wed 24/07/2024

Ellie Goulding, V&A online review - cautious liberation | reviews, news & interviews

Ellie Goulding, V&A online review - cautious liberation

Ellie Goulding, V&A online review - cautious liberation

A night at the museum is a graceful stopgap

Statuesque: Ellie Goulding at the V&APhotos by Jennifer McCord

Ellie Goulding steps coolly out of the Medieval and Renaissance gallery, in amongst monster-slaying Greek statuary, where a string section waits.

Deprived of audiences for now, she has opted for an elegantly filmed showcase at the Victoria & Albert Museum, her red dress the sensually bright centrepiece of blue-lit tableaus.

Fourth album Brightest Blue is a similarly graceful mix of classical and hip-hop influences, confidently leaving space around her trademark voice, and partitioning off the sort of hit-chasing collaborations favoured on her previous, self-consciously big LA pop album, Delirium, to a separate disc. The latter’s inclusion acts as failsafe backup for an artist who, having begun on a Herefordshire council estate, knows pop stardom is a job with its own requirements; and one you can lose.

The simplicity of early hits such as “Lights” has anyway been rediscovered, alongside creative and personal bullishness, after a decade when she has felt like an impostor star, and smarted at dismissals of her writing and musicianship. Lyrics pick over relationships’ power dynamics, while asserting her strength.

Ellie Goulding at the V&A Museum“I was old when I was younger,” she opens on “Start”, tensed and crouched as if ready to fight. “Power”, which in its video asserts Goulding’s sexuality after a decade avoiding its exploitation, knowingly sets her apart from the values of previous pop icons: “I’m not a material girl/Everything in your world just feels like plastic.” Arms flung wide in freedom as backing singers apply gospel force, it’s tonight’s first liberating act. Fifty Shades of Grey tune “Love Me Like You Do” is theoretically giddier with sex, though she looks bored reciting its old verses as gated drums crash around her. She’s more involved in the visceral romantic messiness of “Bleach”, and the “dark side” of “Slow Grenade”.

It’s when arena shows’ usual costume-change interludes are replaced by ballet dancer Nafisah Baba snaking through the empty museum till she arrives at its locked doors, looking out at South Kensington as if caged, then Goulding reappears in the V&A’s forecourt pool, that the ambition of music and setting fuse. Her 2013 No 1 “Burn” considers time rushing past, suggesting life, or maybe just stardom’s accelerated, alienated version, as a panic attack. Austrian percussionist Manu Delago’s limpidly chiming Hang drums and Baba join her in the V&A’s shallow end for “Flux”, a sliding-doors consideration of an unlived life with a selfish lover.

Goulding gives her voice full rein on the home straight: rap-rhythmic, or impishly elasticating the word “cool”. Her red cloak is shrugged off for bra and shorts on “How Deep”, as if she’s arrived safely home. She is still a cautious artist, with one eye on not falling from her peak. But there are glimpses of how good she may yet be beneath the sombre lunar lights of this stopgap, revealing showcase.

Goulding knows pop stardom is a job with its own requirements; and one you can lose


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters