Pop is littered with notorious ‘answer’ songs, from Frankee’s ‘FURB (F U Right Back)’, a response to Eamon’s ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’ in 2004, to Lydia Murdock’s ‘Superstar’, a 1983 riposte to Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’. But these were fantasies – unknown singers leaping on huge hits to get a chart bunk-up for themselves.
Ellie Goulding’s one step ahead here. ‘On My Mind’, the first single from third album ‘Delirium’ (out November 6), is the real deal, arguably written as a slap in the chops for Ed Sheeran. His 2014 single ‘Don’t’ was interpreted by fans as a blatant pop at former girlfriend Goulding, allegedly about her nipping off with One Direction’s Niall Horan while they were all in the same hotel. Phrases like “lover to burn” and “figure it out” could – with a pinch of imagination; we’re dealing with poets here – be references to Goulding’s ‘Burn’ and ‘Figure 8’.
“Don’t fuck with my love,” sang Sheeran. Now Goulding comes back with, “You don’t mess with love/You mess with the truth“. ‘On My Mind’ is plain-speaking – “You wanted my heart but I just liked your tattoos” – but it’s conciliatory too (“I could’ve really liked you“).
There’s something of Sheeran in the delivery too. Goulding sounds like she’s toasting as she gets her point across as economically as possible, quickfire lines filling dense, juddery verses. Shelving all the tittle-tattle, this is hyperactive, insistent R&B with a bit of Rihanna in the “eh“s, scratchy guitar and slapped beats. A promising switch, whatever the intrigue.