“Starry Eyed” is the title of Ellie Goulding’s breakthrough single, but the 23-year-old British singer-songwriter is anything but a romantic idealist. Despite her ethereal voice and airy pop hooks, Goulding’s music is rooted in unvarnished intimacy: Tracks such as “The Writer” and “Under the Sheets,” off her debut album, Lights (Cherrytree), mine the territory of possessive relationships—and the dark carnality that comes with them. “I’m not afraid, as a writer, of being emotional,” Goulding explains. “I’m obsessed with human emotion, body parts, physicality.” Despite her Pre-Raphaelite beauty and proper English accent, Goulding grew up in the poor rural Midlands community of Kington near Wales. Her struggles, though, weren’t just economic: Her parents divorced when she was 5 years old, and she developed a strained relationship with her stepfather as she grew estranged from her biological one (they still don’t speak). Her nascent talent as a singer wasn’t exactly encouraged either. “My mum was too busy raising four of us to encourage my hopes,” Goulding explains. “But I’m glad I had the upbringing I did. It made me a worrier and a thoughtful, curious person.” She adds: “People always try to find my agenda, but I don’t really have one. It’s safe to say that I make pop, but I think that I’m doing important music, too. I’ve just always done what I wanted to do.”
Photos: Ellie Goulding in New York, October 2010. Cardigan: Bottega Veneta. Top: Miu Miu. Pants: Diesel Black Gold. Earrings: Nishi. Cuffs and bracelet: Jelena Behrend Studio. Rings: Pamela Love. Shoes: Alexander Wang. Cosmetics: M.A.C., including Eye Kohl in Smolder. Styling: Karen Kaiser. Hair: Andre Gunn/The Wall Group. Makeup: Karan Franjola. Special Thanks: Shangri-la Studio.