Ellie Goulding is a runner. She's been jogging since she was 18, and plans on tackling at least a half-marathon this year. The British electro pop star's music and style move at a sprint as well. Her work evolves so quickly that it could be difficult to recognize at times, if not for her strange, youthful, and utterly singular voice.
When Goulding last came through town to play Center Stage in July 2011, the crowd sang along so loudly that it nearly drowned her out. Maybe she'll start a riot when she plays the Tabernacle this Friday. This is the third U.S. stop supporting Halcyon, her sophomore album and first for Interscope/Cherrytree Records. National hype has grown exponentially on the heels of her slowly creeping hit "Lights" from her 2010 debut album of the same name. In Atlanta, Goulding's voice pervaded last September's CounterPoint festival, providing the climax to sets by Zoogma and Bassnectar, and sampled into countless other mixes. The 20,000-deep crowd's ecstatic reaction to her was overwhelming, considering that she wasn't even there.
Her electronic ballads have been remixed by scores of DJs and producers, including Skrillex (her ex-boyfriend), Jakwob, and Blood Diamonds, giving her voice a life and breadth that extends far beyond her personal reach. Halcyon was a fast success, reaching No. 9 on Billboard's Top 200 chart when released last October. The video for "Anything Could Happen," the album's defining pop hit, has been viewed nearly 14 million times on VEVO and builds upon the pop appeal of previous crowd-pleasers "Starry Eyed" and "Lights."
Goulding has an instinct for exploiting what's in vogue. Her 2009 cover of Bon Iver's "The Wolves" coincided with the group's rise to fame following For Emma, Forever Ago. Recent covers of the Weeknd's "High for This" and Active Child's "Hanging On" were equally well-timed, tapping into the pervasive alt-R&B trend. "I adore the Weeknd! I absolutely love his music," Goulding replies when asked why she chose to cover "High for This." Does she have a problem with the R&B singer's controversial depiction of sexual aggression toward women? Nope. "Art is art," she adds. "I'm going to write about what I need to write, even if it's personal — my friends need to be OK with that."
This refusal to compromise has resulted in a quick evolution. In the video for her 2010 cover of Elton John's "Your Song," Goulding is a study in knitwear, petting a kitten, playing the piano, and donning thick tresses of golden hair. Fast-forward to September 2012, and the video for "Anything Could Happen" finds her in the role of an otherworldly creature: eyebrows bleached, hair frosted pink, splayed on the beach among silver floating globes and triangular mirrors. Later, for "Figure 8," she thrashes in bed with a blood-red satin sheet taut over her face, evoking suffocation, loss, and violence.
Her fashion has gotten tougher and more urban as well: think Dr. Martens, beanies, hot pants, graphic tanks broadcasting messages like "Live Fast," and more black leather than Whitney Houston sported in The Bodyguard.
For now, Goulding is focusing on performing live, but the Halcyon tour isn't her only source of momentum. Recently, she collaborated on an untitled track with DJ Fresh, and earlier this month Skrillex released the video for "Summit," which features Goulding's vocals. Another song, "Bittersweet" (also produced by Skrillex), was included on the soundtrack for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.
Skrillex won a 2012 Grammy for his remix of Benny Benassi's "Cinema." He sings, "I never know what's coming, forever fascinating, hope you don't stop running, to make us always be waiting." Whether or not she was the song's muse, it does well to describe her velocity, and her charm. She touches through Atlanta this Friday, so try and catch her if you can. By the time she blazes back through, it may be under altogether new lights.