TIME 100 Talks
July 9, 2020 3:22 PM EDT

Pop music and caring about the planet didn’t always go hand in hand. But Ellie Goulding — known for hits like 2015’s multi-platinum “Love Me Like You Do” — was early to jump into environmental activism, joining the U.N. Environment Program in 2017 as an ambassador. Now, Goulding is about to release her first new album in five years, Brightest Blue, on July 17. But she’s also paying closer attention than ever to climate causes, using her platform to boost issues like the idea of a green economic recovery plan and encouraging her fans to use their political power for the sake of the planet.

“People have been really getting to know themselves in quarantine. They’re really learning about issues they may not have known anything about. People are more connected to nature than ever. And now people want answers,” she said, joining TIME from the U.K. for TIME 100 Talks. “And they’re saying, what do we do next?”

For Goulding, a big part of that answer is making sure that her work as an artist and performer is as environmentally conscious as possible. That means selling albums in biodegradable packaging, using recycled materials. It means taking a careful look at ways to make touring more green and carbon neutral when she heads out for her 2021 concerts, including limiting the size of her crew and rethinking the show’s logistics. And it means normalizing activism as part of her platform, whether or not it’s what fans expect from the singer behind “Lights.”

“When I post things to do with my activism, I do lose followers,” she said. “It’s something that’s scary to confront, and scary to think about. With people just generally having to survive through this period… it’s tough in itself. So for us to say, actually, we need you to do more, we need you to be more of an activist, people have understandably shied away from that.”

But at the same time, Goulding remains optimistic about people reconnecting with nature — especially during quarantine — and becoming acquainted with how political activism works. “We’ve seen the power of protest, we’ve seen the power of activism, not just from groups but also individuals,” she said. “I just want people to keep that spirit, and know what their activism is worth.”

Figuring out your worth is personal for Goulding. Brightest Blue has been many years in the making; as a result, it’s her most emotionally frank album. The first half is a mix of songs that focus on personal growth; the second half is an “alter-ego” of sorts, featuring collaborations with stars like Diplo, Juice WRLD and Lauv and, often, a bolder persona of her own. For Goulding, that can be a stretch. But the newfound fearlessness of her pop seems to mirror her interest in making waves as a voice for change. “If I said I’m just here to sing and have a good time… it’s the equivalent of saying ‘I’m just not into politics.’ You are into politics; everything in your life depends on it,” she says. “There are people who have a bigger platform who perhaps don’t [use it]. I think that’s something that may need to be pushed a bit.”

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

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