Concert Reviews

It's Time to Take Ed Sheeran Seriously

Celebrity culture is a bit twisted, so Ed Sheeran is, unfortunately, more famous for being Taylor Swift’s best friend than he is for his impressive singing voice. If you Google him, you'll find more videos of him stumbling out of a London club than of him using his looping pedals to create an ingenious cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her.” Because he’s pictured in tabloids and played on Top 40 radio, it’s all too easy to dismiss Sheeran, to refuse to take him seriously. But you’ve never seen him live. You haven’t seen him command a crowd of 10,000 fans, getting them to clap their hands and cheer just notes into a new song they’ve never heard before. If you refuse to entertain the notion that he’s a serious musician, then maybe you should stop reading. 
There’s an infinite Internet out there, and, indeed, many posts on this very blog that may be more suitable for you. But if the thought of a 24-year-old English redhead rapping about being homeless over beats created with just a pedal and an acoustic guitar pique your interest, then good, because after seeing his Red Rocks show, we have every intention of taking Sheeran very, very seriously.

Early into Sheeran’s two-night, sold-out stand at Red Rocks, he was out of breath. Standing on a monitor, the singer-songwriter was alternating between the chorus of the B-side “Take It Back” and a medley of “Superstition" and "Crazy in Love.” It was absurd. Here was a twenty-something Brit known for composing delicate love songs that are probably burned onto many a fourteen-year-old girl’s playlist to share with her boyfriend, belting out an extended rap about his career while weaving in the chorus of those two hits. But Sheeran completely pulled it off, because he is worthy of those pop giants. With a smile and a voice that commands a crowd of thousands, the young man managed to switch between delicate and hard-hitting, serious and playful, tender and biting, all with the tap of a looping pedal.

There was no backing band on stage — or, amazingly, no backing track. Just Sheeran, his rotation of acoustic guitars all marked with an “X” (the name of his latest album) and a pedal board at his disposal. For someone with multiple Grammy nominations, Billboard-chart-topping songs and more A-list celebs in his contact list than one could name, Sheeran is as genuine a singer-songwriter as they come. He wouldn’t be out of place at an open-mike night or a locals' night at some small club. But thanks to the whims of the universe, he was on that hallowed stage in Morrison, pounding on the wood of his guitar to create the beat for “Don’t” while 10,000 teens and parents all screamed, “We were staying on the same fucking hotel floor!” back at him. 

Sheeran isn’t the product of some L.A studio that tricked tweens and teens into putting posters of him on their walls to further pad their massive wallets. He’s a creative, sincere singer-songwriter. I am willing to fight anyone who says “Don’t” wasn’t the best pop song of 2014. “What a Mess” — his opener — manages to be both catchy and heartbreaking. “Thinking Out Loud” is romantic enough to be the first dance at your wedding, and “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” (his encore) is the anthem all teens should be shouting in their rooms when someone threatens their self-esteem.

It’s unfortunate that Sheeran is an anomaly in the pop-music industrial complex, because mainstream music needs more artists like him. More truthful artists, who know every chord on a guitar, know how to manipulate rhythms and bend complex melodies to their will, and don’t need a recording booth full of ghostwriters to sell songs. If there is any shred of hope that fame and fortune can still reach those incredibly talented musicians who spend decades playing to empty bars, it’s in the voice of Sheeran. If Taylor Swift is our princess of pop, then Sheeran should be our prince — or, at the very least, be taken as seriously.

At the end of the night, Sheeran remarked how a venue like Red Rocks deserves a massive sing-along before launching into an up-tempo version of his breakout “The A-Team.” The crowd was all too willing to indulge in his sing-along fantasy, every line ended with echoing sounds of the audience singing with him. We have no doubt that if he keeps it up, Sheeran will have many massive sing-alongs in his future.
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Isa Jones is an editor in Jackson Hole; her writing has appeared all over the Internet and occasionally in print.
Contact: Isa Jones