Crimson-haired songstress Florence Welch (who is, essentially, Florence and the Machine) stunned an audience fed on frantic dance moves, endemic lip-synching, and ersatz drama—simply by singing the crap out of a genuinely great song.
EW caught up with the 24-year-old Londoner and 2009 EW Year-End Albums topper late last week, while she was still anticipating last night’s performance, and spoke to her about gearing up for the show, getting to know Lady Gaga, and who she was most likely to fan out on backstage.
FW: Yeah, they do run them here on MTV, for sure.
EW: So you know the show is famous for crazy incidents—Eminem fighting with the sock puppet, the guy from Rage Against the Machine falling off a statue onstage, Prince in his buttless pants…
FW: Oh yes, the buttless pants! The Brits are really my only experience with awards, and the VMAs are such an iconic event. Just yesterday, I was walking around [London’s] Soho in a dress that cost me one pound and has a hole in it, and then later I was laying on the living-room floor with my sister and this advert came on for the VMAs, this huge spectacle with explosions and all these massive artists and I was like “Oh my god, I’m doing that? Are you sure?” People in south London laying on their living-room floors aren’t supposed to be the people who do that. It just seems so surreal to me that I was laying there watching an advert for a thing I’m actually scheduled to be performing at.
EW: Are you planning to match that level of spectacle?
FW: I think it’s going to be something quite big, not something we’d be able to do at any other event.
EW: So that means you’ve been learning arial acrobatics, like Pink?
FW: Yes, absolutely. While doing jump rope upside down [laughs].
EW: tell me how this year has been for you, it seems like in America at least, it’s been a pretty slow, steady build…
FW: Yeah, it’s definitely been a gradual process in America. But in England, I’ve been working solid for about three years. Because there was the year of building it, gigging and doing pubs and clubs and not really… I’ve spent a lot of time in tiny venues in the way that I got my record deal and got my name out there just performing live. I was literally performing my songs in all kinds of different ways with different guitarists, and I didn’t have an album up online or anything. It’s been a lot of work, it definitely hasn’t been a sudden explosion into fame. And in America it kind of feels like it’s kind of just kicking off.
But I’ve always had a really loyal, supportive fanbase in America, I think maybe this is just taking it to the next level. I love the support and enthusiasm I feel there, and I love being there—we’ve got another tour coming up in October. Being a relatively new artist, with my first album, and a song that means so much to me like “Dog Days,” to be invited to perform at the VMAs is like, total dream true. It’s the most amazing opportunity and I’m really grateful and I really hope I don’t f— it up [laughs].
EW: Is there anyone that you’ve seen on the performers list that you’re especially excited about?
FW: I’m really huge fan of Drake, and I’m a big fan of Nicki Minaj, but I’m not quite sure who’s going to be there. I’m probably going to be really English and polite about the whole thing and be really nervous around everyone, and get really shy.
EW: Is there anyone that you’ve been surprised is a fan of yours?
FW: Well, I met Lady Gaga and she was really nice to me. I’d met her once before, and then when I saw her again at the second Brits, I was kind of surprised she remembered me. I thought that was really sweet and she was really lovely. And I met Beyonce on the side of the stage at a Jay-Z gig, and Jay-Z kind of gave us a shout-out, which was amazing. She’s just stunningly beautiful. And nice, too! Really gentle and kind. When I met her I just fanned out so extremely.
EW: So the Eat Pray Love preview featuring “Dog Days” has been running in America for a couple of months now. Have you felt the effect of that?
FW: Um, I’ve been in England, so I don’t really know how much it’s been on in America…
EW: A lot.
FW: OK! [laughs] Well, I think it’s definitely helped get that song and get my name out there, because it’s always been a lot more kind of underground in America.
EW: But it’s funny, because you also don’t hear many of the song’s lyrics; it’s mostly the melody.
FW: Well, that’s kind of how I liked it, because it’s all those beautiful landscape shots, and using less words seemed to fit to me. And besides, if my song’s on Julia Roberts’ movie doesn’t that mean her and I are like, friends?
EW: Like, braiding each other’s hair, talking about Javier…
FW: Yes, exactly!
EW: Do you get approached a lot to use your music commercially? The Kings of Leon famously just turned Glee down…
FW: I’m really careful with what the music gets put with, and we say no to so much stuff, loads of it, for things that might quadruple the sales of my album. But if it doesn’t fit then it doesn’t fit, you know? It’s your music and you want to reach people, so I always think it’s interesting to hear it in a different situation, and I’m always interested to hear what songs people would want to use. But I’m very careful.
EW: Well, we wish you luck with your four nominations, it will be fun to see you up there onstage Sunday night.
FW: Oh God, I’m so nervous I’m probably going to black out, so you’ll have to tell me how I did [laughs].
To see the just-debuted video for “Heavy In Your Arms,” Florence’s contribution to the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack, click here.
More MTV VMAs coverage on EW.com: