Girl in Red brings bedroom pop to stage at sold-out Great American Music Hall show

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Wednesday night saw a muggy San Francisco boasting an unbearable heat. The persistence of those who braved the inclement weather to see Marie Ulven, professionally known as Girl in Red, is a testament to the fierce love she has earned — a love garnering her enough fame to headline Billboard.

Oftentimes, the excitement before an artist’s arrival on stage is palpable; in this case, it was literally tangible. The heat sunk into the venue and was amplified by the audience members’ proximity to each other as they bounced and chanted “Girl in Red!” repeatedly before Ulven emerged. The Norwegian artist kicked off the set with the recently released “bad idea!” and followed it up with the older “4am.” After this, she paused to greet the audience, at which point concertgoers took the opportunity to present her with several gifts, ranging from a pride flag reading “We love you Marie” to a painting of Ulven.

This recognition is remarkable — Ulven writes, produces and releases her own music, all from the intimate enclosure of her bedroom walls. She’s now touring the United States, backed by a four-man band. This has allowed Ulven to translate her personal project into a full-blown, live, indie pop performance, complete with the addition of her own guitar-playing, powerful vocals, emphatic dancing and even a bit of crowd surfing. Ulven’s appeal is something of a cliché: her authenticity. But it’s an incredibly well-executed one. 

Onstage, her lo-fi recordings turn into highly dance-worthy jams, and the audience wasted no time taking full advantage of this, which is a testament to the multifaceted nature of her music. It’s hard not to notice the stark dichotomy between a bouncing, screaming crowd and the fact that what they happen to be screaming the words to a song like “summer depression.” 

That a song as self-explanatorily named as “summer depression” can energize Ulven’s fans into dancing enough to further heat up an already piping hot venue is indicative of just how adored Ulven is. Even so, this heat had unfortunate consequences: an audience member passed out in the middle of a song, bringing the concert to a temporary halt as Ulven and her band hurried to help. 

The incident prompted Ulven to promise she would speed through the rest of her set, spurring someone into shouting out how sad they’d be if she did. And so instead she spent the rest of the show frequently asking if everyone was OK, visibly concerned about her fans’ wellbeing. 

Ulven eased back into the set with one of the most notable parts of the night’s performance. While Ulven has a touring band, she took a moment to pay tribute to the solo nature of her music when she stood onstage alone to perform the better part of “watch you sleep.” She was eventually rejoined by the band to perform the rest of the song, seamlessly meshing the original intent of her music with the necessities of transforming these songs into live renditions.

Her extensive audience interaction also made the night feel like a conversation. During one of her periodic tangents, she noted her excitement to wrap up touring, go home and get a dog. Until then, her lively stage presence and contagiously catchy bedroom pop bops will no doubt continue to provide her fans with shows worth remembering.

The last two songs played were the ones that everyone was waiting for — the unapologetically queer anthems “girls” and “i wanna be your girlfriend.” There were a few pride flags speckled throughout the crowd, reminders of the oft-forgotten community that Ulven has reached with the transparency with which she regards being queer herself. 

While Ulven shouldn’t be boxed into the assumption that she caters exclusively to queer audiences, the honesty in her music is universally important. And on top of this, Ulven also extensively covers other topics, such as mental health — the observable solidarity at her show was heartening. On “girls,” Ulven affirms, “No, this is not a phase.” When she shouted this at the top of her lungs Wednesday, she was accompanied by a chorus of voices singing along, a show of just how important her music is to those who listen to it. 

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.