Divide and conquer: how Ed Sheeran took over the world

Divide and conquer: how Ed Sheeran took over the world

10/29/2021 10:06:00 AM

Divide and conquer: how Ed Sheeran took over the world

The British singer-songwriter is the biggest male musician on the planet with streaming numbers to make your eyes water. As he returns with new album ‘=’, Annabel Nugent charts his rise to the top and asks, does being calculated really undermine his creativity?

From the get-go, Sheeran was a singular artist. This was a teenager with fully formed ambition, rare focus and the business sense to string it together. Not to mention the musical talent and enviable confidence. In 2011, still without a label or press backing, Sheeran put out his EP

The GuardianSign upDivide(Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty)GQNo 6 Collaborationscalled it “relentlessly safe”. If there was any doubt though,✕

Read more: The Independent »

Dentistry - BBC News

All the latest news about Dentistry from the BBC Read more >>

Ed Sheeran says not drinking ‘every single day’ helped him lose five stoneThe singer said his young daughter has been the ‘biggest motivation’ to give up his bad habits alcohol is a poison It might prevent alcoholism as well

Ed Sheeran’s daughter tests positive for Covid-19Singer is currently isolating with his child for 10 days Oh no... Ok why would you even consider testing a 1 year old child, come on please

'Just like old days': Ed Miliband stands in for Starmer at PMQs – videoEd Miliband stands in for Labour leader at prime minister’s questions after Keir Starmer tests positive for Covid-19 whatever

Ed Sheeran’s daughter tests positive for Covid-19Singer is currently isolating with his child for 10 days Oh no... Ok why would you even consider testing a 1 year old child, come on please

Ed Sheeran says not drinking ‘every single day’ helped him lose five stoneThe singer said his young daughter has been the ‘biggest motivation’ to give up his bad habits alcohol is a poison It might prevent alcoholism as well

'Just like old days': Ed Miliband stands in for Starmer at PMQs – videoEd Miliband stands in for Labour leader at prime minister’s questions after Keir Starmer tests positive for Covid-19 whatever

, there’ll be one more in his maths-based series, followed by five further albums before he calls it quits for good. Scream idol: Sheeran on the mic in 2015 (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images) From the get-go, Sheeran was a singular artist. This was a teenager with fully formed ambition, rare focus and the business sense to string it together. Not to mention the musical talent and enviable confidence. In 2011, still without a label or press backing, Sheeran put out his EP No 5 Collaborations . Already anticipating the advent of Sheerios (the nickname he uses for his diehard supporters), Sheeran divined that the album would be a “low-key release” his future fans would discover as part of his back catalogue. In contrast to the “well, I just got lucky” bashfulness of some celebrities, Sheeran is refreshingly unshy about the fact his astronomical success came as no surprise. “Because the music I write is like love songs with big hooks, I kind of knew it would end up where it’s ended up if it got the right radio play,” he told The Guardian Enjoy unlimited access to 70 million ad-free songs and podcasts with Amazon Music Sign up now for a 30-day free trial Sign up He might not have predicted, however, how divisive his music can be. The singer is a hate/love figure among critics, but there is no doubt he is in tune with the masses. It’s telling that when discussing the singer’s enduring appeal, it all comes back to his work ethic. On Sheeran’s popularity, Chris Price, head of music at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, offers: “Ed has a reputation for being the hardest-working man in pop. His song writing seems so effortless, but his work rate is insane, and his ambition is sky-high, still. It would be so easy to rest on his laurels after so much success, but Ed never does – he’s super hungry.” Likewise, Maisie Peters, the most recent signee to Sheeran’s recently launched Gingerbread Man Records label, spoke of his “dedication to what he does”, adding that despite his “single-mindedness” her new mentor is still “the most considerate of others, always stopping to make sure every single person in the room feels welcome”. Even Sheeran-haters must admit his work ethic is unmatched. The only thing more impressive than the fact that his Divide tour made more than £562m between March 2017 and April 2019 (making it the highest-grossing concert tour of all time), is the fact that he played 255 shows in that period. Other artists perform around half that. Sheeran performs with Beyoncé in 2015 (Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty) Even his earlier interviews reveal the mercenary intuition of a wannabe star, which have only grown sharper with age, experience, and success. This drive determines, to a controversial extent, what he chooses to do in the recording studio. It’s not an admission that needs to be coaxed out of him. In 2017, Chris Evans asked Sheeran whether “Castle on the Hill” and “Shape of You” – the singer’s two stylistically different comeback songs that year, one an emotional belter, the other a singalong to Marimba-fuelled percussion – had been written with the double-pronged strategy of targeting Radio 1 with the former and Radio 2 with the latter. He first said he wrote them “for myself”, before readily admitting that Evans’ “theory is correct”. Sheeran’s ability for engineering catchiness has earned him millions of fans (guilty pleasure ones count too) but critics remain less partial to the singer. Reviews of his music regularly range between lukewarm and reproving of his algorithmic craft. The singer is often depicted as some laboratory-made robot concocting surefire hits totally devoid of creativity. He’s aware of the reputation, telling GQ earlier this year that he is “very self-conscious about the way the world views me”. And so, it felt borderline defiant when Sheeran released his last album, No 6 Collaborations , in 2019. The record comprises joint efforts between Sheeran and a list of artists that reads like a who’s who of pop music that year. Cardi B, Camila Cabello, Travis Scott, Stormzy and Justin Bieber all feature. Reviews were mixed and even the favourable ones described the record in vaguely double-edged compliments like “savvy”. The Independent called it “relentlessly safe”. If there was any doubt though, No 6 Collaborations was a commercial success: the album debuted at No 1 in the UK and US charts and became the fastest-selling record of the year. ✕ Ed Sheeran makes Game of Thrones cameo Perhaps some of the derision directed toward Sheeran comes from the perceived disconnect between this CFO-like mentality and the laid-back guy who wears joggers on the red carpet. If your typical pop star represents a manifestation of what we’ve been taught to desire, Sheeran gives us the antithesis: a haphazard and seemingly unpruned portrait of a sometimes star. He takes long breaks from social media. He is married to Cherry Seaborn, a girl he went to school with, and remains a diehard fan of Ipswich Town FC. He’s the type of guy who sets up an Instagram account for his cats; a ginger tabby named Dorito, and Callipo, a sweet Scottish Fold identical to the one owned by his pal Taylor Swift. “There’s a playfulness to him; a charisma and a humour that came through in everything that he was doing back then and continues to come through today,” says Howard. “He has a sense of self-deprecation, a sense of fun.” He’s your average Joe. He’s just Ed! Still, isn’t it possible that those two sides of Sheeran – business megamind and creative soul – can co-exist in harmony? As Howard points out, being obsessed with success is not always the same as being obsessed with money. “For Ed, it’s about understanding the world in very granular detail,” he says. “It’s not the money or even the business that fascinates him, it’s about the mechanics of the music world.” Howard stipulates that for Sheeran it isn’t about counting his cash; it’s about understanding trends, understanding social media, understanding why fans love certain artists more than others, why certain artists stream well but don’t sell gig tickets and why other artists have huge social media followings but don’t stream as much. Certainly, that’s an image easier to reconcile with Sheeran’s shaggy-haired, pub-loving persona than that of a calculated hitmaker. He’s just a regular guy who loves to make music that people love. For some artists, the way of balancing personal expression and commercial imperatives has been the ol’ “one for them, one for me” tactic. But for Sheeran, these two pursuits seem to be bound up in one another – is that such a bad thing? More about Join our new commenting forum Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies