Juice Wrld’s posthumous album highlights New Music Friday. Also out: a new Kid Cudi and Eminem song, plus tracks from Tim McGraw and Katy Perry.
Ellie Goulding is ready to reintroduce herself.
Despite modest awareness of the ethereal British singer in the U.S., she’s been a stealthily consistent hitmaker for the past decade. With seven top-10 songs on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 chart, Goulding has amassed more than 20 billion streams worldwide thanks to electro-pop singles such as “Lights,”“Burn,” “On My Mind,” and “Love Me Like You Do” (from “Fifty Shades of Grey”).
Her last album, 2015’s “Delirium,” was her biggest ploy for pop superstardom, with a barrage of towering hooks and dance floor-ready bangers courtesy of heavyweight producers Max Martin (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry) and Greg Kurstin (Sia, Adele). But the maximalist approach didn’t sit well with Goulding, 33, who wanted to scale back and put her songwriting center stage on “Brightest Blue,” out Friday.
With this album, “I wanted people to get to know me as a writer again,” Goulding tells USA TODAY. ” ‘Delirium’ was the album I thought I lost my way a little bit with – some of the songs just didn’t feel authentic to me. There were two ways I could’ve gone with (that) album: either continuing to explore myself as an artist or have some big pop star moment, and I chose the latter because I was convinced that’s where I was supposed to go. But I wasn’t enjoying it.”
On tour, “I had these amazing dancers and this huge stage setup, and it just wasn’t me,” she says. “I think I was pushed in that direction, and I admit I was a bit weak. I did what other people thought I should do. That was a time in my life when I felt very vulnerable and didn’t trust my own instincts.”
“Brightest Blue,” with 18 songs clocking in at 57 minutes, is split into two halves. The first features honest, introspective songs about love and heartache like “Flux,” a wrenching piano ballad about trying to hold onto a relationship well past its expiration date. “I think it’s the saddest song I’ve written,” Goulding says.
The album’s shorter second half is full of flirty, freewheeling collaborations, including the infectious “Close to Me” (with Diplo and Swae Lee) and hypnotic “Hate Me” (featuring late rapper Juice WRLD). “I see Side B as this alter-ego superwoman that I sometimes really wish I was,” she says.
Tracks such as “Woman” and “Power” find Goulding eye-rolling at the patriarchy and reclaiming her sexuality. In the music video for “Power,” which Goulding self-shot during quarantine, she dances around her bedroom in lingerie as she vents about superficial relationships in the Instagram age.
“I don’t often show my body in that way, so it was really fun to be in that state and not feel judged or watched,” Goulding says. “Ordinarily, it’d be an all-male crew on set for a video, but it was a female director and (female) management on the phone, which was a great feeling.”
Although love is central to “Brightest Blue,” Goulding says none of the album’s songs were inspired by her marriage to businessman Caspar Jopling, whom she wed in a fairy-tale ceremony at England’s Castle Howard last fall, with British royalty including Princess Eugenie in attendance.
“There’s definitely part of me that doesn’t feel like singing about it right now,” Goulding says. “It’s something I still want to keep sacred for two more years at least. When I write, I like to have a license to indulge in things or embellish a little bit, but with that subject, I just don’t feel the need to dress it up or make it into a story.”
The singer, who has drawn tabloid attention for past relationships with One Direction’s Niall Horan and Skrillex, says she is grateful to have someone like Jopling as a sounding board, free of any music-industry bias or jadedness.
“He definitely tries to help in a very innocent way. It’s cute,” Goulding says. “He does like to give his advice, and he’s much more business-minded than me, so that sometimes helps when I’m completely clueless about things. But I honestly think if Caspar happened to be a musician or work in the music industry it’d be a nightmare. I’m glad I have this thing to myself and can keep it very separate.”
The couple began self-isolating in March in a cottage about an hour outside of London, in a village “that’s very quaint, where everything is like ‘The Holiday,’ ” she says, referencing Nancy Meyers’ 2006 rom-com. There, she spent most of her time taking long walks in nature, baking, watching films and reading books by Mary Oliver and Yung Pueblo.
“I’ve really learnt to enjoy solitude and make the most of my days,” Goulding says. And fortunately for her and Jopling, “we work together really well as a team. We don’t really fight and he’s relatively tidy. It would be amusing if I suddenly found out all these weird things about him (in quarantine), but there’s nothing.”
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