Dance Music Needs an Ed Sheeran
The megastars of EDM are untouchable, super-rich elites. We need an everyman.
This post ran originally on THUMP UK.
I don't know about you but for the last few months I've seen Ed Sheeran everywhere. I go for a swim and he's in the changing room, towel-less, drying his orange thatch with reckless abandon, the air thick with talcum powder and singed hair. I walk into Spar and Ed Sheeran's knocking about in the canned goods aisle, eyeing up a tin of Princes' chicken in white sauce. When my head hits the pillow after another day on earth it feels like Ed himself is tucking me in, that Ed's giving me soothing toothpaste kisses and telling me to sleep well. He's there in my dreams too, and then I wake up and the whole thing starts all over again. I'm walking in a Sheeran wonderland.
Evidently, it isn't just me existing in the guitar-toting troubadour's world either; Ed Sheeran, if you've forgotten is massive. Like, Coca-Cola and Drake massive, massive in the way that McDonald's and organised religion are. Ed Sheeran is bigger than capitalism. Right now, right this second, there are tens of millions of people listening to him. That isn't writerly exaggeration or baseless hyperbole—he really is that big of a deal.
Ed is singlehanded proof of pop culture's relentless march towards a kind of totemic totalitarianism in which each and every one of us buys the exact same product, and does so incredibly willingly. Taste, and more specifically, individual taste, is becoming less and less of a big deal. Ed Sheeran is listened to by a vast audience of vastly different people, all of whom bring their own stories, and their own lives to his work. In age in which the notion of "relatability" has become central to the discussion surrounding nearly every cultural object—from a faux-viral video dreamt up by a team of in-house creatives at a chocolate bar manufacturer to a challenging installation work housed in a gallery-cum-vet surgery in Penge—Sheeran is the most relatable artist of the lot. He's the everyman for everyone. And that's why dance music could do with its very own Ed Sheeran.
Think about it: for all we wank on about unity, togetherness and inclusivity like wide-eyed first-timers, clubbing is rife with internal strife and division. The "I can't be your mate because you like Tale of Us and you don't want to be mine because I like Drexciya," attitude is more prevalent than ever, as each of us fits into a hyper-specific amorphous blob that preaches acceptance while practicing the diametric opposite.
What we need then, to create something that feels a bit like genuine harmony rather than the spangled proclamations of being-at-one that ring out in smoking areas and living rooms across the world at sunrise weekend after weekend, is someone like Sheeran. Someone who brings the entire globe together.
Imagine the scene; tech-house die-hards embracing psytrance burn-outs, bulbous-eyed gabber maniacs tenderly linking arms with Avicii stans, DJ Sneak going twos on a Camel with everyone he's ever pissed off, all before the emergent messiah of a club-ready Sheeran.
Whoever it is that we eventually agree upon being our very own Ed needs to possess the primary characteristic which sees Sheeran appealing to everyone from Supreme-clad small town teenage tearaways to rickety old folks who do nothing more with their time than listen to Divide and eat endless ice creams on windswept promenades: likeability.
Sadly, most of our dance music idols fall into one of two camps. They're either clean eating yoga buffs who've swapped the cans of Carlsberg for pitchers of jasmine tea and episodes of Wallander or they're the kind of line-racking banter boys who you'd pretty much do anything to avoid having to spend time with. There are exceptions, as there of course always are, but generally, you're stuck between a rickshaw-riding rock and an Economist reading hard place. Neither stereotype is immediately likeable in that way the little old humble can't-quite-believe-he's-famous Ed Sheeran is.
He's just like you or I, is Ed. Just a bloke who does a job to the best of his ability, just a nice lad with a dream in his heart and a song in his throat, just a regular joe who dates other mega-celebrities and makes Croesus look like a mechanic who was stung for two grand on Can't Pay, We'll Take it Away. If you think that I'm cocking a wry snook in the direction of Suffolk's most famous son, you'd be wrong. Sheeran, with his shit-eating grin, codes as likeable because he seems genuinely aware of the absurdity of being as monumentally famous as he is, and that awareness drips itself into a genuine sense of warmth, in a way it doesn't with, say, James Corden or Jamie Jones.
Some might argue that Calvin Harris' transformation from little dweeb to global stardom via Migos collaborations and relationships with Taylor Swift could put him in pole position for this possible figurehead, but Harris still smacks of the untouchable. One can only imagine his world is a hermetically sealed thing, micromanaged beyond all belief. Then again, if you suddenly mutated from being a dweeby bloke from the highlands into a ripped, handsome, Armani-pant modeling stud with a bank balance bigger than the GDP of most European countries, you'd probably be a bit aloof too. Still, I can imagine Sheeran getting outrageously pissed at a Sam Smiths pub on a Tuesday night, chatting utter nonsense about anything and everything in a way that I can't do with Harris.
Calvin Harris isn't the only dance music star who is as famous as Sheeran, obviously, but gigantic acts like Skrillex, Diplo, or the Chainsmokers, still fail the pint-test; they are distant, unreachable, and, well, unlikeable, because for all their flashiness and theatricality, they lack a kind of basic humanity. EDM was, and is, a brash, gaudy, deeply unpleasant thing that seemed to embody a particularly blank kind of American pseudo-nihilism: Bret Easton Ellis for the Xanax generation.
Having a figure we could all genuinely root for, however much we find ourselves resisting initially, would do dance music the world of good. We'd be forced to accept that our incessant reliance on compartmentalization does nothing of any actual value for any of us at all.