by Iryna Byelyayeva
I’m going to be honest here: Ed Sheeran is a boring musician. When he first started I couldn’t tell any of his songs apart. Their subject matter, the music itself, his cool-yet-sensitive ‘I get you girl’ persona—they all sounded the same. I don’t want to hate on any of Sheeran’s fans or devalue their tastes in music. Sheeran can write an undeniably great pop song and I totally get his appeal. Let’s stamp ‘NOT LIKE THE OTHER GUYS’ right on his forehead, it’s what he wants, right? But his music never got stuck in my head because I simply couldn’t tell which song was which. A girl at my high school once performed a medley of his hits and I just thought it was all the one song. What’s worse is his songs aren’t changing. We are three albums deep and it still all sounds the same.
So why can’t I stop listening to it??
It all started with x (2014)—even then I was listening to it, rolling my eyes and pressing replay. I thought maybe he was just good background music. But background music doesn’t get anyone excited. I will say that I do quite like his funkier songs like ‘Don’t’ and ‘Sing’ off that album. They’re catchy and aren’t really doing the … Ed Sheeran thing. But now we have ÷ (2017) and this is a whole new beast to deal with.
Let’s take its singles as examples—
‘Shape of You’ has a cool beat and many times I’ve listened to it and thought it would be fun to dance to. Then, I go to a party and the song comes on and I, a couple of drink in, think ‘oh here we go girl, it’s about to get sensual.’ But it never does get sensual because the song never goes anywhere. You could restart the song at any point and no one would notice it would sound so natural. You could play it on a loop forever and there would never be an appropriate spot to stop because it’s the same thing over and over. The song never reaches its potential. I can get a solid couple of hip jives in there but mostly I feel like I’ve been waiting and Godot never came.
I straight up thought ‘Castle on the Hill’ was an old song by The Script. It’s such a classic, inspirational pop song that anyone could have written it. What’s the bet it’ll be used on a TV ad for a new phone or camera or whatever soon? Still, ‘Castle on the Hill’ is definitely something I would rock out to when it came on. It is, as I didn’t deny in the previous sentence, a classic pop song. Sheeran writes fun music and we have to give him credit where credit is due but right now we are in such an exciting time for music, why listen to stuff that’s exactly the same as all the hits from a couple of years ago?
‘Galway Girl’ is a travesty. A catchy travesty. I’m not going to go into detail about Sheeran’s annoying perpetuation of the ‘cool girl’ idea because, honestly, I’m tired of it and it would need its own 1,000 words. Still, I can’t look past ‘Galway Girl.’ This was the one that really got to me. Calling anyone a ‘pretty little’ anything is patronising. I don’t care if it goes with the beat of the song perfectly—write a different lyric. It’s possessive and belittling. The way Sheeran talks about girls, as characters in a narrative where the cool ones drink tequila and the uncool ones cheat on him but he’s gonna save them all is old news and boring. It frustrates me because I know exactly what he’s trying to do and the point he’s trying to make: you will find someone who adores you for who you are, you don’t need to play around or be fake. That’s nice, but the way he sings about it generalises and, maybe, after three albums, he could find something else to sing about.
Maybe this is the problem with finding success in being relatable—you still have to keep up with what’s relatable. Sheeran’s newest album goes between crooning, to hip-hop, to romantic acoustic pop. Sheeran can play lots of different genres – we know that, we get that – but he tries to please everyone and show it all off at the same time and it never feels as good as he can do. ÷ doesn’t feel like it has progression. It feels like a collection of uninteresting songs with spikes of fun hits which are marinated in Sheeran’s undeniable wit. AND YET—I will sit here and listen to it and then read review after review saying how this is Sheeran’s best work yet. Am I not getting something here? I like the songs, sure, but I never feel like Sheeran has a personality. I guessed exactly what a song called ‘Barcelona’ would sound like. ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’ is a fun song but just made me angry about Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) again. Sheeran’s music never actually makes me excited about Sheeran himself.
His lyrics ‘love can change the world in a moment,’ from the self-deprecatingly titled ‘What Do I Know?’ leave me speechless. My mind thinks ‘are you kidding, Ed?!’ but my body bops along. It feels like he’s found a winning formula, he writes song which are both relatable and glamourous. But three albums of the same thing and I don’t see how he’s pushing himself as an artist. Maybe because the albums are called +, x and ÷ that means that this suite is over he will try something different. But this also means that there’s a potential fourth album in the suite and, honestly, it’s harsh but ÷ does not make me look forward to it. Ed Sheeran is charming but he’s a bit boring.
Note: as I finished writing this I noticed that I was softly singing ‘Shape of You’ to myself. Is this the first Ed Sheeran song to get stuck in my head?! What does this mean?!
Iryna is a creative lady living in Melbourne, Australia. She is the Editor of The Wall Mag and gets published here and there. She can be followed on twitter @irynabyel