Ellie Goulding makes exhausted look flawless. Less than 24 hours after her performance at the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, she packed New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Wednesday night, Nov. 11, for an American Express #Unstaged show, directed by actress Scarlett Johansson.
In between sips of tea, the dance-pop songstress — who unleashed her Delirium album last week — admits her energy is running low. “Yesterday was like Victoria’s Secret, [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy] Fallon, Victoria’s Secret, Fallon, sound checks, rehearsals, two Victoria’s Secret shows, back to Fallon, back to Victoria’s Secret. The last two days have been real.”
Keeping it real is Goulding’s forte. When asked if she would grab some drinks with ScarJo to celebrate after the show, she quickly responds, “I will be going to bed because I have a flight at 7am [to London]. I’m boring,” she says before laughing. “I might pass to the other side.”
Before she delivered her Delirium LP for the first time on-stage, she sat with Billboard to discuss pop maestro Max Martin’s magic, the key to her dynamic live shows and what to do if your crush isn’t making your hotline bling.
You have a range of influences on your Delirium album but going in, what was the one element characteristic of you that you made sure was on this project?
That’s a good question. I think I wanted to make sure that this album was everything that I’ve ever been and everything I’ve ever been inspired by. From working with brand new producers that I’ve never worked with before to working with somebody I’ve always wanted to work with. That’s always been my aspiration, to be able to work with such an established, incredible pop writer. Max Martin, he’s like the hitmaker but he’s also just got an incredible ear and loves voices, and is passionate about music more than anybody would know and so that has been a joy but also, it’s important for me to make sure that I have very new elements of me on there. For example, my voice. I’ve used it in ways I’ve never used it before. I think this album has kind of been like the buildup for me for the past few years. I always knew this kind of album was coming. There’s old and new, which is unusual for me because I’m always like wanting to move forward and kind of be innovative but I’d like to think this album possesses all of that. I called it Delirium because anything that I do that’s remotely happy, I have to have some kind of twist on it, so [being] deliriously happy still has a dark side to it.
You mention Max Martin, who had his hand in many major records this year. What did he do specifically to unlock your voice?
He directed me on a couple of songs and he’d be like, “Can you do this?” And I’d be like, “Do you mean this?” And he’d be like, “Where did that come from? Never heard that before. Never heard you sing low on any of your records before.” And yeah, it was great. It just came out of nowhere. He was good at bringing that confidence out of me. But it works in different ways because Greg Kurstin will just, you know, I’ll do something because I’m so unbelievably comfortable with him at this point. I feel comfortable to do anything, to make noises, to make screams, shouts, run around, suggest things and he’s like, “Yeah, let’s try it.” Greg is such a great person to work with but with Max, it was more took a bit more direction and a kind of confidence building.
Speaking of confidence, you commanded the stage at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. And your Delirious album cover is sexy, but still you. Describe the moment you felt comfortable being yourself.
Because I see myself as more of an athletic person than somebody who diets to get thin, I like to be very strong so I think when I discovered that, that being strong was so cool and badass just made my life so much better because I felt so much more empowered that I could take on anything. Knowing that I have the physical strength to do what I do, to be alive, I think it’s training for life — it’s not just a marathon but everyday life. That’s how I do my job. That’s how I perform. That’s how I deal with these crazy days.
What was brainstorming with Scarlett Johansson for your #Unstaged show like?
She’s been incredible. She’s had a very hands-on approach. She’s very involved. She’s very passionate but also really great, funny and down-to-earth and beautiful spirit. We get on really well. The fact that she is the way she is has made this process really great, really easy to work with. She’s got a good team, I’ve got a good team so it’s a really good pairing and I think as a result because we’ve been able to communicate what we want, what we don’t want. She’s come up with the most incredible ideas, which we’ve pretty much said yes to anything.
Drake’s “Hotline Bling” is having a moment right now. Any advice for those struggling to get a call back from someone they’ve had their eye on?
If someone isn’t calling back, don’t bother with them. [Laughs.] If it was me and someone wasn’t calling me, I’d move on because if that person’s not like reciprocating, you don’t need that in your life. You need to find someone who does. It’s like games. It could be much simpler than that. It’s the typical thing that I would write about. I’m quite in love [right now]. That is, like, my obsession. I’m trying to give the most sensible advice but I’d probably just keep waiting for them to call, knowing me.
You’ve said your collaboration wish list includes Bjork and Drake. Any update there?
Gosh, I haven’t even had a chance to even think about that. I’d love to at some point. We’ll see. I reckon this year is going to be really interesting. It’s gonna be some mad collaboration between me and someone. I haven’t figured it out yet but we’ll see.
Do you have any strange pre-show rituals?
I do some press-ups. I was doing 20 at one point, just clean but I’m struggling at the moment because I’m so tired. So [I’ll do] 10 good ones. 10 “man” ones. [Laughs.]