Those of you raised on neon ’60s-era psychadelia, bad ’70s-period schmaltz or even ’90s bass-pumping dance mixes don’t need to move your radio dial to understand how the music industry has changed.
It’s gone viral, which like most things infectious and techno-related, has both considerable up and downs.
This realization was brought home with some immediacy when I had to chance to talk to rising British music sensation Ellie Goulding, who was in San Francisco for a private show at the W Hotel, which has embarked on a marketing series that should set new parameters for all things hip and now.
Click on the photo to the right to see pictures of Goulding performing at the W Hotel. Scroll down to see video from the performance.
Goulding is living proof that in the new-world network, things happen faster. Three years ago, she was just another college student at the University of Kent with artistic leanings. Today she is the biggest pop star in the United Kingdom, and has spent the last six weeks touring America, with stops at the Coachella Music Festival, the Jimmy Kimmel show and her last performance Thursday here in San Francisco.
Goulding has considerable talent, as she proved when she wowed an audience of about 400 people with a set that included a cover of Elton John’s classic “Your Song.” And since she has shown to be a fairly prolific songwriter, she may have staying power, a general obstacle in today’s music business that tends to cast aside its favorite flavors almost as quickly as YouTube can post them.
When I caught up with her, Goulding was anything but the bubbling, bouncy pop princess that the BBC crowned her in 2010 when she was placed atop the network’s music star list and followed that up with a BRIT award for her debut album “Lights.”
She was tired. She was dragging. She was homesick. She was clearly sick of interviews. Her representative from Interscope, the industry’s gold standard for pop talent, was openly concerned about her mood, which was summed up with a pouty complaint about “not having enough time on my hands.”
It’s a lot for a 24-year-old who grew up in farming country just outside of Wales to take the world by storm. Fame can be so wearing.
“It’s been just madness,” she said of her rise up the charts. “The whole thing has been very surreal. Yet it’s been amazing as well.”
Youth being what it is, within an hour she rallied, arriving on stage a little tepid, and by her fourth song, radiating fun and friskiness, to the point that she started pulling fans on stage to dance with her. An energetic crowd was all a saucy blonde in hot pants needed to turn the place all Gaga.
Those in the music world noticed this some time ago, which is how Goulding ended up here for her last U.S. appearance. Three years ago, the brand-setting folks from the W Hotels kicked off a global music series featuring top acts around the world. They have used their high-end brand to promote the likes of Peter Bjorn and John, Natasha Bedingfield, Janelle Monae and Cee-Lo Green. Goulding was timed and ready.
“Because we’re a global company, we’re looking at music acts that go beyond a certain city or place,” W Music Director Michaelangelo L’Acqua said of the company’s Symmetry Live series. “We’re approaching this more as a lifestyle than as a particular music choice. We’re looking at people who push the envelope, artists on the cusp.”
That would be the edge of rising celebrity, and Goulding fits the bill almost as well as her leather boots. I don’t know how her label or W picked her audience, yet it’s fair to say they know how to cast a video. It was no place for a scruffy columnist.
Goulding’s appeal is that she seems more like a musician than a diva. She spent most of the show comfortably strumming a guitar.
But it’s nice to know that even while the music industry is convulsing with the world’s quicksilver media transformation, the artists still shine bright. Polydor and Sony can package “stars” anyway they like, but no amount of remixing can mask talent.
Goulding is where Adele was two years ago. It won’t take much time to know how long she’ll remain starry eyed.
Compiled concert-goers' videos