Credit: Universal Music
“As long as you’d ask a man about his outfit too,” Ellie Goulding says bluntly albeit with a wry corner smile. The interview pauses as I scramble to momentarily explain GRAZIA’s rich fashion pedigree and how we’re very interested in discussing a woman and a man’s sartorial exploits. Goulding quickly retracts.
“I don’t mind getting asked about what I’m wearing because I like talking about what I’m wearing. I like talking about my shoes,” says Goulding, her English accent soft. “But I mean how about the media ask how I’m feeling? Which is quite delirious.”
Translated into the printed word, the 29-year-old appears stormy, a tad belligerent even. The thing is, she isn’t one percent of either of these things in person. In fact, this alone is a textbook example of how a quote – and a Yeezy level of (warranted) self-assurance – can be lost in (print) translation. We are, after all, interviewing amid the #AskHerMore social campaign; a movement coined by Reese Witherspoon in a bid for journalists to question talent on anything other than the designer cloth clinging to their bodies. For Goulding though, she’s not so much offended as she is certain that she’s here to speak about a few things only: her music, her music, her music and definitely not her relationship. But it doesn’t stop us from prying.
Credit: William Suen/Claudia Sutiono
When Goulding and I first met in November of 2012, she was a conflicting wonder. Entering the studio with cropped blonde braided hair, the English singer – wide-eyed and unawares – was on the cusp of worldwide recognition. Her now-signature breathy vocals sounded similar to Sarah Blasko, Julia Stone, Lisa Mitchell and basically every other Australian female who had made this their rite of passage into the indie-pop genre. We’d heard this sound before – (hello, Emiliana Torrini’s Jungle Drum) but Goulding’s electronic pop sound seemed to stick. It was, as she says, as much influenced by Bjork as it was Beyoncé and from it came the same year’s heartbreak album, Halcyon, her second since debut Lights. A reissue titled Halcyon Days, dropped in 2013 because unlike the aforementioned Yeezy’s The Life Of Pablo, Tidal didn’t exist and couldn’t be a changing work in (streaming) progress.
Her title track Anything Can Happen was not only a Glastonbury favourite, it was hopeful. It was a small window into the personal life of a woman who always had a fascination with love and heartbreak. Four years later and amid rumours of another split – and another reunion – with boyfriend Dougie Poynter, she says her attitude to love and romance is “pretty zen” these days. “It’s something I’ll always be fascinated with, ever since I was a kid, I guess, I just find the human condition really fascinating,” says Goulding, the afternoon sun catching her left eye. “You can be so in love and then be so heart broken. It’s interesting, human emotions are. I mean, not just love, but people as well.”
“So does being in love change the songwriting process?” I ask. “I don’t think so,” Goulding replies. “I tend to find the darkness somewhere. I’ve been writing kind of similar songs since I was young. I like to write quite explicitly about things but I also like to be quite hopeful.
“I think I could definitely write something a lot darker if I’m not in a happy place.”
Relationships is a topic Goulding and friend Taylor Swift prefer not to talk about. Gatekeepers in the form of publicists and managers enforce this at every given moment of the interview process; over email, over email again, in person, just before I hit record on the dictaphone. Goulding, Swift, Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez et al all can’t understand why the world media encourage a culture where female musicians are defined by the men they do or do not date.
“I just want to say F$%& you to all of them!” says Goulding laughing. “I’m kidding. I feel I’m an interesting person by myself, I don’t need anyone else to make me more interesting. I think I flipped at one point when the first question I got asked was, ‘So you and blah, blah, when did that happen?’ and it’s like, I don’t need to be defined by people I’ve been in relationships with. It’s nobody’s business other than mine. I’m a very successful musician at this point and I feel like that’s vindication alone of why I’m here and I don’t need to be talked about in that way. I should be talked about in a celebrated way.”
Everything Goulding has just said is right. Despite so many accolades (including her first where she performed Elton John’s Your Song at Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton’s royal wedding at Westminster Abbey in 2011), she’s long lurked in the background of pop’s elite. Skrillex wasn’t a relationship many outlets covered, unlike a date with One Direction’s Niall Horan. You never heard anything about Goulding dating Great Expectations actor Jeremy Irvine but you definitely heard about a possible squabble with Ed Sheeran. And here, all along, is this woman solidly hiking up and up the music charts, every track a little more glitchy pop than the one before.
Delirium, released in November 2015, is Goulding’s most pop-orientated album yet, a bigger and braver sound that not only meant she scored the Coachella and Glastonbury primetime slots, she also became au fait with the Victoria’s Secret Runway in December of the same year. Here, she performed hit Love Me Like You Do, the track made famous on the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. The track earned a Grammy nomination and reached number one in 80 countries, while other singles On My Mind, Army and Something In the Way You Move made Delirium her finest album to date.
There is a lot to talk about. But is asking about relationships so discriminate that it’s just affecting female musicians? I don’t think so. But it’s an issue nonetheless.
Unfortunately for Goulding, such fodder will always end up in the media, something she says can still upset her. “I’m human, it does get to me sometimes,” she says. “But also I’m grateful for my upbringing, for my friends and that I have such a great sense of humour about these things and I find everything funny. I’m very self-deprecating and that’s one thing I really like about myself. I’m willing to completely make fun of myself, which is great. It’s a good thing to do. It’s good to laugh about things.”
As we wrap, a coy Goulding asks, “I love your skirt, it’s really cool, what designer is it?” There, in one moment, all previous potential brashness is forgotten. While to some it can be deemed shallow, patronising – or heaven forbid sexist – fashion will always be a universal language. It’s interesting. And as long as additional questions outside our aesthetic – and the masterminds behind them – are asked, for what exactly is the big deal?
“It’s Australian designer, Ellery.”
#AskMeMore, Ellie. Ask me more.
Ellie Goulding’s Delirium 2016 tour hits Australia and New Zealand on 29 September. Visit frontiertouring.com/elliegoulding for ticketing information.