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Girl in Red Is Ready for Her Superstar Era

arie Ulven is
not a chill person. Over the course of lunch at a slick New York spot packed with women in expensive-looking black athleisure, she swings between aping Taylor Swift’s arm flex on “The Man” from the Eras Tour — a move that Ulven, who opened for a few of those dates last summer, knows all about — and clutching her chest, breathless. “I’m just trying to deal with my anxiety when it comes,” she says. “Right now, my heart really hurts.” 

Ulven’s not having a heart attack, thank God. Sometimes, the Norwegian artist known as Girl in Red can just get a little overwhelmed. And with good reason. Today, no one at this swish eatery recognizes the young woman in the blue Ralph Lauren sweater and L.A. Dodgers cap, but with a Swift stadium tour under her belt and a new record, I’m Doing It Again Baby!, in the offing, that could very well be about to change. As her creative director and longtime friend Isak Jenssen tells me: “She switches between being the most confident person I know to being very insecure. At one point, she didn’t think she had the biggest potential, like Taylor or Billie. But now, I think, she realizes she does.”

Ulven, 25, has pretty much always taken music seriously — she’s a true workhorse, like those superstars. The Oslo resident started writing songs when she was eight, playing guitar at 14, and has been producing her own music for a decade. After uploading her first song, the sad-and-sweet “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend,” to YouTube in 2018, things started moving very fast for the then-teen. She dropped two EPs in 2018 and 2019, followed by her debut album, If I Could Make It Go Quiet, in 2021. A poppy therapy session of a record that dealt with everything from macabre intrusive thoughts to the indignity of being a fuck buddy, the LP cemented Ulven’s place in a weird-girl pop canon that includes the likes of Olivia Rodrigo and Gayle. She’s relatable, but not cliché. 

If three years seems a bit of a long time between albums for a budding artist, Ulven not only agrees with you, she’s already worried about everything else she hasn’t done yet: headlining her own arena tours, buying a midcentury pied-à-terre in Los Angeles, and, oh God, turning 30. “I need to learn to smell the fucking roses,” she says, debating whether to just eat her Caesar salad with her hands — the giant leaves are unwieldy — or use a fork. Opting for the former, she adds: “I saw this TikTok about how we’re the only species on the planet, humans, that are never satisfied. We set a goal and we really chase that fucking goal. And then we achieve it, and then we’re like, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ There’s something really depressing about it.”

In the end, Ulven went back to the studio when she was ready — when she had her fill of experiences to translate into music. “I’m inspired by paper and folders and fonts and light,” she says, crunching into a crouton. “I’m inspired by espressos and traveling and trains. I’m inspired by waiters having etiquette. How he pours wine very nicely and lets you smell it first. I’m inspired by absolutely everything.”

One big inspiration these days is her girlfriend, whom Ulven met at an Oslo bar in 2021 after deciding to just say yes to life instead of hiding on her couch. The night they met went on and on, Ulven says, culminating at the beach where they hung out under the stars with her dog. “Prior to meeting my girlfriend, I was very much convinced that I was unlovable, and I really hated myself,” she says. “I never realized that it actually can really tear you down to be hating yourself so much.” That experience is immortalized on her new album with the swoony “A Night to Remember,” studded with lush keys that flutter like your heart does when you start falling in love. 

As per usual, Ulven plays nearly every instrument on the album, which she recorded across a handful of European studios and her Oslo apartment. But this time, her signature brand of bedroom pop is polished to a high gloss that she’s only slightly worried fans will find off-putting. “I feel like I’m a completely different person,” she says. “So the music on this album, for me, doesn’t sound so different from what I’ve done before. It just sounds like exactly what I’d make right now.”

In her classic fashion, the album ping-pongs between highs and lows. Opener “I’m Back” creeps in almost bashfully, with Ulven proclaiming: “I’m back, I feel like myself/I was gone for a minute/’Cause I went to get help.” The switch flips with “Doing It Again Baby,” a bombastic strut of a song, and the first one she wrote for the record after compulsively picking out the melody during soundchecks. “That song is about feeling like I have so much self-esteem that I feel like I’m a cocky-ass bitch walking down the streets with my sunglasses on,” she says. 

Still, the bravado isn’t a constant — single “Too Much” is about being just that (her mom was always telling her to quiet down), while tracks like “Phantom Pain” and “Pick Me” remind us that Ulven wasn’t always so lucky in love. Sabrina Carpenter does help her go scorched-earth on an ex, though, on “You Need Me Now.” The two singers both gained big new audiences last year as openers on separate legs of Swift’s Eras Tour, but they’ve been friends since around 2022 — Ulven says they formed a mutual-appreciation society in each other’s DMs before she asked Carpenter to guest on the dark rocker of a track for her new album. 

Thea Traff for Rolling Stone

Sweater, Shirt and Shoes by Celine by Hedi Slimane. Jeans by ACNE Studios

“When she reached out to me, it felt like a no-brainer and I was immediately drawn to the record,” Carpenter says. “It was exciting to make because it pushed me into new sonic territory.”

Ulven is perhaps most herself on the ominous, echoey “Ugly Side,” in which she grapples with feeling like Jeykll and Hyde — torn between being “cute” and “lovable” and “boiling inside.” 

In a lot of ways, she’s always existing between dichotomies, whether that means feeling distinctly uncomfortable attending New York Fashion Week shows by hip designers like Tory Burch, Khaite, and Eckhaus Latta while she’s in town (“I’m a very basic girl when it comes to clothes,” she says) or proclaiming on her album’s title track: “My big fat ego is making me say/This ’99 vintage has impeccable taste!”

“I have these incredible highs, and then I have these very low lows,” Ulven says as the waiter whisks away our plates. “Maybe that’s good. I don’t want to be just one thing. I don’t want to be just this confident person who never doubts themselves. I think doubt can be great as much as it can be very paralyzing.” 

She pauses for a moment. “Yeah. I just need to chill the fuck out.… I think that’s exactly what I need to do.” There’s a first time for everything.

Production Credits

Grooming by MELISSA DEZARATE at A-FRAME AGENCY using KEVIN MURPHY and DR STURM. Styling by LUCY GASTON. Photographic assistance by Lizie Ben Shmuel. Styling assistance by Nicholson Baird. Produced by Joe Rodriguez

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