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Florence + the Machine's Florence Welch
Florence + the Machine's Florence Welch
Vincent Haycock

How Florence Welch Made Pop Music Emotional, Edgy, and Real

It's a late Friday afternoon in April, and Florence Welch is cozy at home in South London. Earlier in the day, she did a bit of dance training, and then she had a sandwich. If this sounds at all banal for a figure known worldwide for her soul-rattling howl and enveloping presence, consider that Florence + the Machine are about to embark on a fifth leg of touring in support of the band's latest chart-topping release, High as Hope

Launched in August 2018, the tour has seen Welch share the stage with everyone from mainstay indie-rockers St. Vincent and Grizzly Bear to newer princesses of pop Lizzo and Billie Eilish. On this latest North American run, she's joined by fellow Brit Blood Orange and French art-pop outfit Christine and the Queens, among others. In all, it amounts to a marathon stretch spanning three continents, nearly 100 performances, and the breadth of alternative pop music as we've come to know it.

"I’m not someone who really thinks algorithmically," says Welch, considering the last decade of music upon which she's left an indelible imprint. Her manner of speech is quick and a bit rambling, thoughts often broken up by a disarming bout of nervous laughter. "I've never really made music to cater to anyone's taste but my own," she admits. But for some reason, it works, "and I’m very grateful for that."

The High as Hope Tour lineup has read something like a yearbook tracking Welch's starry youth through her gilded varsity days. In it, you can find traces of her idols and influences, her earlier years spent absorbing booming, orchestral indie-rock sounds from the likes of Arcade Fire and Beirut.

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"When people would try to get me to describe my music when I was first coming out, I’d have no idea what to say," Welch confesses. In the midst of Lady Gaga's breakout superstardom, Taylor Swift's pivot from country music, and Drake's first-ever global hit, "Best I Ever Had," Welch was crystalizing her own strain of pop.

When Florence + the Machine debuted Lungs in 2009, the mainstream was already experiencing something of a renaissance. With the help of the internet and music blogs, British dance-pop led the way, with more alternative acts such as La Roux, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Marina and the Diamonds enjoying commercial success. With her soulful vocals, perfectly constructed hooks, and unhinged delivery, Welch was tapping into something else.

"I was definitely making more emotional pop," she says. "It came from a place of honesty, even in the fact that it was quite simple, the music I was making." Musically, Welch says, she didn’t have any training, but she dug into the emotional dramas of her own life, often fueled by a whirlwind of drugs and alcohol, and made magic. Hit singles such as "Dog Days Are Over" and "You've Got the Love" resonated instantly and play just as exuberant and tender today as they did then.

Now, more than ten years into her career and over four years sober, Welch continues to chart her complex and sometimes-tumultuous inner life through her music and has helped pave the way for many of the supporting artists she's brought along with her.

Take, for instance, Billie Eilish, the 17-year-old electropop sensation from Los Angeles who essentially outgrew her opening-act slot in the midst of touring with Welch and canceled a handful of remaining dates due to "international scheduling conflicts." Irreverant R&B-pop singer Lizzo likewise embarked on her own headlining tour shortly after her stint on the High as Hope Tour.

"Dev Hynes [of Blood Orange] is one of my oldest friends, going way back to the very beginning," Welch says. "I was like 20, and we recorded a cover album of the whole of Nimrod by Green Day. It’s a really amazing feeling to be playing arenas with him, you know?"

Welch, of course, shies away from any credit, but she does acknowledge a larger shift: "I think pop music has really come into its own." Even as the demands of streaming and the pressures of social media take their toll, there's more "rawness, aggression, and vulnerability" in today's pop, she says, and Florence + the Machine contributed to that blueprint.

While the airwaves today are dominated by hip-hop beats, even the biggest rappers have let their guard down and taken on many of the same issues Welch has tackled — depression, anxiety, love, and loss — with nuance and care.

"'Pop' used to be a bit of a dis, you know? And I don’t think it is anymore," Welch says. "I was always really confused about what kind of an artist I was, but now I’m like, 'Fuck, yeah.'"

Florence + the Machine. With Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $35.50 to $105.50 via ticketmaster.com.

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