Sophie Griffiths meets the teen musician painting the world red

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGES BY JULIE PIKE

Marie Ringheim is the Norwegian indie-pop singer-songwriter better known as girl in red. With anthemic tracks about queer romance and mental health, along with a confidence to rival musicians years ahead of her, she is taking the music scene by storm. 

She’s a pop break-out star, delivering DIY music directly from her bedroom, and she stands out among the rest. Her first single, boldly titled I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend, has gained over 50 million streams on Spotify, and was listed at number nine on The New York Times list of The 68 Best Songs Of 2018. 

Her songs read like the diary of any queer teenager; poignant, punchy and unapologetically filled with Marie’s personality, honesty and forthright feelings about falling in love. They’re for those of us who couldn’t sing our own songs growing up queer, instead hiding behind heterosexual ballads that we could never truly relate to. 

With her music now dominating playlists of people all over the world, and the whole world wanting a piece of her, we jumped at the chance to get to know her better, ahead of the release of her latest single, Midnight Love.

DIVA: Where did the name girl in red come from?

GIRL IN RED: I was at a festival a couple of years ago, with my friend who I was very in love with. Obviously, we had lost each other, probably while we were trying to find something to drink and we were trying to find our way back to each other. I was texting her like “put your little finger in the air so I can see you”. ‘Cause obviously that’s gonna work. Then suddenly I felt like I was in a movie. The crowd opened up and I saw her standing there, wearing a red sweater. So I texted her, “girl in red”. That sparked an idea within me. It was a very sad moment – I was incredibly in love with her and it was never going to work out – but good because I found her. A couple of months later, I bought myself a red sweater and when I saw myself in the mirror, I was like “girl in red!”

When did you become interested in music? Did you always know that you wanted to pursue it as a career? 

I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to pursue it, but I knew that I was interested in it. When I was 17, I wanted to study music and do it more than just for fun. Eventually I started putting stuff out and I got recognised by people in the industry and I was like, “Well I’m a musician”.

Who would you say has had an influence on your sound? 

I’ve definitely been influenced by pop music from my childhood. There was endless listening to Taylor Swift and Britney Spears. When I was a teen, I started listening to more “indie” music because I watched The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, and it had so much good music in it. I was honestly a different person by the time the film had finished. I remember my sister was like, “When did you start listening to this, what happened here?” 

You’re really vulnerable in your lyrics and they touch on some deeper issues. Do you ever hesitate about sharing anything? 

Not really. In my latest lyrics, I’m exposing myself even more. Music is a place for me to be completely honest and write about myself as the gross person I am. It feels like I’m projecting my life into something that’s less real. It’s easier to just be honest in songs. I would never censor myself in my music.

Do you find it difficult to take care of yourself when you’re touring so much? 

Last year definitely started to ruin me. At my last show, I was screaming “I don’t want to do this anymore”. It’s hard taking care of yourself on the road. It’s hard for every artist but especially in the beginning when you don’t have the luxury to live comfortably. When you have to wake up at four in the morning and drive all day and then do a meet and greet and then play a show when you’ve had two hours of sleep. That ain’t good for you. 

What’s it like writing love songs as a young queer artist?

For me, it’s just about writing about my experiences of life and how I perceive it. I don’t feel like it’s bold or anything; it’s just normal for me. Luckily I haven’t had any bad reactions yet because I don’t think the boomers have found my music!

What message do you want people to take away from your music? 

Whatever they need. I definitely have something I want to say in each song but I don’t really want to dictate what it’s supposed to feel like for someone. I’m just like, “I wrote this song and I thought it was cool and I’m gonna put it out and if it matters to you in any sort of way, then that’s great”. 

What would you say has been the reaction to the frank portrayal of queerness in your music? 

I’ve had some people straight up say, “I fucking love you because you helped me to accept my sexuality”. Some people use my music to accept themselves, and to have people tell me their stories and tear up in front of me has been very weird, but also really beautiful. It’s strange to see someone be so honest with you when you literally met them two minutes ago. People feel a really strong connection to my music. 

Do you have a big LGBTQI+ fan base? 

There’s a lot of gays here and there’s a lot straights who feel the need to say that they’re not gay. I don’t know who’s who but I think I do have a queer fan base, which is good because the queers need some representation. But we need the straights too and that’s something I wish to see more; people being happy that straight people are being nice to gay people. 

What advice would you give to your younger queer self? 

I would say that it’s not a big deal. I’m very privileged to be able to say that, but Norway is the best place in the world to be gay. That’s not a personal statement, that’s just a fact. I was so worried about coming out and hiding my feelings for so long though.

Paper magazine recently named you as a queer icon. Do you see yourself as a role model to the LGBTQI+ community now?

I don’t really see myself as anything, but I know that a lot of people see me as a role model which is really cool. I’m genuinely just always chilling. I just watched all of Twilight and someone says that I’m their role model and I’m like, “What?” I definitely wish I had someone like me when I was younger because I didn’t have anyone. I remember watching coming out videos on YouTube and everyone was crying and I was like, “Holy shit, is this what it’s gonna be like?” I’m happy that there’s someone showing that they’re doing okay and they’re living their best life. Sexuality is so much of someone’s life, we’re all sexual beings, but it’s still just a small fraction really. 

This interview originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!

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