Want to be more popular? Ask yourself: what
would Ed do?
If we acknowledge that the current criticism of
Mr Sheeran may be, at least in part, due to jealousy, is it better to wonder
what lessons Ed can teach the music industry and musicians generally?
He is clearly the right man for these times,
one who can straddle pop and ‘RnB’ whilst keeping a semblance of credibility,
hanging with the right icons and failing to offend the majority.
That’s the superficial stuff. He is a
singer-songwriter in a singer-songwriter dominated industry.One who understands the power of song to make connections, a
story teller with a populist eye.
His songs resonate with a wide audience, old
and young. Universal themes and generic melodies that are standard and
traditional. The big selling stars of the current music business are those who
have cross-generational appeal, something achieved by acknowledging the
To some people, I know that will seem like an
apologist’s summary for trite and all-too-familiar songs and structures. It is no
exaggeration that I listened to ‘Divide’ once and recognised similarities with
many pre-existing hits. Accusations of
plagiarismare best left to lawyers,
for now we only need note that Ed rules the roost and that should be good news
for British music.
“If you recognise an
animal or plant, then it hasn’t killed you yet.”
In Derek Thompson’s new book, Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular,
heexplains, in evolutionary terms, why we prefer things that we already know. It’s
aninteresting lesson in how the familiar will always triumph.
Ed Sheeran’s domination of this week’s singles chart has provoked much chatter, most of it about whether the charts are ‘broken’. The inclusion of streaming stats, meant to
reflect the growth of hearing over owning – following in the footsteps of
airplay stats, has led to Sheeran owning the top five and the bulk of the top
Streaming was included to give stability to a chartthat was adequately reflecting the death of
physical product purchases. I’m slightly more interested in what Sheeran’s
domination means for the album format. On one hand it shows that, for those who
are popular, it is valid. If people are listening to all the songs then the
album has a future. Conversely it suggests that for some others, failing to
dominate the singles chart in a similar way, possibly means that few people are
consuming the whole album however famous you are.
It’s all Ed’s fault
There is a certain strand of commentary that
seems to be blaming Ed as if it’s a crime for being popular. In this instance,
it should really be a case of don’t hate the player, hate the game (to adopt
Ed Sheeran has simply proven, as has Adele,
that it is still possible to be a huge recording artist with significant impact
– and sales.
As far as I know, on one listen and a quick
scan of reviews, Ed set out to make a huge hit album. He nailed it.
If ‘Divide’ is commercially crafted and predictably
populist it’s hardly hurting anyone, no-one expected free jazz. Sheeran isn’t
pretending to have artistic pretensions or a desire to be the new Leonard
Cohen. Aside from that, he has time to develop that artistry and to diversify
should he choose to do so. He could also now afford to give away his artistic
experiments if he goes in that direction.
There’s an easy conclusion to be drawn from our political
woes. We love to be ruled.
It’s 2017 and we still support and fund the monarchy, so
that points towards this supposition. Far more relevant though is the obvious
realisation that we like all of our politicians to be cut from the same ermine
It is, to a degree, logical that we warm to the bright,
smartly-dressed, well-raised and educated in society, that we should want them
to lead us. Is it logical though that most of them should’ve studied at
Oxbridge establishments and an overwhelming number have the same degree –
Oxford’s Philosophy, Politics & Economics? There’s a good reason why The Guardian called it the degree that rules Britain.
The truth is subjective it seems. Mine is
different from yours. What we want to believe greatly influences what we will.
We are each living in our own version of reality.
Facts are incidental since we all find our
own, only accepting the ones that support our world view. We want to live in the bubble of perpetual
affirmation, sharing our righteous views with the lovely and like-minded.
Stepping outside your own worldview is an uncomfortable thing to do, so we don’t.
In my own lust for logic I have been
bewildered why those who have a duty to do so, frequently fail to give us the
real story however unpalatable. The truth is that it is not in their interests,
hence they choose not to. Teresa May can’t tell us that we’re going to hell in
a handcart as people might hold her at least partly responsible. Any decisions
that might be in our long-term interests but cause some short-term hardship are
blatantly avoided. This short-termism has got us to where we are today, but
some of us seem to like it that way.
Funding the NHS? They dare not raise taxes
because people don’t like that. Instead they blame GPs for not operating a 24/7
service, whilst knowing that this is impossible. Nor will they ever admit to
underfunding health, education, the prison service, policing, etc. even when it
seems transparently obvious. Instead they’ll point to the money (or
occasionally some ‘miraculous’ extra money) that they have ‘promised’.
We all know what Government promises look
like. Many unaccompanied young refugees know it far too well. Abandoned in
France during a bitter European winter they may wonder how the tide turned so
quickly against them. It was essentially the tale of two photographs. A dead
boy on a Greek beach had even the Daily Mail in their corner, some months later
and a photo of a few arriving refugees who looked older than 10 led the borders
to be bricked up again. Politicians promised to honour their duty to these
unfortunates, it didn’t last long. Who wants to be led by those who abandon the
less fortunate for the minor political gains in appeasing the ignorant?
Facts are often uncomfortable. They
conflict with the stories we want to hear. We want to know how fabulous our
country is, how brilliantly our economy is performing, how we lead the world
and are so ridiculously independent. The age of spin has led us to a darkened
corner of alternate facts and blatant lies. Those who’ve led us there have a
duty to do better but they never will unless we hold them to account.
We must decide what kind of world we want
to live in: blinkered or open, kind or cruel, real or fake. Do we want big
ideas or tiny tantrums, future-thinking or history-worshipping? Logic or spin,
fact or obfuscation, rationality or rigidity? Do we yearn to be led by those
with massive brains or little hands, passionate optimists or vicious bigots?
Nothing is as simple as that. It is no left
or right, yes or no. We have forgotten how to compromise for the greater good.
Instead we have become polarised, rigid in our opinions and unflinching in the
face of alternate arguments or opinions. It doesn’t matter how we got here, we
just need to find the way out.
It’s easy to be narrow
minded. Dig a trench and fill it with those who agree with you, don’t accept
any arguments or alternate viewpoints, defend your right to an opinion without
caring for those of others.
It’s harder to be
open-minded, it takes effort and few of us have the time or energy for that. It
starts by trying to accept that there are always other ways to think about
something. I was prompted to explore this concept having heard a Ted Talk by Rory Sutherland.
He was arguing that money spent in one way could be better spent in another if
we thought about the experience in a different way. His argument was against
speed and for comfort but the hypothesis applies in a lot of different areas.
Looking at the
desperate plight of Syrian refugees it is easy to take sides pro and anti but
the situation is inevitably more complex. Our government seems pitifully bad at
taking responsibility for crises that it had a role in instigating. It’s
sometimes as if the consequences don’t enter our thought process. We’re always
looking for the right and wrong, the black and white. Perhaps there’s another
reason it’s called grey matter.
Those that were able
to flee Syria and get any distance did so with luck, and money. A great number were
the intelligentsia, the middle-classes, those that could afford to pay
traffickers. The vast quantities of money that entered the black market as a
result of this conflict is frankly disturbing. Paying crooks absurd sums to get
aboard overcrowded dinghies because the west couldn’t face up to its
When thinking about
the plight of refugees it seems that the English (and our media) think only of
them as a drain on resources. Aside from the moral viewpoint Germany may have
had different reasons for accepting more of them. Apparently they could see an
ageing population and a declining workforce, a demographic vacuum. Do we not
have those issues?
morals aside, that the money paid to traffickers had instead been filtered
through a central European fund to re-house and re-establish the individuals
concerned. Instead of an immediate (or short-term) drain they brought wealth
into the countries that chose to take them.
Ignoring the obvious
and oft-spoken truths that migrants often contribute more to the economies of
countries they take residence in, this simple move would’ve prevented money
being in the black-economy and instead been used for humanitarian purposes.
There are lies, damned lies and politics. We
have arrived in the age of deceit, where elected figures now behave in the
exact ways their worst critics always alleged that they were capable of. Distortion
and twisted interpretation are no longer sufficient, politicians have learned
that they can use blatant lies to suit their aims and that there will be no
repercussions. It’ll even get them elected or promoted.
It’s very dark out there, bleak in fact.
Where do we go from here?
Envisaging a world where our leaders are so
divorced from reality that they believe their own blather means we’ll end up
with legions of Trump-a-likes. Cartoon characters who dominate the media
because they say outrageous things and polarise opinions.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe we live in a
civilised society, the evidence firmly suggests otherwise. Our representatives
in power bicker over who can be the most extreme, pandering entirely to a small
section of society who once lodged a protest vote because they have no
understanding of the real world. Rather than rise above it, they embraced the
distraction and relished the opportunity to blame someone else. Claimed it as a
mandate when it was the scarcest majority, influenced by distortions and lies.
Once we leave the EU and barricade all
ports and other points of entry, who will we have to blame? Our Governments are
so short-term in their thinking that they’ll no doubt have engineered another
media-dominating crisis for us to argue over. Perhaps the Russians are coming,
the ones that don’t already own all our property. I wonder if we’ll expect an EU Army to defend us?
We’ve allowed this to happen. Giving our
attention to legion upon legion of scare-mongering prophets of doom declaring
the end of times without ever being challenged on the actual facts. These grey
blaggard under-achievers getting in our heads with their insane and inane
ranting, blurring the boundaries of truth because they were never anywhere near
We’ve already moved so far from reality
that we will have trouble finding our way back. Once upon a time there were
joke candidates on ballot papers, like the Monster Raving Loony Party. Now
they’re all raving but it’s harder to tell the real ‘loons’ from the criminally