At first glance it is difficult to understand why Ed Sheeran is a global star. But then it starts to make perfect sense. It is precisely its ordinariness that has proved to be extraordinary.
Heeran isn’t a big-time pop star. He’s as far removed from a David Bowie or a Kate Bush as you can get. The Englishman looks like someone who does flat whites at your local cafe — the only difference is the super-expensive watch he’s probably wearing. He scrupulously avoids saying anything remotely controversial.
But it’s the everyman aspect that appeals to so many, the fact that he’s so relatable and his songs have such crossover appeal. He was embraced all over the world, but especially in this country where he has long been considered one of ours.
To be fair, Sheeran is half Irish. His paternal grandparents are from this island. Nancy Mulligan, a song from his third album, ÷, tells the story of how his Belfast Protestant grandfather, William Sheeran, met his Wexford Catholic grandmother, Anne ‘Nancy’ Mulligan. Many people heard him sing about the wedding “down by the Wexford border”: ÷ was the world’s best-selling album of 2017.
He drapes the tricolor around his shoulders and when he sings with more regularity than our self-styled “patriots.” Galway girls, it’s like the song was written especially for him. He happily tells us he’s in love with Connemara and his Galway cousins are helping him to keep his roots.
He had a liking for trad from the start, although the quaint variety that appears sporadically on his albums has only a loose connection to the rich variety loved by lovers of traditional Irish music.
It would be surly to suggest that his rise has been anything but meteoric. He was still a teenager when he used then-nascent YouTube to get his songs out to the public in the mid-2000s — not an easy feat considering how many budding singer-songwriters are on the platform. He’s said to have a fierce work ethic, which is at odds with his laid-back image and easygoing banter.
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The determination to succeed probably contributed to his early success, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. When his debut album + came out in 2011, few would have predicted it would propel him to global superstardom, but songs like The A Team and Lego house proved inevitable.
Simple but heartfelt compositions that generated tremendous radio play. That was crucial back then when streaming platforms were still in their infancy.
While many of his peers liked to offer signature singer-songwriter fare, Sheeran was keen to embrace other influences, including hip-hop. One of the stranger aspects of his success is how readily he has been embraced by grime, rap and urban music stars on both sides of the Atlantic. He also returned the favor.
Over the course of four albums — all named after mathematical symbols — he became one of the world’s most bankable stars, and every record company was desperate to sign Sheeran soundalikes, most of which didn’t live up to the hype of the time that were being produced for them.
Such is his popularity that he is forced to play stadiums to keep up with demand. But while he’s a consummate showman, his songs don’t translate nearly as well into such vast spaces as those of his rock contemporaries. It makes sense that Coldplay would play Croke Park; Ed Sheeran less.
Perhaps that’s why he was so keen to return to his roots this week and play intimate shows at two of Dublin’s most popular venues, Whelan’s and Vicar Street. Of course, they also served as warm-up gigs for Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Thomond Park.
For many, it will be the first major outdoor show since 2019 to see Sheeran play in the country’s major stadiums. When the pandemic was at its worst, the prospect of such monster gigs seemed remote. Now they are here and fans and event junkies are looking forward to another bit of normality.
Four years ago, Sheeran’s enormous popularity in Ireland was capitalized. He sold 300,000 tickets in just one day, an unprecedented feat. In truth, there’s not quite the same buzz this time around and his stature isn’t at the stratospheric level of 2018 now.
Back then it was difficult to get tickets for his Irish shows; now it’s easy and there are still enough free seats for most of the concerts he gives here. Irish Rail had planned to use night trains to accommodate fans from Dublin going to shows in Cork, but canceled them due to ‘lack of demand’.
Only a fool would argue, however, that Sheeran is still far from incredibly popular with Irish audiences. Can you think of any act outside of U2, Garth Brooks and possibly Bruce Springsteen that could move more tickets here? Unlike those gargantuan names, however, Sheeran has youth on his side. He’s still only 31.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/music-reviews/ordinary-yet-extraordinary-how-ed-sheerans-popularity-in-ireland-sees-him-occupy-rarefied-space-with-u2-bruce-springsteen-and-garth-brooks-41578226.html Ordinary yet extraordinary – how Ed Sheeran’s popularity in Ireland occupies him in close quarters with U2, Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks