Let me first point out that, despite what my brothers sometimes say, I am not a 14-year-old girl. Demographically, I belong with those girls in Ed Sheeran’s fan club about as much as he belongs in mine.
That little misconception — the one about me being a teen girl — might be understandable, considering my recently admitted fan-fawning over Taylor Swift and, now, Sheeran, the 29-year-old British singer-songwriter. But it’s amazing what happens when you listen to something new once in a while. Even if it’s already getting old for others. You find out that new doesn’t automatically mean lame.
(Quick aside: I had a Zoom meeting with a bunch of college friends recently. We eventually started trading stories about great concerts we’ve been to; Billy Joel, Chrissy Hynde … I think even fricking Pat Benatar was mentioned. I aborted the go-round down memory lane when I asked, not kindly, if anyone on the call had listened to any music produced in the past 50 years.)
((And, yes, Billy Joel was great, from the front row of the University Activity Center at Arizona State … during his original tour for 52nd Street … on November 2, 1978.))
I am, sheepishly, way late on the Sheeran train. I knew who he was, somehow. I probably had heard a song or three of his. He was in a movie recently, “Yesterday.” Credible job. Likable bloke.
But actually listen to him? I hadn’t. And then, a few months ago, I tripped across this on YouTube:
Being the sucker that I am for singer-songwriters, I don’t know how I didn’t fall over Sheeran before. Might be because I’ve listened to the same workout track, mostly, for going on 15 years now. Even when your playlist is two-days long, things get old after 15 years.
So I turned to Spotify, and have been listening to him regularly for months.
One of Sheeran’s biggest songs is “The Shape of You,” a sexy, driving, danceable pop hit that was Billboard’s No. 1 song of 2017. (I told you I was behind.) A lyric:
One week in we let the story begin
We’re going out on our first date
You and me are thrifty, so go all you can eat
Fill up your bag and I fill up a plate
We talk for hours and hours about the sweet and the sour
And how your family is doing okay
Leave and get in a taxi, then kiss in the backseat
Tell the driver make the radio play
Sheeran was the planet’s top artist in 2017, according to Billboard. In 2019, he dropped to No. 3, pulling in $110 million. By some measures, he has become the most successful touring musician in history (dollar-wise).
If you don’t know him, turn off the Jackson Browne already. Get into the 21st century.
Sheeran does it like nobody else in the game these days. No pounding band, no dancers, no doo-wopping backup singers. He’s an amazing talent who often takes the stage — as with the performance at the Grammys above, as with sold-out shows all over, including in London’s Wembley Stadium — with nothing but his guitar and a loop pedal machine, which replays background tracks that he records onstage.
He literally doesn’t need a band. He’s that good. By himself.
The Grammy performance is one example. The Wembley link above is another. And here’s one in-studio. All Sheeran:
He has his detractors, of course, as anyone who has become as popular as he has invariably does. Some people love his rapping. Some think it’s weak. Some look at him more for his songwriting than his singing. Some — and I’m probably of this mind — see him more of a singer-songwriter than the other way around.
Some of his sappier songs — and he does have some (Hey! He’s not alone. Remember “Uptown Girl?” That is just embarrassing …) — are easy marks. Those same tunes are also beloved by many, and performed at weddings all over the world.
Call it sappy. You can’t deny its appeal or its purity:
Whether his persona — the ginger-haired, self-deprecating busker who just wants to play, be it at a sold-out stadium or down at the pub having a pint with his mates — is marketing magic or the real thing, this much is certain. Sheeran is a talent unlike anyone on the scene right now. Or anyone, if you’ve been listening (or if you haven’t), in the past 50 years or more.
I’ll leave you with this last 11-minute clip. Remarkable.