So You Have Decided to Hate Ed Sheeran: A Guide for Americans
His inoffensiveness is what makes him offensive. Or: is it the fact he actually seems really, really sound?
Ed Sheeran in 2015. Photo: The Photo Access / Alamy Stock Photo
Ed Sheeran is the world’s biggest pop star, and he sucks. America is now waking up to this fact because this weekend Ed won the Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance for "Shape of You" – over "Praying", Kesha's song about overcoming sexual abuse – but didn't even show up to collect his award, and then did a cat picture on Instagram to celebrate his eventual double-win.
Look, here’s the cat picture:
That's annoying, isn’t it? But not all the way annoying. And therein lies Sheeran's particular allure. He falters along this blurry grey line where he is always straddling two states of being: at once charming and un-charming, a banger machine and anti-music, good at pop and bad at it, annoying and irresistible, horny and homely, a pop star and not.
We have known of The Duality of Sheeran in the UK for years, and it's now time for America to stop being quite so charmed by him and see through his many faces and, through that window, find themselves in a dark little pit of something stronger, something else. Welcome, America, welcome. Come on in, the water is lovely.
IS ED SHEERAN A BAD DICKHEAD? AN ARGUMENT FOR THE DEFENCE
Ed Sheeran is not, I’m afraid, a bad dickhead. He actually seems fundamentally quite decent and sound. I bet he’s absolutely fine to have a pint with. Like: fine. Not good, but fine. No awkward pauses. Gets the rounds in. Brings back two packets of nuts for the table. Doesn’t have any loud opinions about real ale or "commercial lager". Decent enough at pool to not be a hindrance when you play doubles against two salty old lads who’ve insistently put a 20p piece down when it was your turn to play and said that, actually, the rule in this place is that it's winner-stays-on. You and Ed Sheeran leave the pub in different directions with a dry over-the-jacket-shoulders-hug and an empty promise of Yeah, We Should Do This Again Some Time.
Is Ed Sheeran a bad dickhead? No. He is not a bad dickhead. Are you going to text him for another pint some time? You're not. You've got other friends, better friends. He has his whole… his whole music thing, going. He’s probably busy, isn’t he. He’s probably got friends, right? Better friends. So let’s just leave it.
IS ED SHEERAN A BAD DICKHEAD? A MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH LONGER AND MORE CONVINCING COUNTER-ARGUMENT
I'm going to have to break this down into the four sub-truths about Ed Sheeran that make him so largely hated by everyone who does not fiercely love him (it is difficult to be Sheeran agnostic: you either adore him with the power of a thousand suns, or you think he’s horrendous. There’s no middle ground, here. It’s like Marmite grew out a messy bowl cut and started singing at your wedding), thusly:
ED SHEERAN’S STAUNCH REFUSAL TO GLO UP
My dude is about as rich as it is possible to be from music alone (Forbes says he’s worth $37 million (£26 million), and literally any time he wants £15 million more he can just release an album or do a tour or whatever) and yet, despite that, he really very genuinely has the vibe that if his black jeans fade he will just scribble over them with a Sharpie while still wearing them, or that he just has a vague odour of damp laundry to him, or that he had a whole argument with his mum last time his mum's friend was having a wedding because he tried to wear the same trodden-down Etnies he always wears along with his suit, and when he got there he met up with some old college mates and they nicked a jug of scrumpy that was being saved for the reception and drank it, and Ed’s mum had to apologise to the bride because she was crying about the missing scrumpy.
This is it: the man is a multi-millionaire but he looks like your mate’s younger brother who broke his bed once so slept for three months across two beanbags squished in the middle and pressed into a fitted sheet. Ed Sheeran can sleep under absolutely any circumstances, I’m sure of it. I feel like I could blow Ed Sheeran's mind by slowly talking him through the concept of nail clippers. There is no way Ed Sheeran doesn't have a "formal hoodie". No other pop star alive has such a "if you spray enough Lynx on you, you don’t really need a full shower" vibe as Ed Sheeran. He is a human wallet chain.
IMAGINE THIS BRIEF SCENE:
You’re at your mate’s house and you are all smoking weed. It’s one of those halcyon days between lower sixth and upper: you’re all 17, your mums have left to go to work, you have a perfect endless summer against you, the sun outside is technicolor-bright and the wind is softly rippling the closed curtains against your back. Close your eyes and imagine yourself back there: that acrid, sharp smoky smell on the air again; a wet roach being passed around; one of your mates is cueing up a funny video he saw on YouTube. This is before you saw and became bored of every meme in the seconds after it formed. This was before you went to Instagram to get memes to send to your Twitter friends who sent them on to their Facebook friends. There was no meme hierarchy, no urgency. Only fun. On the screen, a dog leaps on a trampoline. You all laugh. "I haven’t seen that one before," you say. "That’s amazing." Hold the feeling.
Ed Sheeran’s there, isn’t he? Ed Sheeran’s there, with his legs folded underneath him on the bed. Ed Sheeran is wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt with a short-sleeved T-shirt over the top of it. Ed Sheeran has a single leather thong necklace tight around his neck. You don’t know where Ed Sheeran came from, or how and when he infiltrated your friendship group, but here he is, drinking flat supermarket-brand cola straight from a two-litre bottle, just a split-second of backwash, every single time he swigs. "Hey mate," Ed Sheeran says to you. "Here, mate," Sheeran says. "Pass the Dutch."
Ed Sheeran holds his hands out to you in a pinch gesture, and a thought crosses your mind. Make Sheeran do something gross for weed. And that’s how you all end up with shaky BlackBerry camera footage of Ed Sheeran licking a toilet bowl, crying, and saying, "Come on, guys!" before being allowed three small tokes on the communal joint. You can imagine it, can’t you? You can imagine that entire thing. This is the biggest pop star on the planet right now.
ED SHEERAN’S "SHAPE OF YOU" IS A GOOD SONG
Listen, OK, fine, I'll say it: "Shape of You" slaps. It slaps. I’m sorry about this. I’m sorry to admit this. It’s a good song! We wouldn’t be talking about him if he didn’t do enough good songs to get famous! But at the start of the year it was fucking everywhere, the same way his big fuzzy orange face (*1) on the cover of + was everywhere for an entire year when that came out; the same way there has not now been a single wedding since B.E. (Before Ed) that did not feature that fucking song about falling into your loving arms. Ed Sheeran is everywhere, he is everything, his ubiquity becomes an assault on the senses, and worst still he knows this. Look at this excerpt from a Guardian interview with him from last March:
He talks about how 2017 is going to be his year, how happy and settled he is with his girlfriend, Cherry Seaborn, an old school friend; how all the artists he sees as competition – “Adele, Beyoncé, Taylor, Drake, the Weeknd, Bruno” – have already put albums out, so ÷ has “kind of a clear lane”. When I ask how he would feel if it did well, but sold less than its predecessor, 2014’s 14m-shifting x, he says: “I’ll bet you anything now it won’t. I don’t think there’s any possibility it will. The next album, I promise you, will sell less, but this album will sell more. I don’t think I’ll have a year like this again.”
His ubiquity is, worst of all the things, incredibly calculated and cynical – he plays the music industry like a fun game that he just happens to be exceedingly, effortlessly good at, and he does it while acting and dressing like the meek lad who fits you for kit every time you play paintball.
HE DOESN’T EVEN ACT FAMOUS IT DRIVES ME ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NUTS
Every time I have seen footage of Ed Sheeran playing live – which has always been in the middle, unannounced, of something I did want to watch, like when he did the Olympics closing ceremony in a hoodie or when he turned up at [insert name of literally any awards ceremony in the last five years] – he’s always played with a sort of inverted stage presence, like a busker who sings the words "thank you" when you drop them 50p instead of just saying nothing. He is literally that kid from every town in the UK who got a loop pedal and beatboxes in the centre of town every Saturday so he can pay his mum rent, but on this timeline he is our most famous pop export.
That annoys me. As an expression of British pop, Ed Sheeran – Lad From Halls Who Electrocuted Himself Making Toast, Never To Be Seen Again Beyond Fresher’s Week – is the pinnacle of it. And he still looks like he woke up from a cider-and-watching-Blackadder party where he fell asleep and got drawn on with felt-tips and had to do his entire shift at Asda in a big fleece so no one clocked he was still drunk.
I’M STRUGGLING TO JUSTIFY WHY I DESPISE HIM BEYOND: THE FACT HE SEEMS EXTREMELY SOUND IS ACTUALLY WHAT MAKES HIM IRRITATING? GOD, I REALLY HAVE NO IDEA, DO I
Sheeran is just: he’s just that quite forgettable lad from your year at school who nobody really knows the surname of, or who his mates are, or where he goes at lunch ("Where does Ed go at lunch?" – everyone at Ed Sheeran’s school, at some point), and then despite all this, despite all this, he makes absolutely irresistible bangers that your body cannot help itself from liking. You cannot not pop a shoulder to "Shape of You". You cannot not feel weird and gooey while holding hands and listening to "Thinking Out Loud". But the kid who made these songs is also the lad who stood at the front of the tuck shop line, begging everyone for their spare change so he could buy some Nik Naks.
He’s just fine, isn’t he. He’s just the male Ellie Goulding: there, yes, and recognisable on the radio, but you’re not going to go out of your way to enjoy it. He did that annoying Game of Thrones scene and there’s something very fragile and irritating about some of the depths in his voice, and his songs are catchy but not likeable, and he sometimes says some very cocky things, but I say cocky things sometimes and I’ve never made £30 million even once in my life, and that’s it: that’s what’s annoying about him. That you cannot put your finger about what is annoying about him. He’s that feeling of plunging your hands into cold oily dishwater. He’s a bus parked in traffic that refuses to open its door for you. Ed Sheeran is that grim empty feeling you get after spending £7 on a Pret lunch you didn’t even like. He’s just there. Being so inoffensive it is offensive.
Welcome to this feeling, America. We have been struggling with it for years.
(*1) NOT a ginger thing! His face is literally orange and fuzzy! Look at the album cover! I hate it with my life! I have seen it one-hundred million times!