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Born in Hereford, England, Goulding later moved to the country's east coast to study drama at the University of Kent. She had developed a love for folk music as a teenager, and her time at university also exposed her to electronica. After two years, she took a break from her studies and moved to West London, where she pursued a career as an alternative singer/songwriter and befriended producers like Starsmith and Frankmusik, who gave her songs an electro-pop twist. In 2009, Goulding began building an online audience, where early tracks like "Starry Eyed" and a cover of Sam Sparro's "Black & Gold" were posted on taste-making websites. Goulding soon graduated from the blogosphere to print media, gaining praise from mainstream publications like The Guardian and fielding offers from record labels. She ultimately signed a major-label deal with Polydor Records and began preparing her debut album. In the meantime, she penned songs for Diana Vickers, Gabriella Climi, and others.
During the final weeks of 2009, Goulding topped the BBC's Sound of 2010, a poll conducted by British music critics and industry insiders to identify new talent. Building on that momentum, she blended acoustic and synthesized instruments on her first studio full-length, Lights, which was released in March 2010. The debut topped the U.K. charts during its first week and spun off "Starry Eyed" as a Top Five single (it also charted well in Ireland and New Zealand). Later that year, the album was re-released as Bright Lights. In addition to a hit cover of Elton John's "Your Song," the set included the international smash "Lights," which was certified five times platinum in the U.S. and peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2012, Goulding returned with her sophomore album, Halcyon, which pushed her into more adventurous sonic territory with darker lyrical content and experimental electronic sounds. Home to the single "Anything Can Happen," it was her second straight U.K. chart-topper and the one to break her into the U.S. Top Ten. The next year, a deluxe reissue featuring ten extra songs was released; entitled Halcyon Days, it acted as a supplement to the original release. Two of its songs, U.K. number one "Burn" and Top Three single "How Long Will I Love You," became some of her biggest hits. Meanwhile, she scored another international hit with Calvin Harris' single "I Need Your Love," which was certified multi-platinum in the U.S., Australia, and Canada. Another hit Harris track, "Outside," kept her firmly planted on the global charts.
By 2014, Goulding had participated in Band Aid 30's update of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and entered the U.K. Top Ten once more with "Beating Heart," a song released on the soundtrack for Divergent. Another soundtrack single, "Love Me Like You Do," added to the success of Fifty Shades of Grey in 2015 and soared to number one across multiple markets.
That same year, Goulding released her third studio album, Delirium, which featured collaborations with Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, and others. The pop-leaning record included the single "On My Mind" and peaked at number three on the U.S. and U.K. charts. For the remainder of the decade, Goulding scored some of her biggest hits in the form of collaborations, starting with 2017's "First Time" with electronic producer Kygo. The next year, another radio hit, "Close to Me," linked her up with producer Diplo and rapper Swae Lee. In 2019, she guested on Clean Bandit's single "Mama" and rapper Juice WRLD's "Hate Me" before returning to her own material with a pair of solo singles, "Flux" and "Sixteen."
Goulding kicked off the 2020s with "Worry About Me," a collaboration with American singer Blackbear, and "Slow Grenade" with Lauv. These tracks appeared on her fourth full-length, Brightest Blue, which arrived that summer. Split into two sides, the album's first half featured more experimental and vulnerable moments like "Power" (which interpolated Dua Lipa's "Be the One") and the piano-based "Flux," while side two (dubbed "EG.0") showcased more mainstream-friendly fare like her previously released singles with Blackbear, Lauv, Diplo, and Juice WRLD. The album became her third U.K. chart-topper. Later that year, Goulding got into the holiday spirit for the EP Songbook for Christmas, featuring her stripped-down takes on classics such as "O Holy Night," Don McLean's "Vincent," and Elton John's "Your Song." "Easy Lover," a collaboration with rapper Big Sean (and the first taste of her next era) arrived in July 2022. Another collaboration found Goulding reuniting with Calvin Harris for their first time since 2014 on the chart-topping anthem "Miracle."
As a reaction to the darkness of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Goulding remained on the dancefloor, turning to healing through shimmering, neon-washed synth pop for her fifth album. Released in early 2023, Higher than Heaven featured the singles "Let It Die" and the bonus track "All by Myself" with Alok and Sigala. ~ Neil Z. Yeung