The ‘Ed Sheeran’ Complex

Consider this a spiritual successor to my previous post; Pain and Productivity . It covers similar ground, but from an empathetic view for the offending artist. So if you haven’t read that one, go read it. Go, now! Then come back here. I’ll stick the kettle on while I wait.

Mr. Sheeran
Now, I understand there is a certain irony in the frequency at which Ed Sheeran is mentioned in these posts, considering what Cynically Sound stands for. He needs no more exposure. He’s got more money than an Arabian Prince. His albums are flying off the shelves faster than your Mum’s underwear at a Take That concert. Yet here we are again.

Unfortunately, he exemplifies a problem that is observed time and time again. A celebrity getting comfy, then creating a shitty album filled with ‘perfect pop’ because there’s nothing else to write about. Or so I thought…

Yes, what I’m about to discuss is the definition of a first world problem, but is a problem none-the-less. Pop stars of the same calibre as Mr. Sheeran are under immense pressure. Whether it be from the public, their label, or wankers like me who write about them – it’s pretty impossible to get anything right. Your label requires you to exceed the sales numbers of the previous album or you’ll be dropped, but that entails churning out even more widely consumable tracks that appeal to even more people.

Analogy Time
Think of how they make foie gras. The consumer – literally, is the goose. Record companies (foie gras company owners), force the artist (goose warehouse attendant), to fill up the giant feeding nozzle with the latest pop songs. They jam the tube down your throat until it’s engaged to be married with your oesophagus. Then, they turn the feeding tube up to 11 – the more you consume, the larger the profit.

Now obviously, within this weird and admittedly tenuous analogy, the actual goose hates this process. But somehow, record companies have managed to drug their consumers into actually enjoying this whole procedure. They’ve sweetened the feed, and it tastes like Castle on the fucking Hill.

As artists’ music is watered down, it strays further away from the music that made them famous. Often alienating the original fan base that bought copies, when no-one else would. It becomes a Breakfast Club style trap. If you vocalise your love for a band’s older material, you’re branded a hipster, and written off as a nutter who’d prefer everyone to have dial-up internet and tuberculosis just because it’s ‘old skool’ . Or, you’re a brain-dead consumer. Lapping up the foie gras just because it’s being fed to you by someone with fancy hair and lip fillers.

The consuming masses

What’s Being Done About It?
The immense pressure on an established artist creates an un-winnable PR and numbers war. Artists know this, and sometimes leave a breadcrumb trail recognising the problem. Ed Sheeran did it with his recent F64 on SB:TV – a stellar version of Eraser with only 5 ½ million views. That sort of number is unheard of for any of his mainstream tracks, a fucking disaster in the eyes of a corporate label. But it’s the best piece of music he’s put out in a very long time, and reminded me of why I listened to Loose Change on repeat all those years ago.

Eminem’s Walk On Water tacklers this problem much more eloquently than I ever could. I really disliked Revival, but he knew before it was even out that people weren’t going to like it. Expectations rise, and with a society that is obsessed with the past and is stuck in a nostalgic loop of wanting things to ‘how they used to be’, artists are being required to innovate in a world where people want the same thing, over, and over, again.