Ellie Goulding on her new album, feeling free on stage and finding pivot in acting


When Ellie Goulding finally returned to the recording studio after lockdown, she knew exactly what her new album wasn’t going to be. “Nobody was in the mood for ballads indoors after two years,” she laughs.

Her fifth studio album, Higher Than Heaven, grew out of those sessions, and it’s not a ballad within earshot. It’s bright, cutting electro-pop that’s dancefloor-ready and at times reminiscent of Swedish pop sensation Robyn. “I think it was an almost direct response to the pandemic and not being able to do what I love, which is performing, and the fact that none of us could go dancing with our friends,” she says .

It’s Golding’s sturdiest album to date and feels like the sister of its critically acclaimed predecessor, Brightest Blue, which gave Goulding their third number one. It includes upbeat collaborations with the likes of Calvin Harris and Big Sean — both of whom she’s worked with before — and there’s a sense of positivity and celebration that pervades.

But despite the fact that she’s sold more than 18 million albums worldwide and has over 23 billion streams to her name (not to mention 50 million followers on social media), Goulding says she still suffers from impostor syndrome suffering and afraid to express her ambition in a music industry that remains largely male-dominated.

“I feel like I have to slow myself down when I feel like I’m being too ambitious,” Goulding smiles as she reflects on her success after 15 years in the industry. “I often take a step back, especially when I’m around men, [thinking] that maybe my opinion isn’t the right opinion or I don’t have as much validation in what I’m saying… I then have to be counterintuitive and say, “No, I stand by what I believe” and not apologize for wanting to succeed, wanting to keep going and wanting to move forward. Some days I feel more confident than others,” she says, “but lately I’m trying to feel like I’m meant to be here.”

It doesn’t help that for all her successes, Goulding is still a footnote on some festival lineups this summer – along with all the other women who bill her – as male lineups are once again dominating the festival season. “I was actually joking about a festival I’m playing at this summer because I’m actually at the bottom of the line-up,” she says with a wry smile. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s a little weird.’ Then I looked at the line-up and it was basically all men. Then I thought, ‘Ahhh… I get it now!’”

Goulding began when the industry treated women badly. She has spoken to me about her MeToo experiences (in the past she has expressed regret that she didn’t do it sooner). “It was very important to be part of this movement and to raise your voice,” she says today. “Things have changed for the better, I think … I think that [MeToo] Exercise had such a powerful impact and thank God it happened.”

While things are far from being the same for women in the industry, Goulding says she’s “starting to see a change,” citing the likes of Sony’s Cassandra Gracey, who frequently organizes women in music networking events. “I’m not sure if events like this would have happened 10 years ago when I started,” says Goulding. “Being in a room with all these other women feels powerful … I feel like things are changing. I don’t see as many women who feel like they need to apologize anymore.”

She’s now a supportive voice for younger artists thriving – musician Mimi Webb, for example, recently spoke about her helpful advice at the BRITs – something Goulding didn’t really have when she started. Goulding, who suffered from anxiety from a young age, says that just months after signing, she was thrust into the limelight with a never-ending cycle of television appearances, interviews and live performances. She says she would have liked more support back then.

“For a young person starting out in the music industry, it can be quite intimidating and scary,” she says. “It would have been nice if someone had told me that [what was happening] was not normal. You need some extra support. Now record companies offer advice and therapists and all the things that young artists need to cope with the many different elements that the life of a performance artist entails.”

Goulding ended up seeing a therapist to help her anxiety. “It helps you just say it, and sometimes you learn things about yourself that you didn’t know, or they tell you things that you never thought about yourself or your life… it’s been effective.”

Her anxiety can be debilitating even now due to the physical symptoms she is experiencing. “These symptoms are sometimes so overwhelming that they can stop me and stop me from being the very best version of myself. It’s always been very important to me to talk about it,” Goulding says, adding that protecting mental health is more important than ever. “People know it’s been a struggle for me and it’s like an everyday struggle [still]. It’s not something that comes and goes.”

One of the biggest things that eased her anxiety was giving birth to her son, she says. She sits behind a ‘World’s Greatest Mom’ card and beams when she talks about him. She was pregnant at the time of writing Higher than Heaven. “When I’m scared, I really appreciate the moments when I’m calm and peaceful and present — like the time I’m spending with my son. I can really enjoy it when he does everything.”

In an industry notorious for not supporting moms who want to keep working, Goulding says having a strong team of women behind you has made all the difference. “Having an all-female team was a critical component in balancing motherhood and work,” says Goulding. “My responsibilities as a mother don’t require me to submit requests—they are taken care of and accounted for… Being around women has made my life a lot easier.”

Aside from being a mom and a successful musician, Goulding still finds time for her activism — particularly around helping the homeless and the environment. She spent Christmas (as she does every year) helping people on the streets, and in 2021 Goulding became one of the first artists to go on a carbon-neutral tour. Recently, in her commitment to be a more sustainable artist, she has pushed back the release date of her album several times to ensure the product’s packaging is environmentally friendly.

“We kept having to push it back, but you know what? … it’s being made aware of being very environmentally conscious and that’s my top priority,” she explains, saying that pushing back is “not a bad thing” if it raises awareness about climate issues.

Aside from being with her son, there’s only one other place her anxiety is truly absent: on stage. “It’s the only place I’m not afraid,” she smiles. “When I sing on stage, I just feel free. There’s not a second that I don’t enjoy it.” Goulding says she’s most looking forward to taking her son to some of the shows, too. “He hasn’t seen me perform yet, so I’m curious to see how he reacts,” she laughs. “He dances a lot so I hope I get a good reaction from him!”

As for the future, Goulding reveals she’s breaking new ground. She is working on some classical music as well as a possible move into acting. She has been studying acting for two years. “I really enjoyed it,” she reveals. “It got me out of my shell.” She is now looking for the “right project”. The satisfaction in Goulding’s voice returns once more. “There’s always something new to do,” she laughs. “I’m just excited to see how it goes.”

Higher Than Heaven will be released on April 7th

https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/music/ellie-goulding-higher-than-heaven-music-acting-b1067492.html Ellie Goulding on her new album, feeling free on stage and finding pivot in acting


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