Coming into her current album. Delirium, Ellie Goulding felt she was reaching a critical point in her career.
She had enjoyed success in the mainstream pop world before. "Lights," the title song from her 2012 debut album, reached No. 2 on Billboard magazine's all-format Hot 100 chart (while topping four other charts), while "Burn," from Halcyon Days (the deluxe reissue of her second album, Halcyon), topped the British singles chart and went top 15 in the United States. Yet Goulding hadn't achieved the major popularity of stars like Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato.
The fear that she was running out of chances to ascend to the top rung on the pop music ladder was a big reason the 29-year-old Brit brought on leading hit-making songwriters and producers like Greg Kurstin and Max Martin for the Delirium project and pursued more of the kind of electronic/synthy pop sound that is popular on the pop charts.
"It was like a make or break for me, really, because I could have either carried on doing what I was doing or just took the leap," Goulding says in a phone interview. "I decided to do that, and not just with the album, but with a lot of things in my life. I made a lot of big decisions and making the album was one of them. I just realized things had to change in order for me to move on with music, and to, I don't know, maybe reach a bigger audience."
Delirium has given Goulding the kind of success she was seeking. The album debuted at No. 3, making it Goulding's highest-charting album to date in the U.S. The modern pop sound of Delirium, though, shouldn't have come as a complete surprise to Goulding's longtime fans.
Lights (and the deluxe edition of the album, Bright Lights) was a collection of danceable electronic-flavored pop tunes. But with "Halcyon," she expanded her sound considerably, shifting away from buoyant dance-pop toward darker, anthemic pop tracks and full-bodied ballads.
Goulding is quick to say that there was more than chart ambitions behind the musical direction she took on Delirium.
"I'd always wanted to make an album like Delirium and just had never committed to it," she says. "And I'd never gotten to work with the greats [among pop producers] before, never been with Max Martin before or Greg Kurstin. You know, sometimes it takes time to build those relationships. They can work with anyone in the world if they want to, so it takes awhile to kind of earn that. I think with Halcyon and Lights, I earned that acknowledgement of being a pop musician and then I managed to work with those people. So I think it all came at the right time."
Now, as Goulding enters the American leg of her world tour, she is adding new skills as a performer as well, bringing backup dancers and choreography into a show that features plenty of visual bells and whistles.
"Honestly, a few years ago if you had asked me if I was going to dance, I would have said 'Definitely not,'" Goulding says. "But I'm really enjoying it and I feel like it's adding something to the show that fans really love and enjoy."
She's also entering a new stage in her life. In March, she revealed she had broken up with boyfriend Dougie Poynter (of McFly). Her romance with Poynter had informed many of the lyrics on Delirium.
Despite that development, Goulding says she doesn't think the songs from Delirium are taking on much of a different feel for her, and for that matter, she thinks there might still be a future for her with Poynter.
"A lot of the album was influenced by that time in my life [with Poynter]," she says. "But it hasn't really changed that much. To be honest, I don't feel like, in myself, I don't feel like the show has changed. Obviously, it was a tough couple of weeks around that time. And we're friends and don't think it's the end of an era entirely. I think it could be sort of an unfinished story."