get TikTok.
There’s a lot more to it than people think. You sign up and it’s just a couple of dance videos, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Once this algorithm starts messing with your brain, you will end up with personalized things that will only be fed into the echo chamber of your life. It’s fun, but you can also learn things there.
Do you have any favorite TikToks?
Anything that’s just fun. Maybe Daily Scream. I love a good daily scream.
I don’t think I know that. Is it actual screaming?
Yes, Daily Scream screams a lot.
Girl in red wears a Balenciaga turtleneck; all other clothing and accessories their own. Photographed in Oslo, Norway, March 2021. Creative Director: Clare Gillen.
You entered the world of streaming and have already released singles and EPs, but you have just put together your first album. Was there a big difference in bringing out a bigger project?
Honestly, this may just be my perception, but at least because of my small bubble, I have a feeling that people are ready for more albums. I feel like people don’t respond that well to singles anymore. Every time I see artists drop like ten songs before the album comes out, and then like a new single, they all say, “You just drop the album. We just want to hear the album. We don’t want to hear every single song before you drop it. “I feel like we have reached a turning point.
Regarding the genre, your music would be “indie rock” to me, but do you think in those terms?
I think my music is like pop music, and I really like to say “pop” because pop is such an umbrella term.
It could be another generation change because when millennials were in their prime of discovering music, genre labels were so important.
When I was younger I didn’t recognize pop music as great music. It was very important to me to hear what I thought was a niche. But now my identity has so much more to offer than the music I’ve heard. So it’s like, “Hell, yeah, I fuck so hard with Ariana Grande.” I don’t think it’s cool to be against popularity.