by Kerry Torpey ’19
After a four-year hiatus from releasing music, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran released his third studio album ÷ on March 3, 2017. The highly anticipated album has already broken records, despite some mixed reviews from music critics.
Born in Halifax, West Yorkshire in England, Ed Sheeran began his recording career in 2004. In 2011, he made his U.S. studio debut with +, charting at number five with over $1 million total in sales. With an increasing following and continued success after his debut, Sheeran went on to release X, which debuted at number one with over $2 million sales.
Following the monumental success of X, Sheeran used his hiatus to really dive into his music and escape the public eye. He announced his hiatus on Instagram and told his fans that “the 3rd album is on its way and is the best thing I have made thus far.” Jon Caramanica of The New York Times describes Sheeran’s return to the music scene as “a batteries-fully-charged assault on the pop charts from a performer skilled in musical osmosis.”
According to Billboard, after only one week on the charts, ÷ is already the bestselling album of 2017. One week after release, the album had sold 322,000 copies in the United States alone. As of March 10, ÷ became the third-fastest selling album in the United Kingdom, with a total of 672,000 copies sold. Of those 672,000 copies, 232,000 were sold on the first day of release.
In terms of digital streaming, Sheeran broke Spotify’s record for most streams on the first day of release, with a total of 56,727,861 streams.
In terms of critical reaction, there is a bit of a mixed bag. One thing many critics took note of is the Irish and Ghanaian influence Sheeran utilized on multiple tracks, including “Galway Girl,” “Nancy Mulligan,” and “Bibia Be Ye Ye.”
“Galway Girl” debuted at number one on the Irish charts upon release, despite Sheeran’s label being initially against the track. He told Alexis Petridis in an interview with The Guardian that his label was “really, really against ‘Galway Girl,’ because apparently folk music isn’t cool,” but there is “a huge gap in the market” for it.
Maura Johnston of Rolling Stone described “Galway Girl” as a nod to Sheeran’s Irish heritage as he “offers his own spin on the Irish drinking song to the present-day pop world in a modern-day jig that recalls a synthesis of Justin Timberlake meets the Pogues.”
A major critic of the album is Laura Snapes, a contributor for Pitchfork. She writes that “Ed Sheeran sells trite innocence by the pound. He uses bland wisdom and unimaginative music to ponder the basic good and bad in people around him, without once looking inward.”
Snapes is particularly censorious of the variety of topics and issues Sheeran brings up throughout the album that range from celebrities to politics. She explains Sheeran wants it both ways: “artist and celebrity, nice guy who doesn’t want to alienate his fans with political convictions, anti-consumerist while gagging to dominate pop’s arms race.”
Despite the harsh critiques, many agree that Sheeran’s latest album is his best yet. Maura Johnston views ÷ as a “musical history lesson” that “is both well-timed and rip-roaringly fun, another example of [Sheeran’s] still-evolving craft.”