girl in red: “This album definitely feels like a risk”

As she returns for her second album, girl in red’s Marie Ulven is embracing joy and self-discovery.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Derek Bremner.

“Everyone should just be making jokes all the time,” says girl in red’s Marie Ulven. “Laughter is just so cool.” That smirking desire to have a good time fuels her maximalist new album, ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’.

It’s a world away from the delicate but crushing heartache that drove girl in red’s breakout hits ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ and ‘Summer Depression’, but this new era is all about having the best time possible. That excitement is reflected in the giant hand-painted banner that screams ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ and doubles up as the album’s cover, while the music builds on the giddy, stadium-baiting pop of debut album ‘If I Could Make It Go Quiet’. 

As huge as that record was, sounding perfectly at home in arenas and stadiums via tours with Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift, it also desperately clung to whatever tiny moments of optimism that Marie could find. By contrast, ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ embraces pure, unadulterated glee at every turn. “With that first album, I was searching for joy. I was hoping that I’d be fine,” she explains. As ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!”s blossoming opening track ‘I’m Back’ says, ‘I believe there’s hope for me’.

“The past two years have actually been really joyous,” Marie adds. “I’ve been figuring out how to deal with anxiety, I’ve been going to therapy, I’ve just been really happy. This album is all coming from a place of truth,” she promises.

“Also, I’m easily bored and want to try new things that I think are fun. I want to do things that are interesting instead of trying to make something overly sad or seem smart,” she continues. “Fun is the new rock’n’roll.”

It’s not as simple as that, though. One moment, Marie is telling us how “there are no skips on this album, every track is my favourite”, but the next, she’s admitting she never really knows how good an album actually is. “There have been so many second albums where an artist has clearly lost it after spending a couple of years on the road. That’s been my biggest fear.”

“I was eating in Michelin-starred restaurants, and that’s so not relatable”

girl in red

“There are so many feelings and thoughts behind this album, it’s almost too much for me to explain,” she adds. Ping-ponging between swaggering confidence and something more anxious is exactly how ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ was made, though.

After eventually releasing delayed debut album ‘If I Could Make It Go Quiet’ in early 2021, Marie spent the rest of the year “being a normal 22-year-old”. She spent time with her girlfriend, her friends, her family. “There was a lot of hanging out. I very much leaned into being in my early 20s,” she says. “I know that sounds stupid,but I don’t get to do that very often.” When she first started out, she was so determined to make something of girl in red, she spent every possible minute working on new music and would “punish” herself for having fun. Then, when things started taking off, she hit the road hard to make things as big as possible.

Now, though, she’s happy and enjoying the life she’s made for herself. However, that didn’t exactly lend itself to being creative, especially when previous girl in red songs have brutally tackled everything from shitty mental health to unrequited love. Treating herself to some of the finer things in life only made things harder. “I was eating in Michelin-starred restaurants, and that’s so not relatable,” Marie grins, laughing at the idea of a fine dining album. “I felt like I was losing myself. I tried to force myself to write sad songs, but it just wasn’t happening.”

Making that debut album felt like a purge, and it took Marie a while to even realise there was a second album to make. “It’s very easy to overthink things, and it’s very easy to smother your own project.”

“I felt like I was losing myself. I tried to force myself to write sad songs, but it just wasn’t happening”

girl in red

After a year of wrestling with herself, Marie was backstage in Austin when she came up with the song that became ‘Doing It Again Baby!’. “It immediately felt so cool. It sparked this new energy and new vibe.” From that moment, Marie knew girl in red couldn’t make another sad album. “That’s just not where I was. I had to embrace who I was and make whatever wanted to come out.”

Things came together quickly after that. “It felt like the best shit I’ve ever made, which is pretty much the concept for the whole album,” says Marie. “‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ basically means I’m making a better record than the first one,” she continues, while the title-track was originally called ‘The Apple Song’ because it provides the same technicolour energy that Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida’, Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’, Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ and Gorillaz’ ‘Feel Good Inc.’ brought to iPod commercials in the noughties.

“Everything about the album is about feeling so good about something, but it’s also about being insecure,” says Marie, who’s struggled with feeling comfortable onstage and often questioned her own abilities. Talking to Dork last August, Marie explained how she was so worried about this album not being good enough; it was making her sick and keeping her up at night. “What’s the point of making music when the world seems so unfair,” she asked. However, earlier that same year, she was reminded about the power a good pop song wields. “People have told me that my music has literally saved their life, but I also think I have no talent a lot of time,” she admitted, before ultimately ending up on the idea that “music is so important because it’s so human.”

“It’s this fine balance,” she adds today, before revealing she’s set to promote the record with a series of billboards that read: “I’m putting out a new album, what if it sucks?”

“The thing is, you have to have some level of self-esteem to try and do anything in this world. There needs to be some sort of confidence to share your art. Coming into my 20s, I definitely lost a lot of my ‘I don’t give a fuck’ energy,” says Marie. “And if you don’t realise you’ve lost that part of you, and you don’t try and get it back, you completely stop trying new things. You stop pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.” You make safe, predictable art and shy away from the world. ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ is anything but.

“I definitely have a very strong sense of impostor syndrome, but I’ve realised you can think that you’re the shit and also think that you absolutely suck. It’s fun to be both. On this album, I’ve leaned into being playful again. I’ve leaned in to being bold,” she continues, with the record full of “ballsy shit”.

“It felt like the best shit I’ve ever made, which is pretty much the concept for the whole album”

girl in red

The explosive, snarling ‘Phantom Pain’ sees Marie “trying to capture the feeling of being absolutely blinded by love. You know the love that just fully consumes you and makes you go absolutely crazy,” she asks, while the twinkling, groove-driven ‘A Night To Remember’ is about the night Marie met her girlfriend. 

Then there’s the Sabrina Carpenter-featuring ‘You Need Me Now?’ which is goofy, excitable but heartfelt. 

Originally, I had a line about wanting Ariana Grande to feature, but she didn’t want to, so I was having to do it myself. That didn’t seem cool enough, though,” says Marie, who then reached out to Sabrina. “I love ‘Feather’, I love ‘Nonsense’, and I think ‘Emails I Can’t Send’ is such a sick album. I knew she could bring something to the song that I couldn’t.” It was an instant yes, with Sabrina telling Marie that she’d even burp on a song if it’s what Marie wanted. “I found that so funny,” says Marie. The pair wrote the lyrics together, and Sabrina smashed her part out in just four hours. “It’s just got this wonderful ‘fuck you’ energy.”

“A lot of duets or collaborations feel very calculated, but I wanted something exciting and surprising,” Marie continues. “It was the same when I made ‘Serotonin’ with Finneas. It’s a weird song, but it feels fun, and I want more of that. It’s about allowing myself to have weird ideas and trying them out instead of being really serious all the time. It’s possible to be serious and have fun with it.” 

The other side of the coin sees the epic, pleading ‘Pick Me’ explore jealousy and “feeling like your partner is going to leave you at any second, which is one of the things I’ve been struggling with the most,” Marie admits. “Even admitting I can be jealous feels really humiliating,” but she has no intention of trying to seem perfect. Continuing that energy, the nightmarish ‘Ugly Side’ sees her embracing her bad qualities. “It’s about all the parts of me I feel like I’m hiding from people,” she says. “I’m just saying it out loud that I’m not perfect, and I have bad sides, but I can still be cute and lovable. I just want more duality in the world; I want more space for people to be people.”

“It’s fun to dive into these different personalities,” she adds.

“You can think that you’re the shit and also think that you absolutely suck”

girl in red

Staying true to her lived experiences, the record ends with the brash, twisting ‘★★★★★’. “That song is just me debating whether the album is really shit or not. I’m asking if it’s a mess or if I never miss. Those are my two moods, I guess. It’s a summary of what I’d been feeling throughout the process.”

‘★★★★★’ also references a number of sculptures Marie made for this album and is planning on exhibiting at some point in the future. There’s a giant bronze die with the number 6 on every side, and there’s a neon sign that says 10 out of 10, but that first 0 deliberately flickers. “All of them refer to some level of luck or a score a critic might give the album. I just wanted to build on the idea of self-esteem, how you see yourself and how that changes when your art meets the world,” explains Marie.

She’d forgotten how nerve-wracking releasing music actually was until she began to tease playful, revealing lead single ‘Too Much’. In the comments, someone said the snippet sounded like something children’s music brand KIDZ BOP might make, and Marie “literally spiralled for a whole week thinking the album sucks. I told myself I shouldn’t be making music, and I’ve had my head up my ass for so long with a label that’s just been everything’s great.” When the full song was actually released, though, it was met with a wave of positive excitement. “It’s such a radio banger, isn’t it?” she says today.

“I realised I put way too much of my value in other people’s reactions to my music. I’m constantly walking a fine line between feeling like I’m worth anything and how quickly that can get torn down. I think everyone goes through that, though,” she says.

Despite that, ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ never plays it safe. “This album definitely feels like a risk,” says Marie. “It’s very natural, though. I couldn’t have written anything else.”

“The title-track is the complete opposite thing to a sad song. It feels like the type of song that should be playing in your head when you’re walking down the street and feeling incredibly cool, but there’s something scary about doing that,” she continues, still asking, what if it doesn’t connect?

And with ‘Phantom Pain’, she can already picture the TikTok videos comparing it to ‘We Fell In Love In October’ and saying she dropped off. “I felt the same way about ‘Serotonin’. I was really worried it was too graphic and that loudly talking about insane, intrusive thoughts was going to get me cancelled, but that really resonated with so many people.”

“Both those songs do things that I felt were missing in my music,” she adds. “I just miss the sound of someone feeling cool.”

“It does seem like the world has been saturated with sadness,” Marie offers. “It’s like the industry has realised that kids are sad, so they’re getting 20 songwriters in a room to write about being depressed, but there’s no actual emotion behind it. I don’t fuck with that. The perspective of people who are actually struggling is still important, and sad songs are still really beautiful,” says Marie, with ‘Pick Me’, ‘I’m Back’ and ‘New Love’ still tapping into the more melancholic side of things. “Isn’t it interesting how my first reaction to writing music that wasn’t sad was being worried it wouldn’t connect, though? I really had to convince myself to just be myself.” 

“Who knows, the next album might just be really fucking sad. I’m probably not happy forever, but I am happier than ever,” Marie continues, quoting Billie. “It’s funny how her first album was very sad, and her second album was about being happier, so I can’t be the only one experiencing this.”

“I’ve found my way back to my world-domination confidence”

girl in red

She’s already “collecting” ideas for the next album because she doesn’t want to wait three years again,  with one song built around the idea that people who don’t overthink things are happier. “I’m just going to keep going and see what happens.”

“I definitely had a dip in my ambitions after releasing ‘If I Could Make It Go Quiet’,” admits Marie. “I had conversations about how I was maybe just meant to stay at the level I was at. I felt like I was settling for what I had, not what I wanted,” she adds, after spending years telling people she was set to take over the world. Instead of a defence mechanism to tackle how quickly things had blown up after the release of her first few songs, though, the idea of World In Red was “all confidence,” says Marie.

“Making ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ has reignited those ambitions. It reminded me I have so much more to me than the small guitar songs I was making seven years ago. I’ve found my way back to my world-domination confidence. I want that jetsetter life. I want to do everything I can.”

Alongside the early critical acclaim, girl in red was championed as a queer icon, thanks to her to-the-point songs about queer romance. “I don’t think I was ready for that at the time. I was desperate to be seen as a normal person because that felt like too much,” she says. 

“It’s been three years since I’ve put an album out, so I’m definitely just grateful that I’ve ever had the chance to enter people’s hearts and ears musically. For them to also connect me to something greater than just the music that’s incredibly cool. If I can be a queer icon for you, that’s fucking sick. But remember, there’s a chance I might fuck up,” she adds.

That confident return was also sparked by girl in red’s time supporting Taylor Swift on her mammoth Eras Tour, with Marie playing venues that were bigger than anything she’d ever seen before. “I realised I could be playing in those places one day. It definitely ignited something in me. Just being in those spaces was really inspiring. Seeing that many people coming together through music, that just fed my ambition.” She told Taylor’s booking agent she’d be playing the same venues one day. 

“I hope people can hear how much fun I had making this record,” says Marie. “I want to encourage people to have fun. There’s something beautiful about lightness.”

Taken from the April 2024 issue of Dork. girl in red’s album ‘I’m Doing It Again Baby!’ Is out 12th April.


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