Brightest Blue

Brightest Blue

Ask Ellie Goulding how she feels about her fourth album, Brightest Blue, and the singer responds by exhaling deeply. “Oh my gosh, it’s like a new world,” Goulding tells Apple Music. “When I listen to these songs, I feel proud of them.” Ask the same question of its predecessor, Delirium—the polished pop record Goulding released in 2015—and she isn’t quite as gushing. “I very quickly realised that when I was performing the songs, I was finding it cringe. It was like, ‘This is not what I want. This is not what I wanted to do.’ I was in such a bad place on that album, and I’m never afraid to admit that.” After a much-needed break (“I had to stop touring, stay in one place for a few months and spend some time with myself”) and a brief foray into a Beach Boys-inspired sound (“I watched a film about them and was like, ‘Oh my god’”), Goulding landed on the idea of releasing a double album. On its first (and central) part, “Brightest Blue”, Goulding showcases her singer-songwriter credentials, drawing together euphoric choruses, pounding basslines, string arrangements and piano ballads. The album's second part—“EG.0”—sees the singer delve into her bag of pop hits, with collaborations from Diplo, Lauv and the late Juice WRLD. “I've always been a vocalist and a musician and a songwriter, but I think sometimes that's got lost and blurred a bit,” says Goulding. “That's why I want to release both sides of this album. I do really appreciate the songs [on “EG.0”]—I love their lightheartedness. But actually, I think I’m a lot more than that.” “Brightest Blue” is Goulding’s most powerful (and empowered) work to date—a raw, vulnerable and thrilling exploration of the “chaos and corruption” of her twenties. Here, Goulding ruminates on eye-roll-inducing dates with narcissists (the pulsating, prowling “Power”), exes she can’t quite shake (“Flux”, “Bleach”) and growing into womanhood. Such themes might not be quite what you expect from a singer who, in 2019, got married to art dealer Caspar Jopling. “When I got married, I think everyone around expected me to suddenly start writing about the joy of being in love,” she says. “But my relationship feels separate from what I do. There was so much unravelling for me to do over the last 10 years that I have a real backlog of things to talk about. You won’t be hearing any songs about marriage anytime soon.” What you will hear, by the serene final track, is resolution—and Goulding the most in control she’s ever been. “I think writing this music has made me feel a new kind of confidence in my songwriting ability and believing in myself for once. It’s really cool when you feel like you’ve got to a point where you’re starting to be the artist you always were.” Here, let Goulding walk you through the 13 songs that make up “Brightest Blue”, one at a time. Start (feat. serpentwithfeet) “I remember opening Delirium with ‘Aftertaste’, which is big, kind of hypnotic, a bit tribal. I'd start all my festivals with that song. On this album, I was conscious that I wanted to start with something that was still hypnotic, but which didn't quite give away what the album was going to be. I got serpentwithfeet on the track because I wanted there to be a kind of beautiful disruption and I just had this instinct that I wanted him on the first track. It’s so special and he nailed it. I think I always end up associating things back to a person. But when I say ‘I can start a truce for anyone but you’ on this song, maybe it's not a person. Maybe it's a figment of my imagination. Something that holds me back or something that pulls me forward. So when I say ‘you’, it's not necessarily about a person. It's just about an enigmatic thing.” Power “The bass here is just so sexy. It reminded me of a mix of George Michael and Annie Lennox and that kind of ’80s sexual thing. There was something about it. I did so many different bits and pieces with [English songwriter and producer] Jamie Scott. We did folk songs. We did ballads. We did dance records. Then it ended up just being this strange, disjointed track that was very synth-heavy. It has this really big chorus that's almost celebrating something that, ultimately, is pretty depressing. It's like a first date where you’re completely uninspired in some bar somewhere. Just kind of being sick of this superficiality of everything, which I think has been driven by things like Instagram—I think it's a real thing. I suppose I also like the idea of a woman feeling empowered while singing this song, even though the lyrics suggest that she's been weakened by this unknown guy. The lyrics say, ‘Keep making me need a new fix,’ like I need something more and more. You’ve got me addicted to you like a drug. It's a sexual thing as well.” How Deep Is Too Deep “I think I have licence to say things [in music] that I perhaps wouldn't say in real life. I would never say to someone, ‘I can do so much better than you,’ which is a lyric in this song. I just wouldn't. But at the same time, I feel like so many women need to be empowered with things like that, and need to understand not to settle for someone just because you need someone. Honestly, when I say things like that, I want to protect women, and I want them to sing out a line and be like, ‘Oh, you know what? I'm with this guy for the wrong reasons, and actually he just makes me feel like shit.’ I think that I definitely went through situations in my teens and my twenties where I was always desperate for something to be deeper and deeper, but then I couldn't really figure out what that was. I guess all along, it was because I wasn't actually feeling real love. I was just trying to make something more than what it was, and give it more substance. It’s really a song about passion and lust for someone that, actually, is just screwing you over.” Cyan “‘Hide and Seek’ by Imogen Heap changed my life. When I first heard it, I was like, ‘Damn.’ I’d never heard anything like it before. I was really inspired by the fact that she could create such a powerful song with just her voice. This track is the moment where I explain the next one, ‘Love I’m Given’. At the beginning of the track, you hear me speaking. I'm trying to summarise why I think the way I do and everything that's made me who I am. That was a very honest moment there. I think I've always found it easy to be very honest and open about my feelings. Not necessarily in person talking to people, but I've always been able to write things down well.” Love I’m Given “This does touch on impostor syndrome a bit. What I'm trying to sing about is that I don't think I've always treated people right, and I think that there's been some times in my life where I've been troubled and it's affected the way that I treat people, and the love I give people. I was destructive, and I think it was based on coping mechanisms of trying to pretend to be this person who was the most resilient about what was going on, and that the personality and the love, everything that I gave with that, wasn't right. I don’t know, maybe everyone goes through this kind of self-realisation. All I know for me is that it affected my job—I was performing well, and I was selling records, and I was doing all that stuff, but as an artist I felt like I wasn't really giving my purest self. In ‘Love I’m Given’, I think I had this moment of redemption. Or trying to rid yourself of sin. Vindication. Absolution. Those are the words I associate with this song. I'm just like, ‘Right. I feel like I've redeemed myself now, and it's time to move on.’” New Heights “I wrote it in a studio in Soho, in New York. I was by myself, and I just came up with these piano chords. The song feels like a waltz. But to me it felt like a waltz where you're just dancing by yourself. It was about reaching this point where you’re just like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve found this ultimate independence and security in myself and my love for myself.’ It just felt like it had to be that kind of sound because it feels hypnotically joyful. It feels like a resolution. Like you've really found this amazing peace. This is one of my favourite songs on the album. When I say, ‘Love without someone else feels so bright,’ I think at the time I was just thinking about this immense independence, and I was shouting from the rooftops because I was like, ‘This is amazing. Who knew that life could be so great by yourself?’ Because I spent all my time doting over these guys, and actually, really, the answer was in myself all along.” Ode to Myself “I felt like, on this album, I really had to try and acknowledge myself. I've always taken up quite a lot of my album space for singing about other people. And I was like, ‘Well, what happens if I actually just write for myself?’ I thought it was a good moment for people to understand where I was coming from with this album.” Woman “This is meant to be a song with just me and piano, but I slightly manipulated it to make it flow with the album. I know that I'll be performing this song so much, and I’m looking forward to hearing it in its purest form. But I also made sure that the production didn't take away from the song in any way. It’s me really singing about my honesty and my place as a woman and how I'm feeling, and the feeling that I still need to figure out where I stand and what's next for me. It was the most simple way that I could really describe coming into womanhood. I love the lyric ‘I’m done listening to another man’s music, so I’m leaving with another drink in my hand.’ I think that's one of my favourite lines on the album. It’s me expressing that I know for a fact that male artists have been favoured over me for things—regardless of their quality or success. Naturally, that bothers me, and I think that instinctively, for all female artists, they feel like they've always had to try that bit harder or go that bit further, when in a fairer world that wouldn't have to be the case. I think people are finally waking up and there's a lot of change happening. I love the image of me walking out the bar with a drink in my hand and just being like, ‘See ya!’” Tides “I had so much fun writing this song. This wasn’t a dance record, but I was listening to people like The Blaze and Jamie xx at the time and wanted to make something that was an anti-dance record. I loved sampling my voice all over the place, and then singing and saying things like ‘Take those elbows off the table’ and shit that your parents used to say to you. And then just talking about my time in New York and telling this fairy-tale story about meeting this person. I also love that sentimental stuff here, like, ‘I want to stay with you tonight. I want to go against the tide. I want to be with you even if it means sacrificing something.’ This song wasn’t really about anyone. I was listening to The Blaze, and they have such empty lyrics, but at the same time, they're so meaningful. They just sing random lines that you would probably find in old pop songs, like ABBA songs. And then they would just put it over this really simple beat with a really euphoric sense. I love that idea. I've had quite a few people tell me that this is their favourite song on this record.” Wine Drunk “This is my inner dialogue. It's me just talking, and it reminds me of when I've been drinking wine and I just roll out thoughts. That's usually how I end up with lyrics. I just say what I think. I remember just reflecting on feeling like there was something missing and I finally discovered it.” Bleach “‘Bleach’ is about going back to my old habits of being like, ‘I want to write about how I literally can't erase someone from my brain.’ There’s a few songs on this album, like this one and ‘How Deep Is Too Deep’, that do suggest somebody treated me badly. I like the simplicity of this song, but also how severe it is, especially the lyric ‘How can I bleach you?’ [That feeling] is something that so many of us have been through. You feel like you have to literally erase that person to not think about them. Obviously I don't feel like that now, but I still think about exes. And I'm really open with my husband about this. I wrote this song in LA, and there were a lot of these kinds of songs on the radio. I think I got it from that. I’m always influenced by the things I hear on the radio.” Flux “I think this is really confronting something quite uncomfortable: thinking about what would happen if you'd stayed together. To me, it's quite indulgent, because it's absolutely not good for you to do this. It’s not good for growth. But songs like this are great to sing along to and great to indulge in grief and sadness and your ex and all that kind of stuff. So I suppose I used that licence a little bit to write this. And I just thought it was heartbreaking when me and [UK songwriter] Jim Eliot, who I’ve been writing with for years, wrote, ‘I'm still in love with the idea of loving you.’ It's quite sad, really. It's not even like, ‘I still love you.’ It's ‘I'm in love with the idea of you’, which I think also happens quite a lot in life. Musically, I’ve spent so much time the past few years listening to classical music. There are these textures and layers in classic music, and it's so beautiful. I had this guy called Ola Gjeilo, who is a Norwegian composer, play at my wedding. And he just makes such like beautiful music—stuff that really hits the soul. I don't know, it kind of appeals to the human in you. ‘Flux’ had something to do with that. It definitely is the most raw song on the album, and probably the saddest song I’ve ever written.” Brightest Blue “I talk about ‘the blue evolution’ in this song. I think it’s my version of a happy, peaceful place. It’s about getting yourself to a place of harmony where even when bad stuff does come along and you find yourself in hard times, you can deal with it in a very different way because you've discovered this harmony in yourself. I was also conscious when I was writing this album that we were doomed and something was happening and the world was changing. I think a lot about the natural world and about how much we've destroyed it. For this song, I envisaged things connected with nature and flowers and all the beautiful things we associate the outdoors with. It was like a utopia—kind of like reaching this place of incredible enlightenment. I think the most poignant lyric on the album for me is ‘Maybe because we're doomed, we're whole.’ So it's just sort of accepting fate and just being in a state of like harmonious kind of acceptance. Then there’s the lyric ‘You’re my greatest revelation,’ which, again, wasn’t necessarily referring to a person, more to an energy. Like my greatest revelation was like the fact that I've reached this point of ultimate independence. It's so crucial and it really is a recurring theme of the album. And I was in such a good place that I think that it was like a hyper kind of happiness.”

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