Girl In Red Is Doing It Again, Baby: ‘I’m Leaning Into Cringe On This Album’

11 April 2024 | 12:14 pm | Ellie Robinson

On her kaleidoscopic second album, 'I'M DOING IT AGAIN BABY!', Marie Ulven Ringheim unveils a new side of her musicality – still emotionally charged, but now brighter and more colourful than ever.

Girl In Red

Girl In Red (Credit: Heather Hazzan)

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It’s been a long three years since Marie Ulven Ringheim dropped her first album as Girl In Red, If I Could Make It Go Quiet, in April of 2021 – but while fans have eagerly clamoured for her comeback, the Norwegian stalwart certainly hasn’t rested on her laurels.

Ringheim has spent much of the past few years honing her stagecraft, with a global tour in support of that album only wrapping up towards the end of 2023. She made her Australian breakthrough at last year’s Laneway festival, dropping seas of jaws with her mainstage sets and selling out theatres for her sideshows in Melbourne (Naarm) and Sydney (Eora). Elsewhere on Earth, she caught formative glimpses of true superstardom on tours supporting Billie Eilish (where she played in some of the world’s most iconic arenas) and Taylor Swift (where those arenas surely felt meagre in comparison).

Amid all of it, Ringheim grew and matured immensely – both as an artist exposed to new corners of the industry, and a queer woman navigating the turbulence of her early 20s – shaping her into someone her former self would barely recognise. It’s no surprise, then, that in making her second album – aptly titled I’M DOING IT AGAIN BABY! – she endeavoured to head in some new directions.

Deeper Shades Of Red

When she dials in for our chat, Ringheim is admittedly detached from the bubbly and bright personality she’s built her public image on. She’s timid and speaks softly, often tripping over her words and pausing to ask if she’s making any sense. It’s understandable: she’d been chipping away at her second album from the moment she finished the first, and at the time of our call, there’s just a couple weeks to go until she hands it over to the world. “I’m very nervous,” she admits. “I just hope [the release] goes well. I hope the world likes it...”

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Try as they might to pretend their public perception doesn’t faze them, most artists do indeed tend to dwell on their fandom’s potential reception to a new body of work: whether it’ll soar their status to new heights hitherto inconceivable, or trigger their whole career to crash and burn. Ringheim is simply refusing to hide her anxiety, and it’s applaudable: her commitment to authenticity is unrivalled by her peers. That too is plainly evident in her songwriting, where she wears her heart on her sleeve in exploring themes of sapphic yearning, mental illness, and all the messy shit that comes with one’s transition from adolescence to adulthood.

If I Could Make It Go Quiet is a very convulsive album, jerking spasmodically from grungy pop-rock anthems about having “intrusive thoughts like cutting my hands off / like jumping in front of a bus / like, ‘How do I make this stop?’” (Serotonin) to wistful pop ballads about how she’s “just a horny little lovesick mess” (hornylovesickmess). As a whole, it’s a defiantly honest and raw projection of Ringheim as a young adult struggling to reckon with her coming-of-age, unbothered by how unhinged it may portray her. She knew then that most of her fans would relate to those feelings on an intimate level – they appreciate her realness and that’s what connects them parasocially; they too are unashamedly unhinged.

A lot has changed in the past three years, though, and the lens through which Ringheim views the world is no longer as messy, impulsive or angsty. It might be an epitomous cliché to describe a young artist’s new album as “matured”, but in the case of I’M DOING IT AGAIN BABY!, it only makes sense. She explains for herself: “I think the overall vibe I wanted to capture was confidence. Even with a song like Pick Me, which is a very vulnerable song about one of the lowest points I’ve reached in a relationship, it still comes off with a level of confidence. Even musically – I’m leaning into a full-on ballad [on that track] and I’m belting like hell in there!”

Pick Me is certainly one of the boldest songs on DOING IT AGAIN, and it’s a stellar example of how Ringheim’s mentality has shifted since she minted Quiet. It’s analogous to track six on the latter record, You Stupid Bitch, which similarly depicts Ringheim wrestling with feelings of abandonment as the losing party in a love triangle. Just in case the title doesn’t give it away, You Stupid Bitch is angsty and jagged, the singer seething as she berates her would-be paramour: “You stupid bitch, can't you see? The perfect one for you is me!” She’s unwilling to consider that she may not, in fact, have been the perfect one for her. “You don't know what you deserve,” she quips, “And that's why you end up hurt.”

Inversely, Pick Me is pure melancholy. Ringheim still pleads for the subject to pursue her over another suitor, but now she’s willing to consider the reasons that won’t happen. “My insecurities drove you away,” she concedes, laying bare her “endless fear of losing you to him” because “he’s got something I can’t give”. In the first couple lines, she makes the confession that would shape the whole narrative – “I have so many things I want to say / but don’t know how to communicate” – and later she admits, “There’s no reason for me to be acting out the way that I am / but jealousy is getting to me again.”

Ultimately, Ringheim adds, DOING IT AGAIN reflects her current reality in that she still deals with sadness and heartache and all manner of messy human emotions, but she doesn’t let those emotions dictate the way she carries herself, or the value assigned to her. “I wanted to capture all the moments where I feel like I’m on top of the world, and the moments where I feel like I couldn’t be any smaller or I’d disappear,” she says. “I wanted to capture all my highs and lows, but remain confident in doing so.”

Reclaiming ‘Cringe’

That confidence manifests in a few different ways – like on the album’s third single, You Need Me Now?, which features a showstopping guest verse from Sabrina Carpenter. Ringheim notes, “The way I introduce her on that song [“You know what would be really fucking cool on this? Sabrina!”], it has that kind of ‘I don’t give a fuck’ energy, which I think is really cool.”

There’s a case to be made that Ringheim’s little mid-song shoutout to Carpenter is more cringe than cool – but so too is this notion one that she’s embraced wholeheartedly on DOING IT AGAIN. So goes the sagacious adage, “to be cringe is to be free” – only once you accept that you’re cringe are you ever truly based. “I've been leaning into cringe on this album,” Ringheim declares loudly and proudly. “But I think the concept of ‘being cringe’ is stupid – it only exists to stop you being yourself.

“I’ve become so self-aware that even making music, and being sincere in a song, can be [perceived as] cringe. But like, being alive is cringe! Olivia Rodrigo has a song called Love Is Embarrassing, and it’s like, yeah, it is! But everything in the world is embarrassing! Anything can be ‘cringe’. You have to let go of [the concept of] things being ‘cringe’ because you’ll never be free if you’re paralysed by the fear of being embarrassed. It can be something as small as buying flowers for your friend because you miss them: ‘Oh, that’s a bit too much, that’s a bit cringe...’ Fuck that.”

Insofar as it pertains to her perspective as an artist, Ringheim opines that especially in the modern age, “sincerity is being confused with cringe”. She builds on her leading statement, explaining that she’s “definitely leaning into emotional cringe” with her art because it allows her to be “as sincere as I can with my excitement and my confidence and everything”. The sentiment is best exemplified on the new album’s lead single, Too Much, where Ringheim claps back at someone dragging her down with their critical mindset: “You think I’m weird when I get too excited / I think it’s weird how you're so empty-minded...”

“Even the coolest rappers,” she continues, “when they’re talking about fucking and making cash and driving fast cars, they’re doing that in a quiet booth with a microphone, and their producer is watching them the whole time – and that's vulnerable! That’s awkward! That’s embarrassing! But the coolest thing about making music is that you’re able to be free when you’re doing it.

“I definitely give a fuck about a lot of things, but with music, you really have to not give a fuck. You have to put all of yourself into it to make it authentic and sound like you. I feel like this album really just sounds like me, and it sounds like a really authentic expression of who I am right now – rather than an album where I’ve tried to make something that I think people will like. Because then it would just sound like everything else out there.”

From Quiet To Riot

So where exactly is Ringheim in the year of our lord, 2024? Listeners needn’t dig too deep to find out – just like she did with Serotonin on Quiet, the artist lays it all bare on the opening track of DOING IT AGAIN, simply titled I’m Back. Over a bed of gentle atmospherics and halcyon piano, she sings sweetly: “I’m back, I feel like myself / I was gone for a minute ‘cause I went to get help / It’s not like I want to die / At least not now, I love being alive.”

I’m Back is the exact inverse of Serotonin in virtually every way – the latter track starts with a dusty guitar line and the clear-cut declaration, “I’m running low on serotonin / Chemical imbalance got me twisting things / Stabilise with medicine / But there’s no death to these feelings.” Ringheim confirms the contrast is intentional: “I was trying to make [I’m Back] the opposite of Serotonin,” she says, noting that both songs work respectively to “really set the vibe of the album”.

Grounding this sentiment is a lyrical tie between the two openers: in Serotonin, Ringheim begs her subject to “put me in a field of daisies / Might not work, but I’ll take a maybe” – and in I’m Back, she reports her wish came true: “I’m in the field of daisies and this town feels amazing / This is what they’re talking about!” She tells us the callback works to “kind of paint the image that I’m in a better place and set [a tone of] hopefulness in a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek way. It’s mostly just about celebrating those small wins, like [with the line], ‘Living life in grey did something to my brain / But hey, I took a shower today!’

There are more callbacks to Quiet strewn throughout DOING IT AGAIN, like the cover art for the former being nestled on the back of the latter, and the hook on Ugly Side (a spicy alt-pop jam with funky bass evoking twenty one pilots), “There are parts of me I ghost / I suppress them for the most / If I could make them all go quiet, that’d be so damn awesome!”

Although it is a very different album than its predecessor, DOING IT AGAIN really can’t be removed from the context of Quiet. Ringheim says her immediate intent with the new LP was to “pick up from where [Quiet] left off” – in some ways literally: “The last track [on Quiet], it would feel like this, is this very kind of peaceful, beautiful piano and cello piece – and in my head, [I’m Back] picks up from that, in that same sort of dreamy universe.

“If we’re thinking chronologically, I would say [DOING IT AGAIN] is definitely the ‘follow-up’ to [Quiet] because it’s a reflection of everything I’ve been through since that first record came out, [and how] I’ve been doing a lot better – I’ve been falling in love, I've been upset and angry and jealous, I’ve been excited and happy, I’ve felt like I'm on top of the world... I've gone through those highs and lows, and I wanted to chronicle all of them. They’re definitely two different records, but it also feels like they had to be kind of conjoined in some way. They’re two halves of the same story.”

Part of this intrinsic connection stems from Ringheim’s artistic process. When she started working on DOING IT AGAIN, her team encouraged her to explore some new avenues: “My manager wanted me to take advantage of a major label recording budget, and travel the world to meet all of these producers and songwriters, etcetera. But I didn’t really want to. It was almost the exact same process [as it was for Quiet] – I worked with the same producer, Matias Tellez, because we’re like best friends, and I had all the same tools at my disposal.”

So what led to this album shaping up so uniquely? “I just think differently about all those things,” Ringheim explains. “I think so differently about a piano now than I would have, like, five years ago.”

The defining catalyst for her musical growth, she says, has been learning to trust her intuition: “Throughout the whole process I was trying to be like, ‘What does this make me feel?’ And then the instruments we used reflected that. Obviously it’s not totally random – we come up with an idea and then we spend a long time pursuing it and trying to find the best pieces to put in the song – but when you’re in the room and you’re writing something, you can already kind of hear what it should sound like in your head. It’s like magic...

“I don’t know, I’m kind of just in awe that I even have a second album now! It’s such a surprise to me, it feels like it all happened in the blink of an eye. I feel like I can't even remember making it. But I did! I swear to God, I was in there – I was in the trenches – but now that it’s over, it doesn’t feel like it was all that crazy.”

Musically, DOING IT AGAIN feels like a very deliberate body of work: where Quiet traversed very disparate peaks and valleys, its follow-up is much more cohesive and nuanced, exploring a broader scope of sounds but teasing them out in a way that feels decidedly natural. It’s certainly a far cry from the scrappy, lo-fi bedroom pop that Ringheim cut her teeth on – and that’s the point.

“People still tend to think of me with that music in mind,” she notes. “With the first album, I was kind of shedding off the ‘bedroom pop’ label, and people were like, ‘Wow! She’s not making grungy guitar music anymore! She’s developed!’ Sometimes it feels like your old music can haunt you a little bit, because people like to keep that in their mind as a way to get a sense of who you are – when really, that’s who you were. A lot of the music I made in the past, that’s definitely not my vibe anymore. I mean, I still like it – I can really see that I've been on a journey [as an artist], and I really appreciate it – but my vibe is just so different now. I'm interested in different things, and I want to keep pushing my sound further and further forward.”

A Five-Star Future

It won’t surprise fans to know that Ringheim is already working on her third album, which, she teases, will be another headfirst dive into new territory. It’ll be a long while yet before we really know what that sounds like, but much in the way it would feel like this offered a glimpse of the direction she would head in on DOING IT AGAIN, this album’s closer, ★★★★★ (which she flags is intoned plainly as ‘stars’), acts somewhat as a launchpad into the future. It’s short and snappy and sounds like nothing else on the record, with a jumpy, scattered beat and cocksure energy. It’s like the ‘😎’ emoji in musical form.

“I’ve started making new demos,” Ringheim says, “and I took one of the drum beats from one of them and put it into [★★★★★]. And the song I took it from, I’ve imagined in my head that it’s going to be the first song on the next album.”

In the spirit of continually evolving, Ringheim says she’s eager to explore some new techniques – like holing up somewhere other than Bergen, Norway (where she minted both Quiet and DOING IT AGAIN) to see if she can “take advantage of some different impulses and inspirations”. But that’s something for Ringheim to think about a little later down the line: right now, she’s hard at work on a brand new live show, for which she has a few surprises tucked up her sleeve.

“I’m definitely leaning into cringe with the live stuff too,” she chuckles. “I’m planning on doing all this stuff that's probably going to make people go, ‘What the fuck? That was horrible!’ But it's all tongue in cheek. Everything I do [onstage], I do because I think it's cool and fun. I just want to challenge myself and find out what kind of performer I can be. I’ve always just been ‘the guitar girl’, jumping up and down all over the place – and I’ve loved that, but I’m really interested in seeing what else can I do.

“I’m really nervous... But I’m also really excited.”

I’M DOING IT AGAIN BABY! is out April 12 via Columbia / Sony.