Arts & Entertainment, Pop Rhetoric

Pop Dialectic: To Ed Sheeran, or not to Ed Sheeran?

In defence of Ed Sheeran – Sarah Farnand

When I was an angsty, emotional teenager, I regularly listened to Ed Sheeran’s music. My entire family found his music to be heartwarming and relatable. I won’t lie, when my grandma passed away, I may or may not have listened to “Visiting Hours” on repeat while sobbing in my bed. Sheeran’s music is basic, sure. But with remarkable accuracy, he can capture feelings that we all experience like grief, love, and joy. Sheeran also regularly authors songs for other artists. And when traditionally attractive artists like One Direction sing songs written by Sheeran, they suddenly receive less criticism. Now, this is not to say that Ed Sheeran is Perfect. I’m sure we are all sick of hearing “Shape of You” or the discourse surrounding the questionable decisions that he’s made in his personal life. But does that really make him deserving of ridicule more than any other celebrity?

When I ask people who are self-proclaimed Ed Sheeran haters what their issues with the English singer are, most bring up, directly or indirectly, his failure to meet conventional beauty standards. The memes about his wide-set eyes or ginger hair are funny, for sure. And a singer making that much money couldn’t likely care less what jokes are made at his expense. But to me, it brings up a deeper issue. If Ed Sheeran was a woman, he would not be famous. Despite having talents in singing, songwriting, and performing, women singers become as much a spectacle for the public to look at as they are to listen to. Ed Sheeran is a talented artist with a catalogue of quality songs. He can take the memes about appearance. But liking and sharing such mockery perpetuates the idea that a singer’s appearance—especially those of women singers—is what matters most.

In defence of memes – Michelle Siegel

If there’s one thing that avocado-toast-loving millennials, technologically hapless baby boomers, and Gen-Zers have in common, it’s this: As much as they try, none of them will ever really know the real Ed Sheeran. Yet as they traverse the chaos of the Metaverse, celebrity memes may be one of the few silver linings that appeal to all users alike. French literary theorist Roland Barthes struck a distinction between a work, the physical space of media, and a text, the metaphysical, social space that carries the more genuine, inherent meaning of a story. Sheeran’s online ridicule can be broken down the same way—his songs and public persona are his work, and the memes about him are a natural public reaction. When you put enough content and music out into the public consciousness, internet reactions gear toward the collective, implied authorship of a persona, not Sheeran or other writers themselves. 

It’s simply incorrect to say that people only make fun of Sheeran for his appearance—not only is he far from the only ginger to face immature taunting, but looking at his album covers forces consumers to confront a difficult subject—mathematics. The basis of these jokes may not be deep, but the logic of the quips still stands: From his negative impact on tattoo artists to cringy Game of Thrones cameos to Dennis The Menace-esque property disputes with his neighbours, Sheeran’s public presentation has rightfully rubbed people the wrong way. These jokes, however, ultimately do not aim to genuinely tear Sheeran down a peg—they serve as comfort to the envious witnesses of Sheeran’s expanding wealth and influence.

Even if the Ed Sheeran discourse was actually rooted in appearance shaming, it still could never offset his lavish lifestyle. When one has seven BRIT Awards, four Grammys, three People’s Choice Awards, and a net worth of around $200 million, isn’t Sheeran always the one getting the last laugh?

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