Sheeran has certainly learned how to multiply his sales throughout the years. From his first Grammy-nominated single, to his two # 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits, he has continued to gain both acclaim and popularity with his third album. Oh, and he was able to feature Beyoncé on said album, which is a plus!
If you ask Ed Sheeran how much he’s changed, he will probably reply with a modest “not much.” This is characteristic of the humble Pop singer, but the truth is that he’s had magnificent growth in the last four years with the release of his three albums. Look back even further to where he began, a small city in the U.K., and the grand change he endured becomes very apparent. Today, he has sold out Madison Square Garden three times, and remains one of the biggest Pop stars alive with 3.3 billion YouTube views on his latest chart-topping hit “Shape of You.”
The English songwriter’s story starts in a small town called Framlingham in Suffolk, England. Growing up, he experienced bullying that focused on his oversized glasses, red hair, and constant stuttering. Sheeran found a positive advantage to his hair color when he started gaining fame, claiming, “Being ginger can seem like a bad thing when you are young but as a musician it has been my saving grace – because… [if] there is only one messy-haired ginger kid who plays guitar, it is very easy to find them on YouTube.” And as for his stammer? Well, he lost it in an intriguing way. At nine-years-old, Sheeran received his first album as a gift from his dad: rapper Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. He memorized every word of the LP by age ten, and by following Eminem’s fast rapping pace, he was able to ditch his speech problem.
From the very beginning, Ed was eager to dive right into his passion. He started singing in his church’s choir at just four-years-old, and picked up playing guitar soon after. In 2005, he announced his first EP, The Orange Room. When he turned 16 two years later, he took a leap by dropping out of high school, packing his bags, and moving to London. He stood at friends’ houses when he could, but recalls that there were times when he had to sleep on the subway or in parks. He pursued his endeavors without giving up; in 2009 alone he performed at more than 300 shows.
Sheeran knew that if he wanted to conquer the music world, he had to move to America. In 2010, he made the life-changing move to Los Angeles, California, where he began to work on his fifth EP, No.5 Collaborations Project. He resumed writing songs and posting videos to YouTube, and was discovered by actor and singer Jamie Foxx. He got a chance to perform on Foxx’s Sirius XM radio show “Foxxhole,” where he sang and played the ukulele for 12 minutes before receiving a standing ovation. Foxx was impressed; not only did he let Sheeran use his recording studio, but he also allowed him to sleep on his couch until he found a place to stay. The release of Ed’s fifth and final EP was a remarkable feat: It bolted to #2 on the iTunes chart without any label or promotion. The songwriter’s talent was rightfully recognized when he was asked to sign with Atlantic Records.
In 2011, Sheeran’s first studio album, + (pronounced “Plus”), was finally issued out. It sold 102,000 copies during its first week, and became the second best-selling album in the U.K. “The A-Team,” a Grammy- nominated single, went viral even before the project dropped. Its shocking lyrical content talks about a prostitute that was addicted to crack cocaine, which was inspired by an actual woman that Sheeran met at a homeless shelter. “I was 18 at the time… I was a bit taken aback by some of the stories that I heard,” Sheeran confessed, “I wanted to write it so it sounded kind of upbeat, so you wouldn’t really know what it’s about, because it’s quite a dark subject.” The song peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it’s credited as being one of the first to truly help Ed’s career take flight.
Sheeran’s debut work earned him some take-home achievements when he won at the Brit Awards in 2012. He scored the Best British Breakthrough Act, and the Best British Male Solo Artist. The year after he became even busier as he starred on talk shows, and earned more fans (“Sheerios”). He was invited to join fellow singer/songwriter Taylor Swift on the North American leg of her Red Tour, a huge break considering that Swift is one of the most powerful names in the music business. The two became quick friends, and Sheeran owned his duty as opening act by putting on a truly unique execution. He is known to perform without a band, the music consisting of just his voice and his guitar onstage, and the Red Tour was no exception. “It’s a really bold move to go out on [the Red] stadium tour with no band. It was just Ed up there with his guitar every night, doing what he’s done since he was playing in…England as a kid,” Swift gushed, reminiscing on her 2013 tour.
Following the mathematical pattern of his titles, Sheeran released X (pronounced “Multiply”) in 2014. Sales did in fact, multiply. The album went on to peak at #1 on the Billboard charts in fifteen countries, including the U.S. and the U.K. It sold a total 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. Three top-10 charting singles also arose from the established work: “Thinking Out Loud” (#2), “Don’t” (#9), and “Photograph” (#10). “Thinking Out Loud” went on to eventually win him his first ever Grammy award for Song of the Year at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards in 2015. Additionally, X marked a creative turning point for Sheeran, who worked with the likes of producer Rick Rubin and singer/producer Pharrell Williams. He explored more provocative tracks, taking cues from Taylor Swift, who has a similar style. “The last album (+) was more young and dewy-eyed and innocent,” he reveals, “I’ve still got very nice songs on this record. But some of them are bite-y.” The song “Don’t” received a lot of attention for that exact reason. It tells the tale of Sheeran and a lover, who he finds out has crossed him by sleeping with his friend. He warns that if you choose to date a songwriter:
“Be prepared to have songs written about you. If you do nice things, you’ll have nice songs. And if you do f-ed up things, you’ll get a horrible song.”
He became 2014’s most streamed artist on Spotify with more than 860 million streams on the well-known app. Ed’s success reigned that year; he began his X Tour, and played three sold-out shows at London’s legendary Wembley Stadium, a feat that many said he couldn’t accomplish, much like his Madison Square Garden equivalent in NYC.
However, it wasn’t until recently that Sheeran hit probably the best high of his career. In 2015, he took a hiatus to travel and work on his third album, ÷ (pronounced “Divide”). He visited Iceland, Ghana, and Japan, unplugging from social media and focusing on his world experiences, and new fiancé Cherry Seaborn. When the couple returned to the U.S., they came back to great news. Ed struck gold with his hit single “Shape of You,” the catchy tune that had everyone and their mothers singing along. It was streamed over 6 million times in 24 hours on just Spotify alone, and hit #1 on Billboard Hot 100, making it Sheeran’s first #1 single in the U.S. Interestingly enough, he hadn’t intended for the prosperous song to be his. It only took 90 minutes to write and record the whole track, along with producer Steve Mac and Snow Patrol member Johnny McDaid. When the recording session was over, Sheeran began discussing plans to give it to Rihanna or a female-harmony group. He writes music for some of the top names in the music industry, so selling the song was something he was prepared to do. But when he played the tune for Atlantic UK President, Ben Cook, he responded with a telling look. “He was kind of just looking at me,” Ed said, “Like, ‘Why do you want to give this away?’”
The full project, ÷, released in March 2017, and to great praise. The song “Perfect Duet” featuring Beyoncé, flew to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Sheeran’s second single to hit the #1 spot. The album surpassed 1 million U.S. sales, rising to #1 on the Billboard 200. At the end of 2017, it was listed as the most popular album of the year in the U.S. Sheeran had predicted this triumph: “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,” he said ahead of ÷’s publication. It even helped him score two Grammys in 2017 for Best Pop Solo Performance for “Shape of You,” and Best Pop Vocal Album for ÷.
Presently, Sheeran is proud of many things. He has come a long way from the days he spent being bullied, the nights he spent sleeping on floors, and the weeks he spent adjusting to a new life in the U.S. Now he is one of the leading names in Pop, and astonishes his dedicated “Sheerios” by releasing newly personal hits time and time again. But above all, he is proud of his character and his unwillingness to change for others. At the American Institute for Stuttering’s Freeing Voices Changing Lives Benefit Gala, Ed spoke about his stammer as a child, and how he didn’t let it tear him down. “… just be yourself ‘cause there’s no one in the world that can be a better you than you, and if you try to be the cool kid from class, you’ll end up being very boring, and doing plumbing for someone that you don’t really want to do plumbing for.” The latter was based off of a story that Sheeran shared earlier in his speech. A “cool” kid from his high school ended up being his plumber, and it showed that creating a false social image may not be as beneficial as one may think.
Watch him continue to defy the odds and sell out another arena right here in SoFlo! On August 30th of this year, Sheeran will perform at the American Airlines Arena. It’s there that you can think out loud by singing along to his confessional ballads!
By Selene Rivera