The 8 worst insults critics are slinging at Ed Sheeran’s new album
Ed Sheeran’s new album ÷ (“Divide”) came out last week, and the response could not be more, well, divided.
On the one hand you’ve got the sales figures. The album debuted at the top of the US Billboard 200 with the highest sales numbers of 2017 by far. Billboard report a staggering 451,000 album sales, including 322,000 digital sales and 90,000 streaming equivalents (that’s 134.6 million song streams in one week). It also shot to no. 1 on the Official UK Album Charts with 672,000 sales, making him the fastest selling solo male artist in UK chart history, and the third fastest selling album of all time after Adele and Oasis.
On the other hand you’ve got the critical response. Let’s just say it hasn’t been as kind. Sure, there’s been a few positive reviews, but most have basically just gone ham and ripped the entire album – and the man behind it – to pieces. Some critics have been so relentlessly callous, it almost feels like they’re trying to out-insult one another. Here’s some of the most brutal.
“When he raps, as he does on ‘Eraser,’ his words fit together with the elegance of Stickle Bricks.”
Awarding it a meagre 2.8 out of 10, Pitchfork‘s assault is sharp-tongued and merciless. The following verbs are just some of those peppering the review: bland, unimaginative, simpering, feeble, basic, vapid, chummy. Writer Laura Snapes attacks the album from all angles, slamming his insincerity, his lack of creativity and his desperation to appease an extremely wide audience base, while also maintaining his façade as a regular everyday bloke (who happens to be the seventh wealthiest Brit musician under 30).
“The lack of honesty doesn’t really matter—nobody’s going to Sheeran for gritty soul-searching,” she says. “But the lack of imagination does… You suspect that more interesting songs may have been left off the record for commercial reasons.”
“A flagrant sense of scheming behind every lyric, piece of instrumentation, expression of sentiment and change of mood hangs over these taut, trim new tracks.”
The Guardian‘s review also takes aim at Sheeran’s mastery of being the “everyman,” noting that while his chameleonic persona allows him to relate to a wide audience, it also completely fails as masking his cunning, calculating artificiality.
If you listen closely while reading the review’s final paragraph, you can actually hear the author’s defeatist sigh: “But if ever there were an artist to make a critic feel redundant, it’s Ed Sheeran… No criticism is strong enough to prevent the imminent and stratospheric sales this record will surely accrue. This is a slick, potent album – one that reeks of nostalgia and comfort, campfires, scented candles, spilt pints of Guinness and, for those not enthralled by his algorithmic songcraft, the sharp stench of a salesman’s cheap cologne.”
“For someone that is generally perceived as different to other popstars… he has made the most anodyne and bland pop album possible.”
Oof. Drowned In Sound‘s review, which concludes with a 3/10 rating, dissects the album by looking at how Sheeran attempts – and fails – at balancing between massive pop superstar and “‘pop star most you’d most likely bum a rollie off’ title.”
Noting his style (and its obvious play at musical diversity) as little more than a “Sheeran template,” it goes on to simply call it boring, pointing out that tunes like ‘Dive’, ‘Happier’ and ‘Perfect’ could “really be from any purveyor of dew-eyed, acoustic pop from the last 20 years, and invariably remind you of James Blunt, James Bay, James Arthur and many other artists in that vein not only called James.” OUCH.
“No modern mainstream musician represents the friend zone more than Ed Sheeran.”
SPIN‘s review is full of colourful depictions of Sheeran: throughout the piece, he is described as a “lost Weasley brother” and a “frumpy, downcast nerdy boy” who will “never be fit enough to walk a runway” and who champions his “deeply uncool whiteness.” Some of his ideas are “frankly boring,” such as: “Brainy and slightly chubby are just OK; reality television and Vitamin K are not.”
Later, it compares Sheeran to another pop superstar on the other end of the musical spectrum: “Perhaps that means Sheeran isn’t too different from Drake, another nonthreatening Ned with uninteresting ideas about how women are supposed to act.”
“Sheeran has always loved to neg and to position himself as an innocent victim.”
We couldn’t go past another scathing comment from Pitchfork. This paragraph in particular breathes pure fire: “The barely suppressed creepiness of “Happier” is his attempt at post-breakup maturity, but it doesn’t even last into the next track, “New Man,” a wounded sketch of his ex’s new boyfriend who has “his eyebrows plucked and his arsehole bleached,” and “wears a man bag on his shoulder but I call it a purse.
“One nil, Sheeran. He turns his attentions to his ex. What happened to that sweet, sylvan girl who used to read and eat crisps by the river? “Now she’s eatin’ kale/Hittin’ the gym/Keepin’ up with Kylie and Kim.” You mean, when she could be listening to Sheeran rap about his daddy?”
“A record saddled with a persistent case of musical hypoglycemia.”
Consequence of Sound haven’t held back in their C- rating or their review, which begins with “So much for ‘nice guys finish last.'” This might be the harshest review of them all, with key descriptions including, “safe, low-stakes escapism courtesy of a Nice Guy with a guitar,” “snoozy ballads,” and “stiffly rapped, trope-laden reflection.” Comparing the album to Justin Timberlake’s acclaimed Futuresex/Lovesounds, it goes even deeper, asserting that “each passing cycle saps a little more life from the record, until we’re left with background music, fluff that goes in one ear and out the other.”
“He is a pop algorithm… an assassin in schlub’s clothing.”
The New York Times review is confusing. Although positive overall, every compliment feels like an insult. At a time where pop artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Zayn Malik and, yes, Justin Bieber are using honesty and sincerity to reshape their identities and earn critical success, describing Sheeran’s “modesty” as “a camouflage” feels like a dig more than praise. “For someone so skilled at pop simulation,” writes Jon Caramanica.
“Mr. Sheeran rigorously maintains his position of outsiderdom.” The review goes so far as to call him outrightly “basic,” as though it’s a good thing. This is a pretty deep burn when you think about it – it’s basically saying that Sheeran’s lack of creative integrity means that the bar is extremely low, and therefore easy to surpass.
“The only reason his music appeals so widely is because it’s trite.”
We finally arrive at Anthony Fantano aka The Needle Drop’s review, concluding with a measly 4 out of 10 rating. “It’s so gross,” Fantano sums up.
While he points out that there are some “cute” moments, he goes in particularly hard about his lyrics: “Ed’s big shortcoming again and again and again continues to be his lyrical abilities. If Ed were a book, he would be a thesaurus of romantic and inspirational platitudes. He’s just full of images and phrases that have been recycled so many times that they mean almost nothing.”