Flame-haired singer/songwriter, beatboxer, and guitarist Ed Sheeran's eclectic blend of acoustic pop, folk, and hip-hop has been championed by everyone from the underground grime scene to American Oscar winners. Born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England in 1991, Sheeran released his first EP, The Orange Room, while still at school, and his first two albums -- his self-titled debut and Want Some -- by the age of 16. After moving to London to gain more live experience, his performance of the self-penned "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" on YouTube channel SB.tv gained half-a-million viewers and attracted the attention of actor/R&B star Jamie Foxx, who invited him to appear on his Los Angeles Sirius radio show. Securing a deal with Elton John's management company, he supported Example on his U.K. tour and, after signing with Atlantic, became just the third artist to score a Top 75 album purely on download sales, when his No. 5 Collaborations project, a star-studded seven-track EP featuring Wiley, JME, and Devlin, charted at number 47 in 2011. That same year he released the Loose Change EP (which featured the smash hit single "The A Team") and his major-label debut studio album + ("Plus"). + was a massive hit, selling over a million copies in the U.K. alone in just six months, and charting high in many other countries, including the U.S., where it peaked at number five. Sheeran then went about boosting his profile, co-writing songs for One Direction and Taylor Swift. He toured the U.S. with Swift on her massive 2013 arena tour, and saw his song, "I See Fire," featured in the closing credits of the hit movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. By the end of 2013, Sheeran had shifted his focus from performing to recording his sophomore album, with Rick Rubin and Pharrell producing. In keeping with the mathematical theme, the album was titled X ("Multiply"). Appearing in June 2014, X encompassed his acoustic/hip-hop hybrid sound, but it also had an R&B feel in places, along with straight-ahead pop. The record debuted at number one on both the U.K. and U.S. charts, reached gold or platinum status in 15 countries, and the singles for "Sing" and "Thinking Out Loud" both topped the British charts. The following year, X won British Album of the Year at the 2015 Brit Awards, with Sheeran winning British Male Solo Artist. The year was a huge success for his live performances, too: he landed an opening slot for the Rolling Stones at one of their U.S. arena concerts, and went on to completely sell-out three dates at London's Wembley Stadium, which was documented for an exclusive NBC special. He continued to win awards while promoting X, most notably at the 2015 MTV Europe Music Awards, where he was awarded Best Live Act, and the 2016 Grammy Awards Ceremony, where he won Song of the Year and Best Solo Pop Performance. Later that year, X was declared the second internationally best-selling album of 2015. After a year-long hiatus, Sheeran posted a cryptic tweet in December of 2016, hinting that new music was around the corner. Early in 2017, he released two singles, "Castle on the Hill" and "Shape of You," and their parent album ÷ ("Divide") appeared that March. It topped the pop charts in over 20 territories, including the U.K. and U.S. ~ Jon O'Brien
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Pop - Released September 9, 2011 | Atlantic Records UK
Adopting the old-fashioned route to success by playing a grueling 300 gigs in 2009 alone, Ed Sheeran's blend of singer/songwriter balladry and acoustic hip-hop has built up quite the fan base, ensuring his debut full-length album, simply titled Plus, is one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year. Unfortunately, it's the former, rather than the latter, which dominates the follow-up to his grime-inspired introductory No.5 Collaborations Project EP. Indeed, the unexpected hugely popular response to lead single "The A Team," an achingly tender tale of a heroin-addicted prostitute (think a socially aware James Blunt) seems to have thrown him off course, as rather than pursue the more urban direction that set him apart from his contemporaries, the majority of Plus' 12 tracks feel like self-conscious attempts to replicate its sound. The sparse piano chords and stream-of-consciousness delivery ("I knew you loved Shrek cos we've watched it twelve times") of "Wake Me Up," the gentle percussion and lilting piano hooks of "Small Bump," and the melancholic wistful folk of "This" are all melodic, Damien Rice-esque numbers that would no doubt go down like a storm on one of the many open-mike nights Sheeran used to frequent. But for an artist who has built up a reputation for his inventive fusion of sounds, they are disappointingly back-to-basics affairs which offer little that hasn't been heard before. However, Sheeran is a much more interesting prospect when his unassuming manner is accompanied by an array of skittering hip-hop beats and staccato R&B licks. "You Don't Need Me, I Don't Need You" is a blistering swipe at the music industry which shows that while he may not have the conventional image of a rapper, he certainly possesses the quick-witted attitude; "U.N.I." combines Snow Patrol-esque guitar hooks with a breakneck-speed delivery reminiscent of Craig David's early 2000s output; while some dirty, scuzzy guitars and electronic bleeps are thrown into the mix on "The City," which deals with his experience of moving from his hometown of to the bright lights of London. With his casual jeans and hoodie, and relatable tales of relationship woes, university, and getting drunk, it's easy to see why Sheeran has struck such a chord with the late-teens/early-twenties crowd. But his debut's failure to capitalize on his unique selling point means it's likely to leave everyone else nonplussed. ~ Jon O'Brien
Pop - Released March 3, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK
Ed Sheeran turned into a global superstar after the release of 2014's x and while fame did his head in a bit -- he took a year off of social media, a hiatus that happened to coincide with the time he worked on his third album -- it's also true that fame suits him. That much is clear from Divide, the album he released to eager anticipation in March 2017. Compared to its two predecessors, Divide -- which, like its predecessors, has its title rendered as a mathematical symbol -- is colorful and lithe, casually hopscotching from style to style without ever drawing attention to its range. Sheeran long ago perfected his rapping busker schtick, which frees him to fulfill his destiny as an adult alternative troubadour. Such sentimental smashes as "Thinking Out Loud" paved the way for Sheeran to plump up Divide with love songs and unveiled confessions, which, in turn, lets him play around with different styles throughout the album. "Dive" finds Sheeran easing into old-fashioned Memphis soul, a supple groove countered by his decision to go full Celtic on "Galway Girl" and, on the deluxe edition, he celebrates Spain on "Barcelona" and dabbles in Graceland-styled Afro-beat on "Bibia Be Ye Ye." Ultimately, these splashy sounds are merely accouterments on an album that leans heavily on Sheeran's sentimentality yet this flair gives Divide welcome color, helping to put his standard tricks in sharp relief. Sheeran can still be clumsily literal -- the worst arrives earliest, when he sniffs "friends and family filled with envy when they should be filled with pride" on "Eraser" -- but such stumbles are balanced by flashes of cutting wit, such as the dissection of the "New Man" of his old lover. Despite this wordplay, the chief appeal of Divide is Sheeran's musicality, particularly his facility in turning his folk-rap into adult pop. Throughout the record, Sheeran seems assured in his smooth schtick, and that cheesy confidence, combined with the hints of new style, help make Divide his easiest album to enjoy. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Ed Sheeran in the magazine