Night Music: Ellie Goulding, “Burn”

We hear a lot of my daughter’s music around the house these days, and she plays no song more often than the new one from Ellie Goulding. Goulding is English, kind of a folkie singer-songwriter who got mixed up with dubstep and Skrillex, grew pop ambitions, and whose songs marry a big drum sound with colorful synths and front her wispy soft voice seducing with sneaky melodies. Like in much of the music world these days, credits on the tunes are something of a mashup of original writer, producer, fixer writers, Ellie and her friends. This is the pop music machine, and Burn is her first single to reach number one on the British pop charts, but I like her music. It is defined by her qualities and talents. What got me thinking about it today was the MGMT album, which sounds like it should be pop music, maybe it wants to be pop music, but isn’t at all poppy. Maybe MGMT, who started out as popmeisters, have withdrawn, but it sure feels like these guys should be marrying whatever other ambitions they have with their skill making popular sounds. Making pop noise without pop pleasing form (and, importantly, craft) seems like a waste. Burn is certainly not a waste and has a big pop form, and while that commerciality may be suspect, I really like the way the production’s prettiness turns anthemic, and when the big drums pound toward the end my heart lifts in a good way.

3 thoughts on “Night Music: Ellie Goulding, “Burn”

  1. I like the song and I like the singing and I even like the tricks, what bugs me is the every-hair-in-place production. It contradicts the song, as does the video.

    We’re gonna burn
    Until the match burns down
    Then we go out
    We’re gonna burn
    Right through another video

    • I like the video, which is a matter of taste I guess, but I have to admit that as I was thinking about the song I was wondering whether I was giving it extra credit because the video touched me so strongly. To put this in context, I have to also admit that there is a chord in me that can be strummed by somewhat vague but heartfelt calls to our collective good will, and the video gets me there.

      As for the song, when I hear it without the video, I’m much more caught up in the way the floating verse leads into a similarly weightless chorus and how that strengthens the emphatic close of the chorus: “cause we got the fire– and we’re going to let it burn! burn burn burn burn burn burn etc.” It’s a dynamic and sound that is in my ear now and isn’t going anywhere, the way strong pop hooks endure, but it seems a little less craven to me than your usual modern pop song.

      That said, the production is immaculate, the way you would expect from a piece of giant commercial music. I would hope she’s clever enough, unlike MGMT, to rough it up AND continue to make pop music somewhere down the road. I sense that’s a part of her, but we’ll see how the starmaking machinery grinds.

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