In defense of Ed Sheeran
In recent years, pop musician Ed Sheeran has been the subject of many jokes on Tiktok and various other social media platforms. He’s practically a meme, a joke to be shared with all of Gen Z. Widespread mockery makes one wonder – what makes Ed Sheeran so worthy of a meme? And the answer is simple. It is his appearance. Sheeran is just not what many would consider a conventionally attractive man.
The situation in which Ed Sheeran finds himself raises an important question about what audiences value in musicians today. I would say that art is in the background. The music industry is becoming more “industry” than “music”. The music has been commercialized and the public is facilitating it. It is no coincidence that the most popular musicians today are the most glamorous. Not to mention that the simplest folk and blues artists have been lost in the mainstream. These artists usually create ruminative music that tackles more complex concepts than early crushes and messy breakups, but their no-frills presentation (the lack of shiny clothes or backup dancers) is called “boring.” It seems that appearance has become the audience’s yardstick for judging someone’s success in the music industry, as opposed to actual talent or skill.
Ed Sheeran is an excellent lyricist of pop songs. He has written songs for several famous artists including One Direction, The Weekend, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. However, the one thing most people on social media seem to care about is how it looks. I often like to compare him to Shawn Mendes, a relatively successful full-fledged musician. Like Sheeran, Mendes is also a young pop artist who has a large fan base. However, unlike Sheeran, Mendes didn’t win four grammys or work with so many artists. Many of Mendes’ songs lack depth and are generally straightforward, both melodically and conceptually. Her popular song “Stitches”, for example, is another breakup song aimed at pre-pubescent teens. As Bo Burnham puts it so well in his satirical song “Repeat Stuff”, all that Mendes has “said has already been said in a thousand ways, in a thousand songs, some with the same four chords.
More importantly, unlike Sheeran, Mendes is conventionally attractive. No one taunts him for his lack of skill – his appearance saves him from criticism. The standards we hold musicians have changed dramatically. Beauty serves as a crutch for mediocrity. Attractive people don’t have to work that hard to be successful these days, and that perpetuates the creation of less thoughtful and less authentic music.
This model of attractiveness being more valued than the skill set seems to define celebrity status these days. Why else are so many TikTok stars making music now? Earlier this year, TikTok star Dixie D’Amelio released a number of pop songs, including “F ** kboy” and “Be Happy”. The songs were underwhelming at best and faithfully reflected contemporary clichés in pop music. For influencers and “pretty people” who have reached a significant following, the next logical step is to enter the music industry, and just because they are artistically talented doesn’t mean. Instead, they recognize that many people these days who claim to be fans of an artist’s music are in fact fans of the artist themselves. Their appearance, the way they dress, their merchandise – it all seems to be even more important than the music itself. It was quite clear that D’Amelio was not as talented as so many other musicians on TikTok. These musicians write, create and produce their music largely by themselves. D’Amelio doesn’t have to do that. You could even go so far as to say that she couldn’t. The main difference between D’Amelio and its more skilled counterparts, however, is that D’Amelio is a brand in its own right. Her very existence is inherently an asset, an asset in the industry – simply because she is pleasing to the eye and has a large following who are willing to do anything for her.
It is high time that fans wondered why they really appreciate their performers and what the music industry is about to become. As consumers, we are responsible for what music becomes the most popular. If we want really talented people to be successful, we have to stop making the criterion “heat factor” number one.