After the successful release of his debut album, +, in 2011, Ed Sheeran and his sizzling combination of folk guitar and pop-rap crossover appeal was fresh off the griddle. Having made commercial inroads into America with The A Team – which reached No.16 on the US Hot 100 – the singer-songwriter was now fully poised to take a leap into pop superstardom with his make-or-break second album, × – aka “Multiply”.
Listen to ‘×’ here.
Though it would have been easy for Sheeran to rely on the acoustic balladry that had made him a household name on +, the singer-songwriter took some bold decisions on a new musical direction for the follow-up. Working with big-name producers such as Pharrell Williams and Rick Rubin, Sheeran ended up cutting many tracks that leaned into R&B. “I spent a lot of time with hip-hop producers and ended up experimenting,” Sheeran later admitted of his bid for danceability. In retrospect, it was this playful spirit of collaboration that would soon multiply Sheeran’s prospects on the pop charts.
“I started out making another acoustic record and it turned into a neo-soul-funk record!”
Though Sheeran preferred the idea of releasing the acoustic ballad One as ×’s lead single, Taylor Swift and Sir Elton John persuaded him to choose Sing instead. Released in April 2014, this Justin Timberlake-esque slice of acoustic pop-funk, full of acoustic stabs and synthy pops, was the feverish result of a studio-based collision with Neptunes mastermind Pharrell Williams, whom Sheeran had first met at the 2013 Grammy Awards.