The frenzy that surrounded Ed Sheeran upon his return to music in January -- with the release of two singles that both debuted in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 -- made it clear that he was a force to be reckoned with once his third album dropped.
After Sheeran released Divide on March 3, he only proved to outdo himself, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with ease, smashing Spotify records, and even landing every song on the non-deluxe version of Divide on the Hot 100 in the album's first charting week (March 25) -- subsequently shooting to No. 1 on the Billboard Artist 100.
With his ginger hair and casual style, Sheeran doesn't exactly fit the usual aesthetic of a male pop star, which has led to the question "Why is Ed Sheeran so popular?" being posed countless times. We found ourselves asking the same question, but felt the only way to truly understand the Sheeran mania was to go straight to the source of his success: the fans.
Billboard chatted with three superfan Sheerios about what makes the British singer/songwriter and his music so lovable. Let us introduce you to our Sheeran panel, then take a listen to what they had to say.
SARAH BARRIOS, THE ASPIRING SINGER/SONGWRITER: The 22-year-old Connecticut native has been making music since she was 13, but cites Sheeran as one of her main inspirations for writing her own songs after discovering him at 16 with U.S. breakthrough "The A Team."
CLAIRE STATEN, THE DIE-HARD: Good Tumblr instincts led the 24-year-old Springfield, Il.-based fan to Sheeran in 2011 just as + was released, an album to which she was immediately hooked -- and the passion for Sheeran and his super-relatable music has only grown since.
SAMANTHA CROFTS, THE U.K. FAN SITE OWNER: As a 24-year-old living in London in 2010, Crofts stumbled upon Sheeran as he was making a name for himself on the London music scene. After meeting Sheeran and seeing how gracious he was toward his fans, she created edsheeranfans.com as a central place for fans to share the love of Ed's music.
* * * * *
The connection they feel when listening to Sheeran:
Barrios: Aside from the lyrics very obviously pointing to one feeling or one story -- the lyrics tell a story every single time -- it's the way that he sings them. Though his recordings are amazing, I really like watching live videos of his songs. He does all the stuff with the loop pedal, but I think it's the way that he sings the words. He sings them with conviction, and if you didn't think they meant something before, once he sings them, they mean something. The way that he says them and sings them with such emotion gives them extra meaning, and I feel like it really pulls you in.
"Give Me Love" was the first one I heard that had made me cry. I had never understood how music could make an emotion come out of you so intensely, and I listened to Give Me Love and that was the first time I was like "Oh my god, I'm crying. Why am I crying?" So I was like, "Oh, there's something to this."
Staten: You could just see in his interviews and in his albums, because he's so open and genuine about what he says. He's not trying to [get people to] swoon, he just shows up and is Ed Sheeran... He just puts it on the table, and makes what he wants to make. I like that kind of independence that he puts behind it, as opposed to tying himself [to] what's hip and hot.
Crofts: I relate a lot of the songs to things I know about his life that I think would inspire him to write about certain topics. Every fan I speak to has their own interpretation or memory linked to a song, and some link them to lost loved ones, to someone they love or even when they have been abroad and heard Ed -- a familiar artist -- whilst in an obscure country.
What makes his music so captivating:
Barrios: I think his music is very rhythmic, which is really cool because the music then kind of has its own heartbeat and kind of lives on its own. He can say a lot of things in a very [small] amount of words, and manages to convey a message in a creative way. He's got a way of being creative with his words, so that even if you weren't paying attention to them, you end up paying attention anyway.
Also, his vibe -- he's got this vibe like, "I could do all of this myself, I just choose not to." I think that gives [him] an extra amount of confidence, and he knows a lot about how he wants his songs constructed, which comes out as something very personal, because he knows what he wants on it.
Staten: He tells a story and you picture it in your head. That's what kind of drew me in. When you're listening to something and you can imagine the feeling... when I listen to "Cold Coffee" or "This," those are songs where I can just sit there and feel what he's feeling in that moment. I'm not trying to feel exactly what he was feeling, but it's a very realistic and comfortable emotion he's putting out to the world, being vulnerable -- and people feel like they could be vulnerable right back. It feels good.
Why he's so relatable:
Staten: I just like his bluntness. I feel like when he goes into interviews, he just doesn't give a s--t, and talks about what he wants to talk about. He doesn't really overthink everything, and he makes you laugh. He's just a relatable person that people would be like, "I'd hang out with that guy."
Barrios: He's just himself. He's like your kid brother that just happened to get really big. I think that's what is really cool, because he seems very approachable and gets what it's like to be human. He's the quiet pop artist - he goes under the radar, but it's still massive at the same time.
What sets him apart from other artists:
Barrios: He's kind of broken the pop music mold, where you have to be really attractive, you have to have a really catchy song, or you have to have girls who are obsessed with you -- that's all great and fun, and that definitely works. But he's kind of taken that and he's just like, "Liste, this is me -- I have played Madison Square Garden and sold it out, but also I love to go to a pub with my dudes and drink a lot of beer." He's very approachable and very honest, so I feel like that is something people just kind of attach to. You might not like his music, but you can appreciate the work that he puts into everything that he does.
He really did whatever he wanted with Divide, and it's absolutely amazing, because he's not only taken stories and made them something that people can listen to, they're all different types of sounds as well -- but they're still doing well. If you tried to figure out a formula for him, I don't really know that you'd find one -- he just kind of does his own thing.
Staten: I think that he hones in on his own personal experience, as opposed to trying to write for the masses. He's relating to himself. It's like he's putting his diary out there, but without being too cheesy. He's basically saying, "I went through heartbreak, I went through that drunken night at the pub with all my friends, and I'm sure you have too. Here's how I could write about it." I feel like that's where he's different to certain songwriters, because he's not trying to appeal to the crowd, he's just talking himself.
When I was first discovering him as an artist, I would watch interviews and performances, and you could just tell he wasn't trying too hard. He went out there and it looked comfortable, and it was really nice to see someone who just genuinely loved what they were doing with the music they loved to make. You just don't see a lot of ease and comfort like that. And when I saw Ed [in concert], what absolutely took my breath away was that he was able to silence an entire theater with just his being on a stage with his guitar, and he didn't need anything else. I think that's another thing people really respect about him.
What makes him such an influential artist on your life:
Staten: It's nice to hear words and songs that document what you're going through. It's nice that they aren't too over-the-top, he just speaks like a friend. It's really weird -- when you find a person or an artist, a speaker, an athlete who has a story or has words that you can relate to on that kind of level, it just completely changes your life. It's been really nice to have such a cool person be that person for me.
Barrios: I've learned [from Ed] that I don't necessarily have to pigeonhole myself into a specific genre as much as I thought I did. As an artist, I kind of intertwine different sounds naturally and I thought, "I'm doing something wrong, I can't do that. I have to pick one specific one." Watching him, he kind of made everything he did pop, but there's so many different genres that go under that umbrella. And he was like, "I'm just gonna take all of them, because I can and I want to." It's interesting to see no matter what you do with the music, as long as you keep confidence and words, you can do whatever you want sound-wise.
Whether he has the longevity to keep up this kind of success in the future:
Crofts: Ed's songs appeal to all ages, and this is why [I think] he's a timeless artist. Even if Ed decides to retire from performing -- something that I find difficult to imagine, as he enjoys it too much -- but if he did, then he'd definitely [continue to] make hit records for other artists.
Staten: I don't think [his success] will fizzle. I think in the long run, it's going to be the music and the words. [On Divide], he's accumulating everything he's done so far and then adding another spice to it. You just don't know what he's got up his sleeve and he's popping things in left and right. He's like a John Mayer or Tom Petty type who's got not only the songs, but also the talent behind the songs. I think he's got the longevity, my bias aside. He may not always be the hottest, but I think he's gonna have a long stay for sure.