Ed Sheeran knows what he wants: Amer­ica

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSIC -

Ed Sheeran had plenty to be proud of re­cently at the Grammy Awards, where the English singer-song­writer’s “The A Team” was nom­i­nated for song of the year. Not only that, but Sheeran per­formed the tune — a sym­pa­thetic bal­lad about a trou­bled woman who turns to drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion — on the tele­cast as an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional duet with El­ton John.

Re­flect­ing on the ex­pe­ri­ence the day af­ter the cer­e­mony, how­ever, Sheeran seemed less than sat­is­fied. The prob­lem wasn’t that he had lost the award to “We Are Young” by Fun., but that he had at­tended Justin Tim­ber­lake’s late-night post-Grammy con­cert at the Hol­ly­wood Pal­la­dium.

“It just made me want to quit,” he said with a laugh as he hung out back­stage be­fore an ap­pear­ance on Co­nan O’Brien’s show. “There’s no one bet­ter than (Tim-

A solid de­but be­hind him, dom­i­na­tion is the plan for 2013

berlake) at any­thing. He’s like a quadru­ple threat.”

How many threats does Sheeran con­sider him­self ? The 22year-old red­head, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally low-key in jeans and a maroon hoodie, shrugged and said, “One-half ?”

That’s a low­ball fig­ure. On his ma­jor-la­bel de­but, “+,” Sheeran ex­er­cises a hand­some choir-boy voice over tidy acous­tic ar­range­ments honed by the years spent gig­ging around Lon­don from the age of 16. (“I didn’t do too well at school,” he ac­knowl­edged.) There’s an econ­omy to cuts like “This” and his cur­rent sin­gle, “Lego House,” that re­flects his ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing for — and hold­ing — the at­ten­tion of an au­di­ence.

Yet Sheeran also makes for a sur­pris­ingly con­vinc­ing rap­per, a skill he devel­oped in part through lis­ten­ing to Eminem.

“I was given one of his al­bums when I was 9 by my un­cle and just be­came a mas­sive, mas­sive fan,” he said. In­deed, you can hear some of Eminem’s rapid-fire flow (if not his macabre sense of hu­mor) in “U.N.I.,” where Sheeran pon­ders a bro­ken re­la­tion­ship over a dreamy folk-rap groove: “Our last kiss, it was per­fect, we were ner­vous on the sur­face/And I’m al­ways say­ing ev­ery­day that it was worth it.”

Still, it’s “The A Team,” with its win­some melody and bare-bones pre­sen­ta­tion, that’s given Sheeran a foothold in the United States — even if those qual­i­ties fit un­easily on Top 40 ra­dio.

“A lot of pro­duc­tion to­day is really full and in your face,” said Jake Gosling, who pro­duced “+.” “We tried to take it the other way with Ed’s al­bum — like, ‘Let’s not have any hi-hat (cym­bal).’ ”

John Ivey, pro­gram di­rec­tor at L.A.’s in­flu­en­tial KIIS-FM, said that, to his ears, the bal­lad ini­tially sounded like it be­longed on the adult-con­tem­po­rary for­mat. But af­ter watch­ing young peo­ple ve­he­mently sing along with Sheeran in con­cert, Ivey even­tu­ally added “The A Team” to KIIS, where it spins along­side dance-ori­ented tracks by the likes of will.i.am and Swedish House Mafia.

“He has that wide ap­peal for adults and kids,” Ivey said. “I can’t think of any­one quite like him.”

Nei­ther can Tay­lor Swift: Last year the pop-coun­try su­per­star re­cruited Sheeran to co-write and sing with her on “Ev­ery­thing Has Changed,” a slow-rolling love song from her triple-plat­inum al­bum “Red.” He has also writ­ten for the pop group One Di­rec­tion, whose Louis Tom­lin­son called Sheeran “one of the best Bri­tish lyri­cists of our gen­er­a­tion.” And start­ing next month he’ll be the open­ing act on Swift’s North Amer­i­can arena tour.

“Ed’s har­monies are so un­like any­one else’s, and the vo­cal parts he thinks of are so beau­ti­ful,” Swift said in an e-mail. “I think the fact that we be­came im­medi- ate friends brought some­thing to our writ­ing. There was some­thing ef­fort­less about how we got along, and some­thing ef­fort­less about how we col­lab­o­rate.”

Sheeran’s am­bi­tion for 2013 is straight­for­ward. “I want this mar­ket,” he said of Amer­ica. “I came here a cou­ple of weeks ago, in Jan­uary, and I’m here till De­cem­ber — 12 months.” At the moment he’s hunt­ing for a place to live in Nashville, where he plans to work on the fol­low-up to “+.”

“I think there’s no point in mak­ing the de­ci­sion to get into this in­dus­try if you’re not go­ing to work harder than ev­ery­one else,” Sheeran said. “What’s the point in do­ing it? You can say, ‘I only make my mu­sic to make my mu­sic.’ But once the mu­sic’s made, what are you do­ing it for?” He shrugged again. “I’ve made the mu­sic, I’m happy with it, and now I want success.”

— Los An­ge­les Times

DAVE KOTINSKY/GETTY IM­AGES

“ONE-HALF” THREAT?: Ed Sheeran will open for Tay­lor Swift on her tour. The two col­lab­o­rated on “Ev­ery­thing Has Changed.”

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