Lights is the debut studio album by English singer and songwriter Ellie Goulding, released on 26 February 2010 by Polydor Records. Goulding collaborated with several producers on the album, including Starsmith, Fraser T Smith, Frankmusik, Richard „Biff“ Stannard, Ash Howes, Liam Howe, Fred Falke and Mumford & Sons‘ Ben Lovett. The album received generally positive reviews from music critics, who complimented Goulding’s electronic edge, while less favourable reviews felt the sound was generic. Lights debuted atop the UK Albums Chart with first-week sales of 36,854 copies. In North America, the album charted at number 21 in the United States and number 66 in Canada. It spawned four singles: „Under the Sheets“, „Starry Eyed“, „Guns and Horses“ and „The Writer“.
The album was re-released on 29 November 2010 under the title Bright Lights, including six new tracks. It produced two additional singles—a cover of Elton John’s „Your Song“, which peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart and became Goulding’s second highest-charting single in the UK, and „Lights“, which reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Goulding’s most successful single in the US. Following the reissue, the album saw a surge in sales in both the UK and Ireland. On 8 March 2011, the album was released in the United States with two songs removed and featuring three songs that were previously not available on the original version, but were included on the Bright Lights reissue.
Goulding dropped out of a degree programme at the University of Kent after two years in order to pursue her musical career. She explained to BBC News Wales, „I’d entered a university talent contest and was spotted by some people in the audience“. She signed a record deal with Polydor Records in July 2009. However, Goulding opted to release lead single „Under the Sheets“ on independent label Neon Gold Records so she would not feel under pressure.
Goulding explained that the album „is made up of songs that all started on a guitar over a period of about two years. A number of the songs vent romantic victories and failures.“ She revealed that the first song she ever wrote, „Wish I Stayed“, is featured on the album. She met chief producer Starsmith after moving to Bromley, London from her home in Hereford. In an interview, she explained, „Meeting Starsmith was a godsend. We’re like brother and sister. We fight a lot but you can’t get anywhere without creative tension.“ Goulding worked with producers Starsmith, Frankmusik, Fraser T Smith, Richard Stannard and Ash Howes. The majority of the album was recorded in Starsmith’s bedroom in Bromley, London. She told the Daily Star, „Though I write on guitar, I hear the entire sound of songs in my head. And Fin [Starsmith] is someone who understands.“
„Under the Sheets“ was released as the album’s lead single on 9 November 2009, reaching number 53 on the UK Singles Chart.
Follow-up single „Starry Eyed“, released on 22 February 2010, peaked at number four.
„Guns and Horses“ was released on 17 May 2010 as the third single from the album, and charted at number 26 in the UK.
„The Writer“, the fourth single, was released on 8 August 2010, reaching number 19 on the UK Singles Chart.
Goulding’s cover of Elton John’s 1970 classic „Your Song“ was released as the album’s fifth single on 12 November 2010, also serving as the lead single from the Bright Lights re-release. It became Goulding’s second highest-peaking single to date on the UK chart, reaching number two. The song was featured in the John Lewis Christmas 2010 TV advert in the UK. The album’s title track, which was originally available only as a bonus track from iTunes, was released as the album’s sixth single on 13 March 2011, peaking at number 49 in the UK.
„Lights“ was released as the album’s lead single in the United States and Canada, peaking at numbers two and seven, respectively. By June 2013, the song had sold four million copies in the US.
She also played live at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April 2011. Goulding made her American television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on 7 April 2011 performing „Starry Eyed“. She appeared as the musical guest on the 700th episode of the Saturday Night Live, broadcast 7 May 2011 and hosted by Tina Fey. She served as one of many live performers at the wedding reception of Prince William and Kate Middleton on 29 April 2011 singing her rendition of „Your Song“ for the couple’s first dance as well as her hits „The Writer“ and „Starry Eyed“ and several of William and Kate’s personal favourites. She was introduced to Prince William by Tinie Tempah at a music festival during the summer of 2010. She said: „It was an amazing honour to be asked by Kate and William to perform at their party. The atmosphere was incredible and it is a night I will never forget.“ Goulding performed, for the second consecutive year, at Radio 1’s Big Weekend on Saturday 14 May.
Goulding headlined the 2011 Wakestock Festival in Wales, performing on 8 July. In August she, again, performed at V Festival for her second year in a row. On 6 August 2011, Goulding performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Goulding performed at the annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert on 11 December 2011 in Oslo, Norway, where she also served on a panel discussion with Amy Lee of Evanescence and Janelle Monáe. On 1 December 2011, Goulding performed at the White House during the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, alongside the likes of Big Time Rush and will.i.am. She also was a musical guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on 11 April 2012, performing „Lights“. On 18 January 2012, Goulding performed „Lights“ on Late Show with David Letterman.
„Every Time You Go“ was featured in the Vampire Diaries episode „Founder’s Day“. „Your Biggest Mistake“ appeared in an episode of The Inbetweeners and „Believe Me“ appeared in an episode of 90210. Her cover of „Your Song“ made an appearance on an episode of Haven.
Goulding toured in support of Lights and supported Passion Pit in March 2010 and John Mayer during his UK tour in May 2010. During the summer she performed at a number of festivals. On 29 May, she performed at the Dot to Dot Festival in Bristol. She performed a set on 25 June at the Glastonbury Festival 2010 on the John Peel Stage. Her third EP was a live recording of part of her set at the iTunes Festival 2010. The whole set was ultimately included as bonus content on the iTunes version of Bright Lights. She made her T in the Park debut on 11 July. She played on the Nissan Juke Arena at the 2010 V Festival in late August. In September she was part of the line-up at Bestival 2010 on the Isle of Wight. In support of the album in Europe she performed on the first day of Pukkelpop in Belgium, at the Open’er Festival in Poland and at Benicàssim in Spain. In March and April 2011, Goulding embarked on a tour across North America to support the release of Lights in the US.
Lights received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 65, based on 19 reviews. Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph praised the „lush electro-dance production of Starsmith“, stating it „evokes a gushing, breathless rush of heady emotion that might have benefited from at least a dash of restraint and intimacy.“ Mike Diver of BBC Music described the album as „an expectations-passing collection that should see fans of the singer’s material to date elevating her to superstar status—perhaps not Gaga league, but certainly the equal of the current solo female du jour, Florence Welch“, adding that „ballads like ‚The Writer‘ and ‚I’ll Hold My Breath‘ retain the glossy attraction of singles ‚Under the Sheets‘ and ‚Starry Eyed‘.“ AllMusic’s Matthew Chisling commented that the album „lacks the dramatic crash and bang of Florence and the Machine’s Lungs, but is certainly a more restrained, compelling listen than the debut records by Pixie Lott and Little Boots“, commending Goulding for her ability to „take the best parts of all of her contemporaries‘ styles and create pleasantly surprising records.“
Camilla Pia of The Fly magazine raved, „Packed full of sparkling pop with a folky heart and an electronic edge, the debut is ridiculously infectious; swooping choruses and lyrics of all-consuming love and losing it sticking in your head from first listen.“ The Independent critic Andy Gill noted that „despite the occasional furtive flourish of acoustic guitar, her work on this debut album is more akin to the retro-synthpop of Little Boots and La Roux, thanks to the thoroughness with which production partner Fin Dow-Smith has smothered her folkie origins under a welter of busily cycling synths and programmed beats.“ Spin‚s Caryn Ganz referred to the album as „[s]hiny, wholesome dance-pop, with a dash of saucy“ on which Goulding „glides through blippy anthems […], pumping disco […], and delicate grooves […] with a pixie-ish voice that’s one notch sweeter than Metric’s Emily Haines.“ Pitchfork Media’s Stephen Troussé wrote, „Outside of its immediate context, Lights is a sometimes great, always promising debut. It’s an album about leaving home, and it works best when the contrast between the folk singer and the pop production chimes with the tensions between the pull of home and the allure of the city.“ Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone expressed that Goulding has „a classic British folkie’s voice—the kind of tremulous soprano that evokes a wintry day on a fog-swaddled moor. But Lights places her vocals and minor-key melodies against producer Starsmith’s club-ready mix of synths and brisk, busy electro rhythms. The results are moody […], pretty […] and uniformly catchy.“
Michael Cragg of musicOMH argued, „For the most part, the strength of the songwriting should keep the doubters at bay, Goulding and producer Starsmith concocting a heady mix of skyscraping choruses, twinkling beats and Goulding’s elastic vocals.“ In a mixed review, Claire Allfree of Metro viewed the album as „undeniably pretty aerated synthpop“ and praised songs like „Starry Eyed“ („pulsingly pert“) and „The Writer“ („a lilting melodic hook“), but felt that „Goulding’s girly, heartfelt voice is oddly depthless, while the electronic vapour and four-to-the-floor house beats swoop in a wash of perfectly calibrated bland sound.“ In a review for the NME, Mark Beaumont critiqued that „there’s nothing here groundbreaking enough to justify the critical frothing. It’s largely straight-ahead folk-pop dappled with a mild ground-frost of sequenced beats, Auto-Tune, and synth sizzles.“ Drowned in Sound’s David Renshaw opined that „Lights sounds like a naïve folk album given a blog house remix“ and concluded, „Devoid of a true soul or sense of honesty Lights can be a pretty hollow listen.“ The Guardian‚s Alexis Petridis was unimpressed, dismissing the album as „general acoustic singer-songwriter material“.
Lights debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, selling 36,854 copies in its first week. The following week, the album dropped to number 16 on sales of 19,398 copies—the third biggest fall from number one ever in the UK, after Christina Aguilera’s Bionic (2010), which fell to number 29, and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (1971), which fell to number 18 (although the latter had already spent eight weeks at the summit and was partially affected by a postal strike). Following the release of Bright Lights in late November 2010, the album re-entered the top 100 at number 24, selling 23,629 copies. It ended 2010 as the 24th best-selling album in the UK, having sold nearly 300,000 copies by late November 2010. In early January 2011, the album returned to the top ten, where it continued for six weeks. Following Goulding’s performance at the reception party of Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding on 29 April 2011, the album returned once again to the top 10 on 8 May after an absence of 13 weeks, jumping from number 23 to number 10 on sales of 11,981 units. Lights was certified double platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on 22 July 2013. By November 2015, the album had sold 801,414 copies in the UK alone.
In Ireland, Lights debuted on the Irish Albums Chart at number 12 on 4 March 2010. Following the Bright Lights re-release, the album entered the Irish top 10 for the first time, attaining a new peak position of number six on 24 February 2011. Elsewhere, the album reached number eight on the European Top 100 Albums, number 28 in New Zealand, number 35 in Norway, number 42 in Germany, number 54 in Belgium and number 90 in Switzerland.
In the United States, Lights debuted at number 129 on the Billboard 200 and at number one on the Heatseekers Albums chart on the issue dated 26 March 2011, selling 4,000 copies in its first week. Following a string of US performances, including Saturday Night Live, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 on 21 May 2011, reaching number 76 the following week. On the Billboard 200 issue dated 21 July 2012, the album jumped from number 116 to its peak position of number 21 with sales of 23,000 copies—an increase of 444% from the previous week. It also reached number 12 on the Digital Albums chart. The album had sold 300,000 units in the US by June 2012. Lights debuted at number 76 on the Canadian Albums Chart on 12 May 2011, peaking at number 66 the following week. The album has sold 1.6 million copies worldwide.