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The royal treatment: 2010 was quite a year for British singer Ellie Goulding. Her debut album, Lights, hit No. 1 on the U.K. album charts and churned out four hit singles. She won the coveted Critics' Choice trophy — an honor previously given to Adele and Florence & the Machine— at the 2010 BRIT awards. And she topped the BBC Sound of 2010 poll, which surveys critics and broadcasters to identify the best rising artists. But nothing gave her the publicity boost of being the only artist to perform at last weekend's royal wedding reception.
How she got the booking: "I met (Prince) William at a music festival about a year ago, and the couple asked me to perform months prior to the wedding," the 24-year-old singer says. "I can't say much more because I'm under a confidentiality agreement, but I will say that I was very honored. It was such an important day, a truly unbelievable experience."
OK, maybe a little more: "I was nervous and overwhelmed, but it was just a fun night, a really great atmosphere," she adds. "I can't say what songs I played, but they're out there on the Web (her hit Starry Eyed and a cover of wedding guest Elton John's Your Song)."
Roll out the red carpet: Her wedding-singer gig was rocket fuel for Goulding's rising star. This weekend, she was the musical guest star on Saturday Night Live. "SNL is quite an institution in America, a dream come true, really," she says. "I certainly didn't think I'd get to perform on it so soon!" In August, she joins the lineup at the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza. "I'm sure my name was in very small letters," she jokes.
Folktronica?: It's true, it's a real genre. That sounds like an impossible pairing, but Goulding has mastered the balance between lighthearted dance rhythms and serious folk. Her breathy vocals, emotional lyricism and acoustic guitar anchor the four-to-the-floor beats. "I don't believe in rules or boundaries with music," she says. "A beautiful song is a beautiful song. I often start writing a folk song, but then if it becomes electronica, then that's what the song was meant to become."
Also on her love list: "I grew up listening to Patti Smith, Alison Krauss and Bjork, who is my idol," she says. "She has such great vision for big soundscapes. And I love the way she tells stories."
Musical evolution: Born in Hereford, England, Goulding and her three siblings moved into a small house on the English countryside after her parents' divorce, where the sisters shared a room. "I started songwriting when I was 9, writing in a diary. I'm a very emotional person, so I was always writing about heartbreak," she says. "I thought I was in love a lot, at least as much as you can be when you're that young." There wasn't enough money for formal music lessons, so Goulding's acoustic prowess is all self-taught. "I learned to play the guitar when I was about 14," she says. "But when I went to university is when I discovered electronica."
Dance revolution: "I was kind of kept in the dark, living out in the country and listening to pop and folk," she says. "But (in college), I met these people from all over and this whole world of music opened up to me. The fusion that was possible between my folk music and electronica was just brilliant."
Dream collaborations: "Of everyone, I would love to work with Drake," she says.
Festival devotee: Goulding's first U.S. single, Starry Eyed, is about her love of going to music festivals. "It's one of the first songs I wrote, about being in that happy state, looking up at the stars. It reminds me of being young," she says. "That song goes over really well at festivals. …It's been a little strange since I started playing them, because as a performer, you're sort of stuck backstage in this no-man's land. You can't really go out in the crowds much. But, the great part is hanging out with the other artists. It's a bunch of like-minded people having good fun together."
Deserving acts: There are lots of great British acts that sadly go unnoticed in America, but Goulding has a few suggestions. "James Blake has a spine-tingling voice. Clare Maguire has this amazing Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks voice. And the Wild Beasts are a great band; the singer (Hayden Thorpe) has this wonderful falsetto."
Coming up: "After the summer, I really need to work on my new album. I've got bits and pieces done, but I have to focus, and that means I have to go away by myself," she says. "When I write, I like to read a lot of books and watch movies — I'm very much into learning new stuff."