“Do You Listen to Girl in Red?”
Queer signaling, a Taylor Swift shoutout, and a debut album that surprised me in the best way
As I stand in the 40 minute line at the new Amoeba Records Hollywood location, I see one of the double doors against the wall advertising the new girl in red album, if i could make it go quiet. I snap a quick picture so I don’t forget to check it out later, and the guy I’m dating gives me a funny look.
“I just want to be able to remember to listen to it later, and it looks sick against the doors!” I explain. He nods.
But… It’s more than that.
girl in red is an artist that at first glance could seem like a diluted amalgamation of the new wave of queer, trendy female artists coming onto the current music scene. This can be especially true if you know her from TikTok trends of couples, or as “that girl who has those two songs about being gay, right?”, directly quoted from my roommate and the minds of those slightly-into-indie-music everywhere. (This notion has become so prevalent that “do you listen to girl in red?” has even become a saying that inhabits a decent subsection of pop culture within the queer community for a girl to signal to another that they’re interested in them).
To me, girl in red was the latter. A passing thought at the time.
Then, she was what I thought was a name on the Coachella lineup the year I went. I stopped by because the sad indie girl in me was burgeoning and I knew I liked what I’d heard of her, and I had a break between the other artists I wanted to see.
I didn’t recognize any of “those two songs about being gay, right,” which confused me. I checked the lineup again, and I realized it was not, in fact, girl in red, but Soccer Mommy (who is also amazing, but I did not know of her at the time). I was a bit sad I missed her, but not too torn up about it. I kind of am now.
Then, girl in red to the first Reddit AMA (ask me anything) I ever participated in. I had never done one, for any artist, but thought it would be a cute thing to do, not expecting a response. I asked her a question about songwriting, as a writer myself, and said “I love you!”, the thing you tack on when you are within the range of passively liking and being completely obsessed with a celebrity. She wrote back and said she loved me back, as per her unwritten job description. Even though I knew it wasn’t a huge deal, it still felt kind of exciting.
Those kinds of responses you get are what build connections to fans early on. I started to check out her deeper cuts, and realized I liked all of her music, including her singles, so much more now that I had seen her range. Her music definitely had a tone and theme to most of them, of love songs with an omnipresent twinge of saccharine, that were clearly but never overtly about longing for girls. She had a pounding backbeat behind most songs, and even when there wasn’t it somehow felt like there was, and she diluted her voice and added a ton of reverb like some of the 90’s bands I’m really into right now. I bought an LP of her two EPs on red vinyl, and a deluxe version of her first 7 inch release, and played them every day for a month.
The day came when her album was released, and the picture of the double doors I took at Amoeba (drumroll) did… not remind me.
But, my favorite artist of all time, Taylor Swift, did. She posted a singular story on her Instagram page about her album, and it made me so happy for this small artist who I danced to in my bedroom.
I went upstairs to my bedroom in my tiny apartment and settled in to listen. As I start the album, at the forefront of my mind, I think “I remember not liking the lead single…” and as it’s the first on the album, I think this as I hear it play. I remember it sounding like it was trying too hard to be a pop song, trying too hard to be deep in the chorus, and sounded too washed out. The chords came in with a cool, punk-sounding intro that made me double take. As the song started, I felt like I was listening to a completely different song. I then realized the first time I heard “Serotonin” was during a lecture I had watched for class. My brain was just being mush.
This got me extra excited for the rest of the record, and a tad internally embarrassed. The next song played, and I could tell from the first few lyrics it was going to be one of my favorites (it currently is). Even the piano in the intro is angry. I can’t remember the last time a piano was such a strong character in a song. One of my concerns for girl in red’s music was that the reverb could be too much and take away from the clever, emotionally provocative lyrics she writes, but the reverb was used perfectly in the song to enhance the story of her asking her partner if she came with the person they cheated on her with. It created a harsher, stronger tone for her lower register where she’s angry at the girl who cheated on her, then creates a bombastic, echo-y and hollow sound when she sings higher. Then, when the music cuts, the hollow sound makes her sound alone. It made me want to cry.
The range of music she aims and attempts at are diverse and more ambitious than I expected but they turn out… successful. She totally pulls them off. They sound like different artists, but are cohesive enough to believably be her; she doesn’t get lost in it. And her tracklist does exactly what a good pop record should. It grabs you in the first half to pull you in and pique your interest, with the range of tones between songs and emotional themes that explore harsher and more outwardly expressive emotions. “Body And Mind” is badass, like strutting confidently through the streets of a big city at night with a sledgehammer. “hornylovesickmess” is a cute, nostalgic sounding tune that sounds dizzy, lonely, and within reach. Then, in the second half she explores more internalized feelings in a sadder, softer, more introspective manner, with the turning point being “Rue,” coming off the angry and intense “You Stupid Bitch” (the title isn’t ironic). The closing track ends the album with a striking instrumental that feels like you’re floating out of the little world she created, after inviting you to glimpse into her mind. It was a bit tonally different, but that was something I liked that about it. Very anti-everyThe1975albumintro.
She successfully parsed the mid-tempo reverb her old songs couldn’t seem to grow out of and pushed them to the sides of the emotional spectrum. I was expecting and hoping for a redo of some of those songs, and thought the best case scenario was for her new album to have a few songs being better than her previous, more successful singles.
I was so wrong. This was the best case scenario.
Verdict: Defied all my expectations in the best way. Made me feel like I was going through the 5 stages of grief even though I wasn’t, but in a good way.
Must Listens: “Did You Come?”, “hornylovesickmess”, “Seratonin”
Standouts: “Body And Mind”, “midnight love”, “.”, “it would feel like this”