It's a good time to be Ed Sheeran. His Divide (styled ÷) album is blowing up around the world -- and predicted to have the biggest Billboard 200 debut of 2017 -- he just landed his first Rolling Stone cover and, above all else, he has just released some songs that made his grandma's wishes come true.
Sheeran talked about all those things -- plus the wild time he had dating some of Taylor Swift's squad, his urge to have a beer or ketchup line named after him and his long list of bonehead injuries -- during a sit-down with Howard Stern on SiriusXM on Tuesday morning (March 7).
One of the first topics Stern dug into was the global smash "Love Yourself," asking Sheeran how he could give up such a smash to Justin Bieber. After playing a bit of the tune on acoustic, Sheeran said he doesn't really play it live because "it's his song, it's not my song... I've written a bunch of songs I don't sing." Besides, Sheeran said it felt like a such a throwaway at the time that it was never going to make one of his albums, because it was not where his mind was at then.
In fact, Sheeran thought the song might work best for a different artist, and then he played a bit of the original, R-rated chorus as proof. "If you like the way you look that much/ Oh, baby you should go and f--k yourself." He said at first he was "hearing Rihanna... coming in with a bit of that swag... and Rihanna could get away with saying 'you should go and f--k yourself,' in my mind anyway."
While he never presented it to RiRi, in speaking with Bieber near the end of the sessions for his Purpose album, Sheeran thought that the former pop bad boy might be able to pull off a less-explicit version. "It kind of came at a zeitgeist time for his career, where he had fallen out of grace with the public, and he had this comeback song that was quite grown up," Sheeran said of Bieber's emergence from a rough few years. Frankly, Ed's pretty sure if he'd released the tune himself he doesn't think it would have been as big a hit. "I don't not get paid for it," he reminded Stern.
Hearing that story, Stern marveled at Sheeran's inability to gauge what is and isn't a hit, which led Ed to admit that he didn't want to put out the No. 1 smash "Shape of You" as a single, because he didn't think much of it, either. "I was like, 'I don't think it's that much of a hit.' I really don't know what a hit is and what isn't," he related. "In my mind, if I connect with a song from a heart level, then it must be a hit, but that isn't always like the case."
Sheeran -- who said he'd love to end his life as a songwriter "sitting in a log cabin in the middle of a forest with kids running around me, not having to go away" -- also discussed the beauty of finally making music with his older brother, Matthew, a classical composer who did all the string arrangements on Divide.
"My grandmother got really sick last year and her dying wish was for me -- because he's [Matthew] like a completely different world from me -- she said, 'I would love before I pass away to see you and Matthew create music together,'" he explained. "It's really, really fantastic to have the two worlds blending, because literally the only two artists he's heard of are Rick Astley and Lil Bow Wow."
Sheeran, who played a bit of his favorite covers for Stern -- including 50 Cent's "In Da Club" and Blackstreet's "No Diggity" -- also broke down the rationale behind the mathematically themed titles of his albums to date.
"When I came back from L.A. [after briefly living with actor Jamie Foxx in 2010] I was like, 'I need to set a plan and I need to stick to my plan,'" he said. "I'm going to do five independent EP's, one's gonna be a live EP, one's gonna be a collaboration EP with lots of grime rappers from England, one's gonna be an acoustic EP, one's gonna be a band EP and one's gonna be a singer-songwriter produced up to a David Gray kind of thing."
Over the course of that first year he aimed to get all those releases out, so he then planned out his next five albums. The first one would be his 2011 debut, Plus (styled +), an "addition" to all his independent records, then 2014's Multiply (styled X), which would "multiply everything and make it bigger," and the third one would be Divide, to "take everything into stadiums."
That third one would be 12 totally eclectic tracks where "you'd listen to it, and every single song sounds completely different from to the song before it." Which is, essentially what he ended up doing on Divide, so mission accomplished. So far...