Everything Ed Sheeran’s Been Up To Between His Soulless Collab Album And His Hideous New Video
What is Ed Sheeran thinking? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times, including in 2014 when the newly ascendant English balladeer announced his intention to make party music with the misbegotten Pharrell collab “Sing.” The new face of the soppy slow jam had called in the zeitgeisty producer of the moment to put chipper dance beats under his acoustic guitar, and the result was so embarrassingly awful that I wondered if dude wasn’t dead set on torpedoing his own career. “Sing” itself never really took off, but the album it launched, ×, cemented Sheeran as an absolute superstar. That’s the album that gave us “Thinking Out Loud” and “Photograph” and “Don’t,” a stab at rapping that admittedly worked better than “Sing.” I guess he knew what he was doing after all.
Although Sheeran built his fan base largely on the strength of his no-frills guitar-and-loop-pedal live show, he has since taken many more steps beyond his open mic night origins. He incorporated dancehall and tropical house elements on “Shape Of You,” a song from 2017’s ÷ that spent 12 weeks at #1. He went into full-fledged rap mode alongside Future on Taylor Swift’s “End Game” and on his own ÷ track “Eraser.” By 2019, he released a whole album of collaborations with pop and rap superstars like Justin Bieber and Cardi B, and people seemed to like that too even though (or because) it was the most hollowed out algorithm bait imaginable. The man simply cannot fail, no matter how corny or cringe he allows his music to become.
And yet last Friday’s “Bad Habits,” Sheeran’s first proper single since the aforementioned No.6 Collaborations Project, still has me doubting his instincts. Written with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid and FKA twigs collaborator Fred Again, the track is an innocuously thumping pop-R&B monstrosity — like Charlie Puth if he lost a step, or a more whitebread version of the Weeknd’s most craven crossover attempts. His voice sounds wonky. The beat is completely indistinct. Absolutely nothing about it stands out. As for the lyrics: “Every time you come around, you know I can’t say no/ Every time the sun goes down, I let you take control.” Is this sung from the perspective of a listening public who simply cannot resist Ed Sheeran music?
Musically, it sucks so bad — some real off-brand Max Martin shit — but who can even think about the music when the “Bad Habits” video involves Sheeran dressed up like a glammy, glittery vampire-droog who decided “I’m going to become the Joker,” soaring over cityscapes and engaging in some light dance choreography while sowing the seeds of urban chaos? I cannot believe anyone likes this. I can’t believe Sheeran even likes it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s so much worse than you’re imagining. It’s a stain on legendary video director Dave Meyers’ good name.
The sight of Sheeran’s fanged grin will haunt me for years to come even if I never see this video again, and I may well be involuntarily subjected to it many more times. To some extent Sheeran is too big to fail, so “Bad Habits” will probably have a strong debut. But if it sticks around in any significant capacity its success will be an indictment of us all. And shit man, given the bizarre reverse polarity that makes people gravitate toward most of Sheeran’s worst impulses, maybe this thing will debut at #1 and stay there for the rest of the year.
The saga of “Sing” suggests that Sheeran’s new album will be a gargantuan hit even if “Bad Habits” flops. We’re about to find out. In a note last February on his 30th birthday, Sheeran teased the imminent conclusion of his four-part series of albums named for mathematical functions. He’s done +, x, and ÷, so presumably – is on the way before year’s end. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of everything he’s been up to since dropping No. 6 Collaborations Project two summers ago.
Aug. 1, 2019: Mourns The Death Of His Cat
Just after the release of No.6 Collaborations Project, Sheeran’s wife Cherry Seaborn revealed the sad news that their cat Graham had died after being hit by a car.
Aug. 2, 2019: Breaks The Record For Highest Grossing Tour
On its 246th date, Sheeran’s Divide Tour surpassed U2’s record of $736.7 million to become the highest grossing concert tour in world history.
Aug. 12, 2019: Releases Limited Edition Heinz Ketchup Bottle
Because Sheeran is such a massive fan of Heinz ketchup that he has a bottle tattooed on his arm. So Heinz went ahead and released a limited edition bottle featuring lots of Sheeran’s other tattoos. I promise you this is real.
Sept. 29, 2019: Opens A Restaurant In London
Sheeran and his manager Stuart Camp host the grand opening of Bertie Blossoms, their new pub and eatery on Portobello Road in Notting Hill. The name is rumored to be a reference to Camp’s girlfriend Liberty Shaw (hence Bertie) and Sheeran’s wife Cherry Seaborn (hence Blossoms, as in cherry blossoms). The food looks fancy.
Oct. 10, 2019: Promotes Mental Health With Prince Harry
Remember those halcyon days before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle fled the UK? Well, judging by their Oprah interview, maybe they weren’t so halcyon after all. Anyway, a few months before they announced their move across the Atlantic, Harry joined with Sheeran for a PSA promoting mental health resources in the UK.
Oct. 29, 2019: Dissed By Prince From Beyond The Grave
The Beautiful Ones, a Prince memoir cowritten by Dan Piepenbring, included this quote from the Purple One: “We need to tell them that they keep trying to ram Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran down our throats and we don’t like it no matter how many times they play it.”
Nov. 22, 2019: Guests On Stormzy’s “Own It” Alongside Burna Boy
Longtime collaborators and fellow UK superstars Stormzy and Sheeran link up once again for a single our own Tom Breihan says “sounds like someone was sent into a lab with a mission to make a circa-2019 London club song.” Regarding the video, he adds, “Every time Sheeran is onscreen with Stormzy, it reminds me of photos of Drake hanging out with NBA players.”
Dec. 23, 2019: Launches Foundation To Benefit Suffolk Musicians
Sheeran announced that his new charity the Ed Sheeran Suffolk Music Foundation (ESSMF) would help artists aged under 18 in his native Suffolk with “small but hopefully useful grants.” As he explained on social media, “I feel like I’ve had a lot of support from the area and I feel like I want to give some support back. The music foundation won’t be able to help everyone, but it will be able to do some good work.”
Dec. 24, 2019: Announces Hiatus From Music
In a written message on Instagram, Sheeran told fans, “Hello all. Gonna go on another break again. The Divide era and tour changed my life in so many ways, but now it’s all over it’s time to go out and see some more of the world. I’ve been a bit non stop since 2017 so I’m just gonna take a breather to travel, write, and read. I’ll be off social media until it’s time to come back.”
Jan. 11, 2020: Dissed By black midi
In the since-deleted diss track “ded sheeran (ed sheeran send) part 1,” drummer Morgan Simpson of avant-garde London rock band black midi sang, “Ed Sheeran sucks/ You sellout ginger prick/ Your music is doodoo, believe me man we don’t need you.” It involved lots of Auto-Tune and lo-fi synth sounds and a sample of Britney Spears saying “It’s Britney, bitch!”
Jan. 17, 2020: Guests On Eminem’s Surprise Album
Sheeran once again teams up with Eminem, this time for the cartoonishly dancy “Those Kinda Nights” from Em’s surprise album Music To Be Murdered By.
August 2020: Becomes A Dad
Sheeran took to Instagram on Sept. 1 to announce that his daughter Lyra Antarctica Seaborn Sheeran had been born the previous week: “Both mum and baby are doing amazing and we are on cloud nine over here.”
Dec. 21, 2020: Releases New Song “Afterglow”
Sheeran’s first new music since No.6 was an acoustic ballad that had me wondering if he would pivot to Bon Iver for his next album. I guess it’s still not out of the question?
Feb. 17, 2021: Celebrates 30th Birthday By Teasing New Album
Along with a photo of himself dressed up as a pirate as a child, Sheeran writes, “I’ll be back online with the 4th installment in the series later this year” — a clear reference to minus or subtract or whatever he’s calling it.
March 24, 2021: Debuts New Song “Visiting Hours”
At a memorial service for Australian music mogul Michael Gudinski, Sheeran played new song called “Visiting Hours,” written especially for the service.
May 25, 2021: Sued For “Eastside”
Sheeran has been sued over plagiarism claims many times. The latest was just last month when Konstantine Lois and Shane Williams accused Sheeran — and collaborators Benny Blanco, Khalid, and Halsey — of ripping off “Loveless,” a 2015 song Lois and Williams wrote for Williams’ band American XO. Compare them for yourself:
May 31, 2021: Recreates Monica-Ross Dance Routine With Courteney Cox
Just days after the Friends reunion premiered on HBO Max, Sheeran joined Cox to reenact a goofy dance routine her character Monica and her brother Ross (David Schwimmer) once performed on the show.
June 15, 2021: Signs Maisie Peters To His Record Label
Sheeran revealed 21-year-old singer-songwriter Peters as the latest signee to his label Gingerbread Man Records and announced her debut album You Signed Up For This.
June 25, 2021: Releases “Bad Habits”
And now here we are. Brace yourself for the return of Ed Sheeran.
It’s a slow week on the Billboard charts. On the Hot 100, none of the top seven songs have shifted since last week, and the top three remain unchanged for a fourth straight frame: BTS’ “Butter” at #1 (for a fifth straight week), Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” at #2, and Dua Lipa and DaBaby’s “Levitating” at #3, followed by Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More,” Justin Bieber/Giveon/Daniel Caesar’s “Peaches” at #5, Silk Sonic’s “Leave The Door Open” at #6, and the Weeknd and Ariana Grande’s “Save Your Tears” at #7. The rest of the top 10 is not exactly shaken up, either, with Lil Nas X’s “Montero” and Rodrigo’s “deja vu” each climbing a spot while Masked Wolf’s “Astronaut In The Ocean” slides to #10.
Speaking of Olivia Rodrigo, her debut album Sour climbs back to #1 on the Billboard 200 for a second nonconsecutive week with 105,000 equivalent album units, a good 40,000 more than any other LP this week. After Polo G, Lil Baby & Lil Durk, Migos, and Morgan Wallen comes a #6 debut for H.E.R.’s Back Of My Mind on 36,000 units and 5,500 in sales. The rest of the top 10 comprises Dua Lipa, Moneybagg Yo, Bo Burnham, and J. Cole.
Miley Cyrus – “Nothing Else Matters” (Metallica Cover Feat. WATT, Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Robert Trujillo, Chad Smith)
Hard to say whether this will even be the best “Nothing Else Matters” cover on The Metallica Blacklist given that a zillion artists all chose this song to record, but I like the thought of it being part of Miley the covers queen’s inevitable Vegas revue. I am less fond of the idea of seeing all these artists re-create this collab at the Grammys or some equivalent event, which seems maybe even more inevitable than the Vegas revue.
Doja Cat – “Tonight” (Feat. Eve) & “Why Why” (Feat. Gunna)
Putting Eve on a beat that sounds like radio rap at the peak of Eve’s career: another stroke of genius from Doja. The contrast between Doja’s bright, loud, melodic vocals and Gunna’s also-melodious understated murmurs is working for me too.
Bastille – “Distorted Light Beam”
With a beat that big and a proven brand name like Bastille attached, this hyper-anonymous and unmemorable electro-rock will probably be played twice an hour on alternative radio stations for the next 18 months, though I can’t imagine ever listening to it by choice.
Rauw Alejandro – “Sexo Virtual”
One of the more contagiously likable pop-reggaeton songs I’ve heard in a minute. It helps that you don’t have to know Spanish to grasp the concept, but what seals it for me is Rauw Alejandro’s unhinged Auto-Tuned outbursts.
LANY – “dancing in the kitchen”
Pretty standard ’80s nostalgia exercise here, but just about every element is pulled off with expertise.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Cardi B revealed she’s pregnant with her second child at last night’s BET Awards. [CNN]
- Rest assured, Vin Diesel says Cardi will be back for Fast & Furious 10. [ET]
- Ed Sheeran confirmed he recorded a new “Everything Has Changed” with Taylor Swift for the upcoming Red (Taylor’s Version). [Twitter]
- Sheeran also wrote a song for the next BTS album. [Independent]
- Tyler, The Creator’s new song “Manifesto” includes an apology to Selena Gomez for past tweets. [E!]
- Justin Bieber met with French President Emmanuel Macron. [TMZ]
- Chris Brown was accused of hitting a woman in Los Angeles. [NBC]
- Olivia Rodrigo announced the SOUR Prom Concert Film, out tomorrow. [YouTube]
- J. Cole announced a fall US tour with 21 Savage and Morray. [107.9]
- Lil Baby announced a fall US tour with Lil Durk. [Instagram]
- BLACKPINK The Movie is coming in August. [Instagram]
- Here’s the trailer for Watch The Sound With Mark Ronson, coming to Apple TV+. [YouTube]
- Michael B. Jordan renamed his rum brand after criticism from Nicki Minaj. [BBC]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME