Ellie Goulding opens up about mental health, career struggles and comeback album 'Brightest Blue'

A decade ago, Ellie Goulding was suddenly thrust into the spotlight with her massive worldwide hit “Lights,” and it was a tricky transition for the shy singer-songwriter, who has since confessed that she was unprepared for fame. The endless cycle of touring and promotion that followed, through 2015’s platinum-selling Delirium, took its toll. But after taking a nearly five-year break between full-length studio albums to enjoy a relatively anonymous existence in the States, the British pop star is back with her fourth LP, the ambitious, 18-song Brightest Blue — and she’s in a good place mentally as well as artistically.

“God, it was so good,” Goulding says of her much-needed, very restorative time off. “It was real time of confrontation, which I actually think a lot of us are having now, where we're having to unravel a lot of things and learn a lot of things about ourselves. ... I had to try and discover myself. It took a lot of soul-searching, took a lot of time by myself and time walking around New York. ... I think that time alone, time away, from just the music scene, I got to figure out a lot of things about myself. And that's kind of what essentially made the [new] album.”

Goulding started being open about her mental health struggles, namely her anxiety, shortly after the release of her 2012 sophomore album Halcyon, which featured the smash singles “I Need Your Love” (with Calvin Harris) and “Anything Could Happen.” Back then, there was more of a stigma associated with the subject of mental health — and certainly less of a national conversation about it — and Goulding recalls that her candor garnered a mixed public response. But she tells Yahoo Entertainment that she has never regretted being vocal.

“I was amazed at how many people wrote to me saying thank you, saying, ‘Thanks so much for speaking out about this, because I've been called a freak and not being able to go to things because I'm too anxious,’” Goulding says. “Anxiety has obviously recently become something very talked about, which is good. … But yeah, but I also had people kind of saying, ‘Oh, it's pretty crazy that you've shared that much — and you overshared.’ I'm glad I did. I'm glad I did it to begin with. And I'll always talk about my issues. I realize how important it is to speak up about things, because you don't know how much it helps people.”

Ellie Goulding (Photo: Nathan Jenkins)
Ellie Goulding (Photo: Nathan Jenkins)

Goulding explains that it was actually a photo shoot for the revered U.K. music magazine NME, when she was just starting out in the industry, that triggered her anxiety and made her wonder if she was even cut out for the spotlight.

NME was the magazine I bought my entire teenage existence. NME and Kerrang!, they were like my music bibles. Every week I'd have to read about every single band. So I was doing a shoot with [NME], and naturally I was nervous, because I was like, ‘Oh my God, I've been buying this magazine every week, and suddenly I'm in the magazine and they want to do this feature on me!’” Goulding recalls. “And the photographer was just a dick. I remember he was just telling me to do stuff that I was uncomfortable with. And that was the day that [the panic attacks] started. It was like, ‘What did I get myself into? ... This surely isn't how it is. Surely not!’ And actually it wasn't; it just happened to be one particular bad experience that triggered it.”

Ellie Goulding (Photo: Louie Banks)
Ellie Goulding (Photo: Louie Banks)

Initially when she started experiencing anxiety, Goulding didn’t process what was happening to her. “It's a physical thing where my body simulates like some kind of crazy fight-or-flight thing, where your body just freaks out and starts sweating. You start thinking of these mad thoughts; your body simulates a heart attack. It's all these things that is just like, ‘This is debilitating,’” she says. “When I think about that time now — God, it was really tough time. I didn't really understand what was happening to me until I had therapy about it.”

Thankfully, Goulding hasn't experienced a panic attack in years. Looking back, she realizes that some of her “most anxious pre-backstage situations have made for the most incredible performances,” including one at the 2016 Grammy Awards, though she does wish that she had been more confident back then.

“To be honest with you, I have sacrificed a lot of performances for my nerves. Like, someone will say, ‘You have this big performance with this award show,’ and I'm like, ‘I can't do it, I can't do it.’ And I'm one thing I regret is I wish I just hadn't. I wished that my anxiety hadn't got the best of me, because I would have done so many more epic performances!” Goulding says with a chuckle. “Festivals, yeah — you can get me out there on a stage with hundreds of thousands of people and I'll be fine. But anything on TV, anything live, anything that is tangled up in American music culture, it's like, for a shy English girl, it's just too much.”

However, on the ambitious Brightest Blue, Goulding seems anything but shy. The album, divided into two parts, features a confessional Side A led by the fierce single “Power,” while Side B compiles her superstar collaborations with Diplo, Lauv, Swae Lee, blackbear, and the late Juice Wrld.

“It’s very honest, kind of biographical,” Goulding says of the album. “[On Side A], I'm talking a lot about myself, about my experiences, about my coming to understand myself as a woman and what changes have been, what I've learned. And then a couple of songs are about situations I've been in where it's just like a disillusionment of the opposite sex or whatever. And then Side B is more of like an ego thing, where it's like an alter ego where I get to play this character — where I can be this confident, badass girl that can perform at the Grammys.”

Watch Ellie Goulding’s extended Yahoo Entertainment interview below, in which she discusses the making of Brightest Blue, her self-shot “Power” video, her new marriage, and life in lockdown.

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