Elena Jane Goulding (/ˈɡoʊldɪŋ/ GOLDing; born 30 December 1986) is an English singer and songwriter. Her career began when she met record producers Starsmith and Frankmusik, and she was later spotted by Jamie Lillywhite, who later became her manager and A&R. After signing to Polydor Records in July 2009, Goulding released her debut extended play, An Introduction to Ellie Goulding later that year.
From politics to poetry, singer Ellie Goulding is way more than your average saccharine sweet pop star. Stylist’s Lizzie Pook discovers a darker side as she steps inside the star’s contradictory life.
Pop stars aren’t often considered particularly dark, but would you describe yourself that way?
I actually used to be a goth. I had my lip pierced, had very long hair that I dyed black every four weeks. I was a bit of a grunger – I listened to heavy metal like System Of A Down, Deftones, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Then I started getting into folk music and I discovered female singers, and that changed it all for me.
Are you quite an emotional person, typically?
I’m definitely a crier. Especially when I drink champagne. The worst thing is when you’re trying to hold it together on stage and you’re suddenly aware that there are probably a million people taking pictures and filming you. I played Paris not long after the Bataclan terrorist attacks [in November 2015]. I could feel that there was a very different spirit in the audience that day. People were just grateful to hear some music and to be out having a good night with friends – which is exactly what people were doing at the Bataclan. There was a moment where everyone was screaming with joy and shouting my name – I really struggled to hold back the tears that day.
Do you think you’re quite emotionally intelligent?
Since I was young I remember being quite emotionally aware. I could tune in to how I was feeling and understand if I was being irrational, or understand if I was overthinking something. Overthinking can destroy you. I was diagnosed with exhaustion a couple of months back, but it’s only now that I realise how bad it really was. When I think back to my tiredness, my slump, not wanting to exercise and not being interested in anything… It wasn’t depression, it was just my body giving up.
The day before Ellie Goulding kicked off the North American leg of her Delirium World Tour in Vancouver, the 29-year-old Grammy-nominated pop and EDM superstar spent 60 minutes with FLARE editor-in-chief Cameron Williamson, sipping champers and slinging #realtalk about slut-shaming, panic attacks, Taylor’s squad and Canada’s “really hot” new PM.
You flew into Vancouver from London yesterday. Are you jet-lagged?
That’s why we are drinking—we genuinely need the buzz of something to get us through the day. I hadn’t been on a long-haul flight for a few weeks, so I thought, I’ll just have a little tipple to take the edge off. I made the mistake of having too many drinks, and then I watched Carol, and for the rest of the flight I was thinking about feminism and women’s rights—like, so seriously that it bummed me out.
What are your feelings on the current state of feminism?
It’s always tempting to talk about negative things when I get asked this, but I’m also seeing positive changes. A decade ago, a woman would have been too scared to go into the weight section of the gym. Now every time I go to the gym, I see more women lifting weights. But with music, I’m not going to lie—I’ve experienced the misogyny that comes with writing songs like “On My Mind,” where I talk openly about a one-night stand. It’s almost like girls aren’t allowed to have one-night stands, but I’m like, f-ck that.
Have you ever been slut-shamed?
I have been, 100 percent, on social media. I work out a lot; I’m proud of my body. I put up a picture of myself, and people are like, “Put it away; you’re supposed to be a good influence on young people.” Young women should have the freedom to post a picture with no makeup and wearing a track suit or in full makeup and a tight dress.
What did you think of Kim Kardashian’s naked Instagram selfie?
Honestly, it did not phase me. I feel like I have the right to do the same thing if I ever wanted to. She’s a mom; she’s had kids; she looks incredible. She works hard for her body, and it’s beautiful.
You seem to work pretty hard for yours, too.
I work hard, but I don’t have the perfect body. When I put up a fitness video [Goulding is a Nike ambassador and has designed workouts for the brand’s Training Club app], I’m encouraging other women to be physically strong. I’ve been boxing for years. If I was ever attacked, I could look after myself.
I think so. I grew up in a village that was very rough with some very tough girls who could truly look out for themselves. [Goulding grew up in public housing in Herefordshire, England.] We all ran around and were active. I think that’s where my love of fitness and being agile comes from. So when I post stuff, it’s for a good reason. I don’t expect people to say, “Nice ass.”
Do you feel like social media is necessary to build your brand?
I wouldn’t have said that a few years back, but then I suddenly got 10 million Instagram followers, so maybe I’m doing something right. I don’t have Snapchat. My fans keep telling me to get it, but I’m not quite ready.
Unlike a lot of celebs, you’ve talked about the famous men you’ve dated [like One Direction’s Niall Horan and McBusted’s Dougie Poynter, from whom she recently split]. How do you decide what is private versus public?
There are private things people wouldn’t know because I haven’t mentioned them, but I’m pretty open, and that’s just how I’ve always been. The guys I’ve been with know this about me. I have the same vulnerabilities, the same fears, the same insecurities as the next girl, but I’m very open about them. So rather than put up a front, if I’m scared of something, I’ll just say it or tweet about it.
You struggled with panic attacks earlier in your career. How did you learn to cope?
By having cognitive behavioural therapy. I was skeptical at first because I’d never had therapy, but not being able to leave the house was so debilitating. And this was when my career was really taking off. My surroundings would trigger a panic attack, so I couldn’t go to the studio unless I was lying down in the car with a pillow over my face. I used to beat myself up about it.
Do you still have attacks?
There were a couple of times after I released Delirium when I was doing promo and thought, Oh god, it’s coming back, it’s coming back, but it didn’t. I think my body has become quite good at controlling anxiety.
You’re pretty tight with Taylor Swift. Do you rely on her or other famous friends for advice on dealing with the intensity of the music world?
Not necessarily famous people, but people who make a living doing music. It’s good to get the perspective of people who have been through the same things I have.
Ellie Goulding has had a one busy year. She released her third album, Delirium, to critical acclaim, received her first Grammy nomination (Best Pop Solo Performance for “Love Me Like You Do”), and embarked on a mostly sold-out world tour. So it’s not surprising that, hours before taking the stage at Coachella, she feels more tired than nervous. “I’m so exhausted,” she told InStyle in her trailer ahead of her set. In fact, the British singer known for her breathy vocals recently tweeted that she’ll be taking a much-needed, long overdue break from the music biz imminently. But first, she’ll crush her performance, because that’s just the kind of woman she is. Below, we talked with Goulding about the perils of touring and why girl squads are essential.
How do you typically unwind after a performance?
“Have a drink! Then I get out of my sweaty clothes and eat. I can’t eat before a show or else I’ll literally puke.”
What are you planning on eating after the show tonight?
“Anything vegan. There are some good taco places around here.”
How long have you been a vegan? Why the change?
“About three years. I was vegetarian in my teens as well. It’s better for the environment; it’s more sustainable. I wouldn’t kill an animal, so I wouldn’t want anyone to kill one for me. It’s healthier, too.”
What do you hope to accomplish during your time off?
“I haven’t really had a huge amount of time to think about the things I’ve achieved and done, and there’s some things I want to focus on. I’m a patron of a homeless shelter, The Marylebone Project, which temporarily protects women from vulnerable situations. I also want to promote vegetarianism a little bit more.”
What’s the hardest part about touring?
“Probably packing and unpacking. We’re all very taut because we’re constantly lugging suitcases around from hotel room to bus and hotel room to bus. It can be tough, because you lose all sorts of stuff. It’s such a crazy lifestyle, but I’ve chosen it.”
Other than lifting luggage, how do you get in shape?
“I’ll do an hour of cardio: sprints, running, burpies, squat jumps, box jumps. I’m really into high intensity stuff because it keeps you more focused, but boxing is probably my favorite.”
What’s your approach to festival style?
“Rave is my theme this year. I thought I’d rebel against the whole hippie thing. Hunter just started making these sick new rain coats ($450; us.hunterboots.com) that I’m really into.”
You’re a proud member of Taylor Swift’s squad, and girl gangs in general are getting more attention for being unapologetically feminist. What makes these friendships so important?
“My friendships are everything to me. I have some of the most powerful women in the music industry working for me. It’s a man’s business, but look where we are: We’re playing the main stage tonight at Coachella. That’s a testimony to how things are changing. Personally, I call myself a feminist because I believe in equal rights between the sexes. It’s very rare that I feel in any way lesser because I’m female. There are things that are obviously misogynistic in the music industry, in terms of what women can write about and what men can write about and what the reaction is. For example, I wrote “On My Mind” about a one-night stand, and yet, if a man does it, it’s fine. That pissed me off. But I wrote it, and it was accepted. So I’m always fighting for it. I think it’s important for women to be physically strong, too.”
Speaking of, you recently partnered with Pantene for their “Strong Is Beautiful” campaign. When do you feel the strongest?
“On stage. I feel like I’m in an amazing position. You have to go up there and accept that you’re up there for a reason and kill it.”
On teaching herself guitar by listening to her favorite performers: “I loved Pearl Jam…and of course, Björk, my all time hero. [But] It wasn’t like I was going to become a famous singer—that didn’t ever seem like a reality or an option.”
On being a star: “I don’t feel like I’m a very good pop star. I can be painfully shy, and I don’t really talk much between songs. I don’t feel like I’m a natural performer.”
Ellie Goulding Wants Girls to Know “Everything Is Going to Be Okay”! Seventeen’s latest cover star knows how hard growing up can be. Check out what Ellie had to say about how tough she knows being a teenager is now, and then find out tons more — about her struggles with body confidence and anxiety, her friendship with Taylor Swift, and her upcoming Delirium tour — in the April issue of Seventeen, on newsstands March 15!
Ever have one of those days where the mean girl in your head just wouldn’t shut up? Our April cover star Ellie Goulding has been there before, which is why it’s so important to her that her music has a positive message.
“I don’t want girls to get to my age and feel like they’re not pretty enough, not thin enough, or they’re not good enough for something or someone,” Ellie told us. “I’m naturally compassionate — that’s something I really like about myself. I always consider other people before myself, and I think that’s what I try to do with my music.”
So, if you ever listen to Ellie songs and feel like she just gets you, know that she totally does.
“I want to write lyrics that girls can relate to,” she says. “I’m a girl; I know how hard it is… If girls are anything like me when I was a teenager, then I want them to know everything is going to be okay.”
Also, check out everything Ellie had to say when she opened up about Niall Horan and Ed Sheeran!
First, she addressed her relationship with Niall.
“We’re still friends,” she shared. “We went on a few dates, and it was really fun. He’s a really, really lovely guy. He’s got the biggest sense of humor, he’s very caring, and I see him as a genuine friend in the industry.”
She also shut down that old rumor that she dated Ed Sheeran… and that even crazier rumor that she wrote “On My Mind” about him. (The lyric that sparked everything: “You wanted my heart, but I just liked your tattoos.”)
“We’ve known each other for a few years,” she said about Ed. “I think he’s a really nice guy and a brilliant musician. We’ve bumped into each other and we’ve hung out and stuff, but the thing is if I hang out with someone, it’s instantly like I’m ‘dating’ them. We were never in a relationship. My song is not about him.”
More recently, she’s been dating McFly bassist Dougie Poynter on and off.