The album was re-released on 29 November 2010 as Bright Lights, including six brand-new tracks. It produced two additional singles, those being a cover of Elton John's "Your Song" and "Lights", which became Goulding's biggest hit to date in the UK and US, respectively. Following the re-release, 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 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 fifty-three on the UK Singles Chart. Follow-up single "Starry Eyed", released on 22 February 2010, peaked at number four, ultimately becoming the UK's thirty-ninth best-selling single of 2010. "Guns and Horses" was released on 17 May 2010 as the third single from the album, and charted at number twenty-six in the UK. "The Writer", the fourth single, was released digitally only on 8 August 2010, reaching as far as number nineteen 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. The song entered the UK chart at number thirty-nine just two days after its digital release. It became Goulding's highest-peaking single to date on the UK chart, reaching number two in its third week. It was the thirtieth best-selling single in the UK for 2010. The song was featured in the John Lewis Christmas 2010 TV advert in the UK. "Lights", 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 forty-nine 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. Following the re-release of Lights and the American release of the album, Goulding said she would soon begin work on a second studio album with an expected release in September 2011.
Lights received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a 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 sixteen 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 twenty-nine, and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass (1971), which fell to number eighteen (although the latter had already spent eight weeks at the summit and was partially affected by a postal strike). The album remained on the chart until late October. Following the release of Bright Lights in late November 2010, the album re-entered the top 100 at number twenty-four, selling 23,629 copies. It ended 2010 as the twenty-sixth best-selling album in the UK, having sold nearly 300,000 copies as of 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 ten on 8 May after an absence of thirteen weeks, jumping from number twenty-three to number ten on sales of 11,981 units. As of June 2012, the album had sold over 850,000 copies in the UK alone.
In Ireland, Lights debuted on the Irish Albums Chart at number twelve on 4 March 2010. Following the Bright Lights re-release, the album entered the Irish top ten 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 twenty-eight in New Zealand, number thirty-five in Norway, number thirty-eight in Greece, number forty-two in Germany, number fifty-four in Belgium and number ninety 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 seventy-six the following week. On the Billboard 200 issue dated 21 July 2012, the album jumped from number 116 to its peak position of number twenty-one with sales of 23,000 copies—an increase of 444% from the previous week. It also reached number twelve on the Digital Albums chart. The album had sold 300,000 units in the US by June 2012.Lights debuted at number seventy-six on the Canadian Albums Chart on 12 May 2011, peaking at number sixty-six the following week. The album has sold 1.6 million copies worldwide.
^Jones, Alan (9 May 2011). "Adele beats Fleet Foxes to number one slot". Music Week. Intent Media. Retrieved 26 May 2011. "Ellie Goulding's Lights is back in the Top 10 after an absence of 13 weeks, jumping 23–10 (11,981 sales) after she sang at the royal wedding party."(subscription required)