Singer, songwriter, makeshift beatboxer and now… Glastonbury headliner. The career of Ed Sheeran is a real-life rags-to-riches story and his progression to the global stage must be admired. His third studio album ÷ (Divide) has broken numerous records, also keeping Take That’s most recent album, Wonderland, in second place in the UK albums chart. As the ginger artist continues to gain popularity we look back at some of the moments that established him as the UK’s number one.
First encounters with Damien Rice
At the tender age of 11, a musically aware Sheeran went to see one of his idols in concert and reportedly had an encounter that would change the young musician’s life. Upon meeting Rice backstage, the Irish artist supposedly told a young Ed to follow his dreams and become a songwriter. With these words of inspiration and a longing to become a successful artist, three years after their meeting Sheeran packed his bags and left his Suffolk home and headed to the capital, a city where he had spent many weekends during his youth.
Example’s early influence
Following a countless number of shows in smaller venues, Sheeran was beginning to make a name for himself for his warm personality, rugged looks and acoustic brilliance. His first true break, however, was the recognition from fellow British rapper, Example in 2010, who invited Ed to join Devlin and become the opening act for his upcoming UK tour. Example was particularly impressed by Sheeran’s unconventional rapping style and famously introduced ‘The Nando’s Skank’, which was arguably the first track that catalysed his success.
Sheeran goes to the States
Sheeran’s global popularity is largely down to his continual persistence and driving ambition to make a name for himself. This drive to succeed has been present throughout his career, and is best represented by his 2010 trip to America. Ed found himself playing at numerous open mic nights throughout LA hoping for that lucky break, which came when playing at The Foxxhole. Texan-born Jamie Foxx was present, and the famous actor was so impressed with the Brit’s performance he allowed him to bunk in his Hollywood home for the duration of his stay. Sheeran was also asked to perform on Foxx’s show on Sirius Radio, reaching the ears of thousands of US civilians. Ed has since been thankful of his widespread Stateside appreciation and a number of his best shows and tours have occurred across The Pond.
Playing at jamie foxx's spot on Monday – the foxxhole, any LA residents lemme know if you want guestlist!
— Ed Sheeran (@edsheeran) April 16, 2010
Flirting with grime and SBTV
Not pigeonholing himself as purely an acoustic songwriter, Sheeran also possesses a number of other musical talents that have generated support from varying support channels. Rapping and beatboxing, for example, caught the attention of both Example and SBTV originator – Jamal Edwards. By unconventionally infusing beatboxing into an acoustic version of ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’, Ed flaunts his vocal ability on a medium famous for supporting freestyling grime acts. Ed has always had an affinity with grime, epitomised by the release of No. 5 Collaborations Project which featured a number of top grime artists such as Wiley, Jme, P Money and Devlin.
Performing in front of Her Majesty
After signing with Atlantic Records in 2011, Sheeran released his first major studio album with + (plus), selling more than a million UK copies in the first six months. A number of notable invitations ensued, including a performance on Jools Holland, a headline slot at Glastonbury‘s BBC Introducing Stage, but most impressively Sheeran was asked to play at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Singing to both royalty and thousands of patriotic civilians lined along The Mall, plus millions watching from around the world, Ed’s performance was a real milestone in his career and it’s incredible to view how far he came in just two years following his discovery by Jamie Foxx.
Taylor Swift… the famous fling
Forget Pitt and Jolie or Gomez and Beiber, the reported romance between Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran captivated fans all around the world, even inspiring Ed to produce ‘Don’t’. Their friendship was never hidden on social media and the pair had often worked together after Sheeran joined Swift on her UK arena tour in 2013. He also co-wrote and even provided vocals for ‘Everything Has Changed’, assisting Swift with the production of her fourth studio album – Red. Tabloids will continue to speculate about their supposed relationship, but it is undeniable that the support of Swift elevated Sheeran’s career in the US, particularly in the south where she is considered royalty.
Producing ‘I See Fire’ for The Hobbit
Depending on your personal interests, some would argue that producing the soundtrack for a film in The Hobbit series is as big a feat as performing for the Queen. Film director, Peter Jackson, asked Sheeran to produce a track for the second instalment of the three-part series, entitled The Desolation of Smaug. Ed thought it was a great honour as he had always been a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel and the single also received global acclaim, including an infectiously groovy remix from Kygo which soon went viral.
The release of award-winning x (multiply)
Having always been a charitable individual, Sheeran performed at the Teenage Cancer Trust charity concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall in March 2014, three months prior to the release of x (multiply). During the gig, he unveiled ‘Take It Back‘, a new single signalling a new album and debuting at number one in both the UK and US charts, Ed Sheeran’s second studio album truly elevated him to global success. The release of ‘Sing’ secured his first number one single (UK) and at the following Brit Awards, x (multiply) was awarded British Album of the Year – Sheeran also won best British Male Solo Artist. With its soothing vocals and tear provoking lyrics, ‘Thinking Out Loud’ was the standout track from the album and later won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2016.
The big hiatus from social media
‘Hello all. I’m taking a break from my phone, emails and all social media for awhile.’ Stated Ed via Instagram in December 2015, promising that he would be back equipped with a third album which would be his apparent best. True to his word, a year later Sheeran mysteriously Instagram’d a blank light blue picture – soon to be the theme of his most recent album ÷ (divide). For a year fans were eagerly awaiting any information on the new album, and with heightening anticipation this blank Instagram post sent individuals into hysterics.
The social media break certainly paid dividends, as ‘Shape of You’ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the new album broke Spotify records. By selling 672,000 copies in the first week, ÷ (divide) was the fastest selling album by a male solo artist in the UK, and third fastest behind Oasis and Adele. To mirror his quirky personality, on the day of release he was selling copies in the Oxford Street HMV store, wearing a ÷ (divide)-inspired t-shirt and the star even wore his own name badge. Classic Ed.
— hmv363OxStreet (@hmv363OxStreet) March 3, 2017
Global awareness and cultural appreciation
From Madison Square Garden to Wembley Stadium, Ed Sheeran has played at some of the most coveted venues around the globe, but these huge sell-out shows haven’t blinded his global awareness. Having recently visited Africa with Comic Relief, Ed has always wanted to ensure his music reaches the ears of individuals from all backgrounds and cultures. Commendably, as shown in the video below, Sheeran wrote and performed a song in Twi (Ghanaian) dialect to provide fans in Ghana an alternative to the typically English translation. This example highlights Ed Sheeran’s well-rounded personality as he appreciates music from all over the globe, and why he has deservedly won numerous awards throughout his career.
“I’ve made it” (Sheeran, E. 2015)
Last but definitely not least in Ed’s most career-defining moments, in 2015 Sheeran became a graduate. In acknowledgement of his ‘outstanding contribution to music’ Sheeran earned an honorary degree from the University of Suffolk. Even though his work has received praise from the likes of Elton John and The Rolling Stones, this moment characterises Ed’s charm as he can be seen full of joy after gaining a degree, later describing it as a ‘real privilege’.