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Guilty Pleasure: Ellie Goulding – Lights

on April 02, 2011, 8:00am

I did something a week or so ago that I rarely do to get music: I bought a full album on iTunes.

Now, buying something on iTunes isn’t really a guilty pleasure. Even if I considered it one (and I’m sure it is for some), that would be a whole other article all together.

I bought Ellie Goulding‘s Lights on iTunes for eight bucks because I love the record, and frankly, I don’t care who knows it.

Yes, it’s public, right there on my Ping account. But, hey, who the hell uses Ping? I have literally one real-life friend on Ping; virtually everyone else I’ve friended on the iTunes social network is in other bands. However, my Ping is connected to my Twitter account so… yes… people not only know that I am an owner of “Lights” but also that I loooove it. I have some friends on Twitter, but it’s mostly work-related stuff. So I saved a little face, right?

But wait, the individual plays of Ellie Goulding also show up on my last.fm profile, on which I have many of my closest friends who I DO know personally. I have over 150 plays (and counting) of the same 11 Ellie Goulding songs in the last seven days alone.

It’s entirely possible, in perusing music blogs or various indie/electronica mixtapes, you’ve heard either “Starry Eyed” (or, on dubstep mixes, its wonderful dubstep remix by Jakwob) or “Lights” by Goulding, a young, budding artist who had a purely girl-and-a-guitar approach while studying drama at the University of Kent before she met, among others, U.K. dance producer Starsmith, with whom she’s collaborated for most of her young career.

Goulding’s profile significantly increased last year in the U.K. mainstream press with her Critic’s Choice win at the 2010 BRIT Awards and in the indie press with her opening spot on Passion Pit’s U.K. tour. That pairing is an appropriate comparison to make, music-wise, as both of their sounds pull enthusiastically from the same kind of rock-based, disco cheese.

Where Passion Pit has a Catholic choir-boy/gear-head approach to their well-produced work, Goulding takes the pop-star, dramatic vessel approach to her music, writing or co-writing songs and letting trusted collaborators handle the production work.

Of course, it’s hard to avoid the distinctly British influences Goulding pulls from: Kate Bush (what young British woman isn’t influenced by her?), Elton John (she covers “Your Song” on Lights, her debut) and the Australian Kylie Minogue, whose influence I can’t help but hear in her music because… yes… I’m also a big fan of Minogue’s as well.

It’s interesting how slick dance music of all kinds has been slowly but surely being accepted into American indie circles. On our shores, DFA Records certainly deserves a good bit of credit for this, but Nordic imports such as Annie and Robyn and British imports like Goulding certainly have done their part.

Of course, the blonde, sweet-faced Goulding is more Annie than she is Robyn, and not just in looks: wholesome, with clean sounds and unobtrusive keyboards and drum sounds. More than either, Goulding is distinctly feminine without being overly delicate.

So I’m out of the closest: a full-on convert to girlie, British dance pop. How to explain this uncharacteristic spike of music listening to my closest friends? Well…

“Uh… yeah… I was just DJ’ing a party for sorority girls and these chicks kept requesting Ellie Goulding on repeat. For the whole party. I know, it was totally weird. Can’t believe I left my scrobbler on.”

“I was just doing review listens and I left the record on repeat, dude.”

“I’ve decided to come out of the closet… that I love to daaaaaaance!!”

‘These things that give us pleasure, they are guilty of nothing. And neither are we.’

But fuck it, right? You like what you like. I don’t really buy into the idea of “guilty pleasures.” Which is why I’m writing this piece, not as an assignment but as a protest. What’s wrong with liking something that may not have depth, societal relevance, substance, or artistic merit?

I’m not a rockist, I’m a music lover. I’m also on the wrong side of my 20s. If I’m not over the adolescent affectation of being self-conscious about what I like by now, then something’s wrong with me. Sure, the High Fidelity mindset was fine for me at 19, but it’s time to move on.

I suppose I have Chuck Klosterman, a music writer whom I still idolize (albeit reluctantly) and who made me want to become a music writer, to thank for guiding me to where my outlook is now on “guilty pleasures.” Klosterman said the following in his Esquire column in November 2004:

“People who use this term are usually talking about why they like Joan of Arcadia, or the music of Nelly, or Patrick Swayze’s Road House,” Klosterman writes. “This troubles me for two reasons: Labeling things like Patrick Swayze movies a guilty pleasure implies that a) people should feel bad for liking things they sincerely enjoy, and b) if these same people were not somehow coerced into watching Road House every time it’s on TBS, they’d probably be reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Both of these assumptions are wrong.”

It’s assumption A that really gets to me. Why should anyone feel bad about something they genuinely like? What an awful way to feel. I genuinely feel bad for anyone that thinks this way about music. I’m tempted to tear down this way of thinking because, like Klosterman wrote, it’s wrong. But more compelling is the sadness and empathy I feel.

“I think it was Voltaire (possibly) who once argued that every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do, and I suppose he had a point,” Klosterman continues. “If I spent as much time analyzing Al-Qaeda as I’ve spent deconstructing Toby Keith’s video for ‘Whiskey Girl,’ we probably would have won the war on terror last April. However, this is nothing to celebrate or bemoan; it’s kind of my own fault, and it’s kind of no one’s fault. These things that give us pleasure, they are guilty of nothing. And neither are we.”

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