She's a four-time nominee at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, a chart-topper in her native U.K. – and is quickly becoming a familiar face (and voice) in North America, thanks to her commanding live shows, fire-red hair and prominent appearances on soundtracks from Eclipse to Eat Pray Love.
Meet Florence Welch (aka Florence + the Machine). The 24-year-old Londoner, who will be performing on Sunday's telecast, released her debut album, Lungs, in 2009, and often performs with harps and an array of string instruments – but the singer-songwriter says she loves rap and R&B and draws on those influences in her music. In fact, she hopes to meet rapper Drake at the VMAs.
Calling from her London home, Welch reveals what she's listening to now, shares a Kanye West encounter and analyzes her arty music video.
1. She Loves Hip-Hop
"I'm a huge hip-hop fan, actually, like really massively," Welch says. Among her current favorites: Drake, Nicki Minaj and Clipse. "The thing I like about hip-hop is that it's a genre that really utilizes a lot of things that aren't necessarily instruments," she says, citing Lil Wayne's hit "A Milli" as another inspiration. "When I heard it, it seemed so weird and progressive and strange," she says, "but so simple and sparse. I like being able to create music not using conventional sounds."
2. She's Not Afraid of a Kanye Run-In at the VMAs
"I met him on the side of the stage at the Jay-Z performance at the Isle of Wight Festival and he was really nice," she says of Kanye West. We had just performed and, I don't remember what he said [exactly], but he said something nice about our show. He was really lovely when I met him."
3. She's a Twi-Hard
With her music prominently featured in movies and movie trailers (including Eat Pray Love most recently), Welch was excited to write an original song, "Heavy in Your Arms," for the Eclipse soundtrack. "I thought I could write a song that would kind of suit the atmosphere," she says.
Plus, she had done her research: "I went on holiday with my family [and] me and [my sister] Grace only had one book between us," Welch recalls. "We were sharing a room and we'd be reading Twilight to each other at night. She'd fall asleep and be like 'You can't read ahead of me!' And I'd be secretly reading faster than her."
4. She Has an Arty Back-Up Plan
Though she says she's always been singing, Welch was also a trained visual artist. "I went to art college and I think I was always really interested in art and illustration," she says. So, if she had to choose another career, she says, "I think I'd be doing something [creative] because I'm so bad at things like math and organization."
5. She Doesn't Rely on Her Looks
True, she's nearly six feet tall, and has striking red hair, but Welch doesn't necessarily use her music videos to showcase her looks. In fact, for her VMA-nominated "Dog Days Are Over" clip, she says, "I didn't want it to look pretty. I was looking for something slightly scary, slightly surreal – psychedelic." With her bright-white makeup and the video's kabuki-like feel, the singer achieved "a kind of chaos and freedom," she says. "I wanted to make something that was a lot about imagery."