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Songs Ed Sheeran Wrote For Other Artists: 10 Hits That May Surprise You
Photo: Guy Bell/Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Songs Ed Sheeran Wrote For Other Artists: 10 Hits That May Surprise You

With a canny ear for radio-friendly pop melodies, the songs Ed Sheeran wrote for other artists show a flair for chart dominance.

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Never content to rest on his laurels, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has helped write numerous hits for a slew of artists, from squeaky-clean pop acts all the way to brash hip-hop legends and innovative EDM DJs. Noticeably generous with demos and off-cuts from his best-selling solo albums, the echoes of Sheeran’s folk-pop melodies, his R&B leanings and his pop-rap swagger can be heard in many of modern radio’s most-played hits. Undoubtedly establishing himself as one of his generation’s most prolific songwriters, the best songs Ed Sheeran wrote for other artists have only further expanded his ever-growing influence.

Listen to the best of Ed Sheeran here and check out the ten best songs Ed Sheeran wrote for other artists, below.

10: Little Mix: Woman Like Me (featuring Nicki Minaj) (2018)

Originally co-written with Jess Glynne for her second album, Always In Between, Ed Sheeran had a hand in writing Little Mix’s US No.2 hit, Woman Like Me. An upbeat dance-pop gem with a reggae-like rhythm, its exuberant melody boasts girl-centric lyrics that hint at self-doubt (“My mama always said, ‘Girl, you’re trouble’/And now I wonder, could you fall for a woman like me?”). “I wrote that song for me with Ed and [producer] Steve Mac,” Glynne remembered. “It just didn’t fit with where the album was going.” Bearing all the hallmarks of a girl-power anthem that would have made Spice Girls proud, when Little Mix expressed an interest in the song, Woman Like Me became The X Factor girl group’s biggest hit from their fifth album, LM5.

9: Liam Payne: Strip That Down (featuring Quavo) (2017)

After the world-conquering British boy band One Direction went on hiatus, Ed Sheeran phoned singer Liam Payne when he was in a California gym and asked him to fly back to England so he could co-write a song for him. “We had literally just gotten to LA,” Payne recalled, “so we U-turned straight back to London – which of course you do for Mr Ed Sheeran, because I’d do anything for the man.” The resulting R&B-flavoured pop slammer, Strip That Down, was far raunchier than Shape Of You ever dared (“Girl, I love it when your body/Grinds on me”), and confidently launched Liam Payne’s post-1D career as a solo artist. Though uncredited, Sheeran’s backing vocals can also be heard on the track, whose sound drips with the same beads of sweat you’ll find on the ÷ album’s most racy offerings.

8: Rita Ora: Your Song (2017)

Having been close pals for many years, Rita Ora asked Ed Sheeran to help her write material for her much-anticipated second album, Phoenix. Despite being busy on tour, Sheeran told Ora he’d written a new song just a few days before, and emailed her the demo of Your Song. “This is such an amazing record,” Ora gushed to Nick Grimshaw on BBC Radio 1’s breakfast show. “It’s a song that’s full of positivity and about feeling on top of the world, like everything is going right – and that’s where my life is right now.” Produced by pop legend and Ed Sheeran collaborator Steve Mac, Your Song was chosen as Phoenix’s lead single. Imbued with bouncy synth notes and topped with a decidedly Sheeran-esque refrain, it peaked at No.7 in the UK.

7: Eminem: River (featuring Ed Sheeran) (2017)

While travelling in Australia, Sheeran was staying at the actor Russell Crowe’s house when he got an email from Eminem’s manager, Paul Rosenberg, inviting him to work with the rap icon. “He said, ‘We’re gonna start putting the album together, send any ideas,’” Sheeran recalled. Despite having written so many songs for other artists up to this point, Sheeran likely never thought he’d get to collaborate with one of his musical heroes, and he immediately set to work on River, recording guitar, drums and vocals in Crowe’s home studio and sending the song over for consideration. He didn’t receive word it was being used for Eminem’s ninth album, Revival, until more than a year later – now with added verses from Slim Shady himself, perfectly complementing Sheeran’s lyrics about a troubled relationship beset by infidelity. Eminem’s eighth No.1 in the UK, River expertly blended Sheeran’s pop-rap sensibilities with the Detroit MC’s inimitable lyrical flow.

6: Jess Glynne: Thursday (2018)

Resulting from the same songwriting sessions that produced material for Always In Between, Ed Sheeran met with Glynne and producer Steve Mac over lunch to discuss a new song. “We spoke about the highs and lows of being famous and doing the job that we do,” the pop starlet said, aiming to write a song of self-acceptance with Ed that rejected the societal obligation “to wear makeup and be perfect at all time”. With Sheeran and Glynne using Thursday as a therapeutic exercise in addressing the pressure and insecurity both singers felt as a result of being famous, the lyrics saw Jess sing candidly of her need for psychological downtime (“I won’t wear makeup on Thursday/I’m sick of covering up”). Selling over 600,000 copies in the UK, Thursday peaked at No.3 and remains one of Jess Glynne’s personal favourites.

5: One Direction: Little Things (2012)

Inspired by the same subject matter that fuels many of the best Ed Sheeran songs, Ed wrote the acoustic folk-pop track Little Things and gave it to One Direction for their second album, Take Me Home. “It was written about the best things about someone,” Sheeran said, “kind of like the things you wouldn’t expect.” Reeling off a litany of loveable imperfections such as freckles and dimples, Little Things is a tenderly crafted love ballad which Ed described as “a very sweet song”. The legion of teenage 1D fans seemed to agree: upon its release as a single, in November 2012, One Direction took the song to No.1 in their homeland, and the tune spent more than half a year on the UK Singles Chart. One of the earliest songs Ed Sheeran wrote for other artists, it catapulted the songwriter to greater things.

4: Anne-Marie: 2002 (2018)

Being of the same age (both were born in 1991), Ed Sheeran and Anne-Marie had fun toying with the same cultural reference points when writing 2002. A playful pop single, the song paid tribute to all the music Anne-Marie and Ed grew up with, from Britney Spears to NSYNC, Jay-Z and Dr Dre. Co-written with Sheeran, Steve Mac, Julia Michaels and Benny Blanco, the song featured on Anne-Marie’s debut album, Speak Your Mind, before Ed finally convinced her to release it as a single. Easily outperforming all her other hits, 2002 reached No.3 in the UK and went three-times platinum. As longstanding friends, Anne-Marie still very much values Sheeran’s creative input on the song. “We want to work with each other more definitely,” she admitted, citing Ed Sheeran’s relentless touring schedule as the reason they hadn’t. “It’s just the time.”

3: Major Lazer (featuring Justin Bieber and MØ): Cold Water (2016)

Remarkably, Ed Sheeran had almost completely forgotten he’d written Cold Water – so much so that he originally ignored the email from Diplo expressing his interest in using it. Pieced together from a demo Sheeran had produced with producer Benny Blanco, dance-pop sensations Major Lazer got hold of the song, upped the tempo and invited Canadian pop star Justin Bieber and Danish electro-pop singer MØ to transform it into a modern club classic. “I remember hearing it and being, like, ‘That kind of sounds like me. Oh wait, it was me,’” Ed Sheeran later recalled. Reaching No.1 in the UK and No.2 in the US, Cold Water became one of the biggest dance hits of 2016 and proved that the songs Ed Sheeran wrote for other artists could not only be tailor-made for fans of mainstream pop, but also for lovers of radio-friendly EDM.

2: Benny Blanco, Halsey and Khalid: Eastside (2018)

Written during a tour of Philadelphia with frequent collaborator and producer Benny Blanco, Eastside was another of Ed Sheeran’s demos that somehow slipped through the net. Seeing huge potential in the track, Blanco envisioned it as a duet between alternative pop queen Halsey and R&B star Khalid, transforming Ed’s hooky guitar riff into an upbeat soul-pop hit romanticising forbidden love. Having mostly produced other global pop acts such as Justin Bieber and Rihanna, Eastside helped launch Benny Blanco’s career as a solo artist, becoming an international Top 10 hit across the world and reaching No.1 in the UK. As yet another chart success to add to Ed Sheeran’s growing résumé as a songwriter, the track shares the same everyman pop appeal of his solo work (“Now we got pressure for taking our life more seriously/We got our dead-end jobs and got bills to pay”).

1: Justin Bieber: Love Yourself (2015)

The one that got away. Written for his ÷ album, Ed Sheeran decided to give Love Yourself to Justin Bieber, perhaps not realising how enormously successful it would become. Bieber, however, put his own spin on it by adding lyrics about moving on from a slippery ex-lover, with Ed humbly admitting, “I wouldn’t say it was just all me.” Released as the third single from Bieber’s Purpose album, the song hit No.1 in the UK and US, became the best-performing pop single of 2016 and was nominated for Song Of The Year at the Grammys. “It just shows you shouldn’t always write stuff off,” Sheeran said during an interview with Carson Daly on 97.1 AMP Radio. Easily the best song Ed Sheeran wrote for someone else, Love Yourself was a triumph.

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