Entertainment Music

Saturday 24 February 2018

Ed Sheeran: the nice guy and his guitar

Since releasing his third album, Ed has shed his boy-next-door image for something a bit raunchier

Ed Sheeran on stage at Croke Park in 2015. Photo: Arthur Carron
Ed Sheeran on stage at Croke Park in 2015. Photo: Arthur Carron
Ed dances with Kylie

Meadhbh McGrath

So much for "nice guys finish last". When Ed Sheeran released his third studio album last month, it smashed records by becoming the fastest-selling album by a British male artist ever and immediately filled up nine of the top 10 single spots. His domination of the pop world continued abroad, as Divide went on to conquer the charts all over Europe, the US and Australia.

At the same time, music critics were falling over themselves to proclaim how dreadful his new music was. Pitchfork, one of the most influential tastemakers in the industry, awarded the album a pitiful score of 2.8, while the Guardian described it as "(reeking) of nostalgia and comfort, campfires, scented candles, spilt pints of Guinness and, for those not enthralled by his algorithmic songcraft, the sharp stench of a salesman's cheap cologne". The Irish Independent described the album as one listeners will "want to avoid - but such a task will be difficult in the coming months".

Indeed, the troubadour has proved nearly impossible to avoid. It seems nothing can stand in his way, and tonight, the 26-year-old touches down in Dublin for the first of two sold-out gigs at the 3Arena.

His star has risen steadily since the release of his debut album, Plus, when he was just 21. It went seven times platinum in the UK and landed him two Brit Awards. He followed it up with his second album, Multiply, and hit lead single, 'Thinking Out Loud' - the song Sheeran duetted with a surprised young fan during his memorable appearance on The Late Late Toy Show in 2015.

Sheeran has long had a soft spot for Ireland. The Suffolk boy has Irish roots, with a granny from Wexford, and has boasted about his Irish conquests, most recently paying tribute to a fiddle player from Limerick in the incongruously named 'Galway Girl'.

That particular track, a céilí-inspired acoustic-jig-rap, proved to be a bone of contention for Sheeran's label and even his own manager. He said he had to fight tooth and nail to ensure it made the final cut. Rather than emphasising the artistic merits of the tune, however, he referred to its commercial value.

His argument, he told the Guardian, was: "There's 400 million people in the world that say they're Irish, even if they're not Irish. You meet them in America all the time: 'I'm a quarter Irish and I'm from Donegal.' And those type of people are going to f***ing love it." Sheeran had initially hoped to fill the whole album with trad, but ended up cutting many of the songs he'd recorded, in favour of radio-friendly hits 'Shape of You' and 'Castle on the Hill' which combine acoustic guitar melodies with sweetly nostalgic lyrics.

He seduced the nation with his "aw shucks" grin and everybloke charm, but he's no longer happy to play Nice Guy with a Guitar. Now, he wants to be the bad boy of pop.

While his music remains mild-mannered and widely accessible to the point of boredom, Sheeran's off-stage persona has veered in the opposite direction, as he is at pains to reassure us that he has, in fact, definitely had sex (and lots of it).

By virtue of his nice guy temperament, he's found himself surrounded by an army of celeb mates, among them Niall Horan, Paul McCartney and, most famously, Taylor Swift. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he recalled the bacchanalia that greeted him on tour with Swift's squad of Victoria's Secret models: "Taylor's world is celebrity. I was this 22-year-old awkward British kid going on tour with the biggest artist in America, who has all these famous mates. It was very easy. I would often find myself in situations just kind of waking up and looking over and being like, 'How the f*** did that happen?'"

It's not his first foray into inappropriate sexual revelations - in 2015, he claimed he had turned down a proposition from Katy Perry at the Grammys - and it certainly wasn't his last. Last week, in an interview with a Belgian TV chat show, he offered a solution to the declining population of redheads: "We should get all the ginger people in Brussels together and we should all have one big gangbang." This disclosure may have been one sordid step too far for the former Nice Guy.

But perhaps he needs to furnish himself with a bit of an edge if he's to make a convincing headliner at Glastonbury, that most self-consciously "wild and free" of music festivals. While the announcement of past headliners Jay Z (in 2008), Beyonce (in 2011) and Kanye West (in 2015) was met with outrage, Sheeran's top billing received little more than a shrug.

In any case, it's of little consequence to Sheeran. With thousands of fans gearing up to see him tonight, and an upcoming guest role in Game of Thrones, it's all golden for aspiring bad boy Ed.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment