On August 6, 2011, Ellie Goulding played Lollapalooza for the first time. It was the legendary festival’s 20th anniversary, and Eminem, Foo Fighters and Coldplay were the superstar headliners. For her part, though, Goulding was relegated to a small side stage, set off under the trees in a pocket of Grant Park. She’d established herself in her native U.K. by then, but was just breaking into the American market.
Two years later, Goulding was back, and her second appearance was evidence of her rising star. This time, the singer was given the enormous Bud Light Stage, covering an entire city block , to play an hour-long set for more than 50,000 fans.
On July 31, she returns to the Bud Light Stage, but this year will be different. There’s a whole new aura about the 29-year-old Goulding these days. She’s gone on record saying that her third and most recent album, Delirium, comes from a happier place than her previous two. While she’s always had that uniquely sultry voice, she’s come into her own as a performer and, really, as a person.
“When I was touring with [my second album] Halcyon, it was definitely a different energy,” she says. “The songs didn’t give me that kind of happiness to work with onstage, that kind of joy. Whereas these songs — ‘Don’t Panic’ and ‘Codes’ are two of my favorites — they’re so fun live. Everyone’s dancing, they’re singing; I love that feeling.”
A festival is a really nice interlude on a tour. It’s just a different kind of spirit, isn’t it? The sun [is out], everyone’s drinking and having fun; it’s just a totally different vibe.
Add that onto the natural energy of a summertime fest and Goulding’s spirit will be at a fever pitch come July. The musician is a little more than halfway through a nearly yearlong world tour for Delirium (she played at Allstate Arena back in May), and surrounded by rumors about a maybe-relationship with Prince Harry (she sang at his brother William and Kate’s wedding in 2011) — so we can’t blame her for being a little, well, delirius.
“We put a lot into our festival sets because those are the shows we enjoy the most,” she says. “The arena shows I’m doing night after night, and they can definitely kind of roll into one, whereas a festival is a really nice interlude on a tour. It’s just a different kind of spirit, isn’t it? The sun [is out], everyone’s drinking and having fun; it’s just a totally different vibe.”
In 2011, her biggest hit was “Lights”; in 2013, it was “Burn.” This year, fans will go crazy over hits like “Army” — written about Goulding’s best friend and personal assistant, Hannah Lowe — and “Love Me Like You Do.”
But the songs Goulding is most likely to blow us away with are the ones that, for her, represent personal growth. “Songs like ‘On My Mind’ just have a kind of confidence that I’ve never really had before in my performances,” she says. “I love the idea of writing songs that give me that confidence. Sometimes I write songs in the studio and I don’t even think about performing them, and then they just completely come alive onstage. That’s the best feeling for me, when it all comes together.”
Catch Goulding on the Bud Light Stage Sunday, July 31 (8:30-10 p.m.) — and read for our full guide to Lollapalooza.
Photo by David Roemer