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Ellie Goulding's Music 'Lights' Up UK, US

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A new generation of women singers from the United Kingdom have risen as of late, including Adele, Duffy and Estelle. Their big voices and soulful styles have won hits and fans here in America.

But there’s another star in British soul: Ellie Goulding.

Her debut album “Lights” became the biggest and fastest selling debut album of 2010, taking the top spot on the U.K. album chart. Goulding won the “Critics Choice Award” at the Brit Awards. She earned recognition as the “BBC Sound of 2010,” making her the second artist to win both honors in the same year after Adele did in 2008. Goulding also performed live at the wedding reception of Prince William and Kate Middleton, singing her rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song” for the couple’s first dance.

Goulding is now on her U.S. tour. She shares with Tell Me More host Michel Martin that her childhood dreams never even involved music stardom. She says she wanted to be an actress at time, particularly because she lived in a country where there wasn’t much to do besides watching TV and films. Thus, acting was a big deal for her.

Goulding says she had been strengthening her voice at a young age. She also developed an interest in running, training and martial arts, so she wanted to become a personal trainer.

Then she started doing gigs around London, becoming known as a “shy” performer. She taught herself how to sing and play the guitar because she couldn’t afford professional lessons.

She says her stage confidence didn’t quite develop until after signing a record deal. “I started performing in a non-apologetic way,” she says.

Goulding recalls that suddenly being in the spotlight, where those attending her shows are analyzing every aspect of it, made her think people were missing the point of her craft. She says she just brushed off all the attention, whether negative or positive, and developed thicker skin.

When it comes to public opinion of her songs, the New York Times calls it “a happy crash of signifiers.” < >

Listeners can hear a range of genres in her album, including electronic, folk, pop, blues and indie rock.

Host Michel Martin notes that the sound of her music is buoyant but the lyrics are quite sad. Goulding comments, “I like that sad songs can give you hope in a way.”

But what is the root of that melancholy tone?

Goulding attributes it to her childhood. Her father and his family were undertakers. She recalls her mother helping her dad apply cosmetics on dead people.

She adds, “I was kind of strangely familiar with death and murder at a young age because my dad had loads of books on crime, murder and stuff like that. I used to go see my dad on weekends, and that was the only literature I had to read.”

And as the public has recently received news musician Amy Winehouse’s death, Goulding says, “I don’t think an artist is ever really satisfied, and I think that links to pain because you’re never quite happy with anything.”

On the brighter side, Goulding is focusing on her next album, which she is certain to be proud of. “I can’t wait to have new music out there, because I think it’ll be slightly different to what I’ve done already, so we’ll see.” She says.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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