Performing Arts

Will copyright suit be the final chapter in British pop star's illustrious career?


British singer Ed Sheeran arrives for the premiere of the Disney+ music docu-series "Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All" at The Times Center in New York City on May 2, 2023. FILE PHOTO | AFP

“I always knew that you just have to work harder than everyone else because there’s always going to be someone that wants it more than you”

--Ed Sheeran

This is a week when one of the world’s most successful pop stars was hoping that attention would be focused on the release of his fifth album and a new documentary series that offers fans a glimpse into recent tumultuous experiences in his well-guarded personal life.

Instead, the headlines around British singer, and songwriter Ed Sheeran have all been about a court case where he is accused of copying a 1970s soul classic to create one of his biggest hits.

The copyright infringement case brought against Sheeran alleges that he used portions of Marvin Gaye’s 1973 hit Let’s Get It On on his song Thinking Out Loud.

The heirs of Marvin Gaye’s co-writer Ed Townsend, who died in 2003, are seeking a share of the proceeds from Thinking Out Loud, which won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 2016, claiming the syncopated chord progression was copied from the Motown classic, without permission.

His latest album Subtract (-), the fifth in the series titled with mathematical symbols is officially released Friday, May 5 on Atlantic Records, just two days after a new four-part docuseries Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All premiered on the Disney+ channel chronicling recent personal challenges in the life of the 32-year-old star.

These high-profile events have been overshadowed by the drama that has played out in a New York court that has sometimes bordered on the surreal.

While on the witness stand last week, Sheeran played his guitar to illustrate to jurors that mashups of different songs are a normal practice among musicians as it is “quite simple to weave in and out of songs” that are in the same key.

This was in response to a video that lawyers for his accusers called the ‘smoking gun’ that showed him transitioning from Thinking Out Loud to Let’s Get It On during a live show.

Sheeran gave a glimpse into his creative process saying he writes most songs in a matter of minutes, at times eight or nine songs in a single day.

According to him, the melody for Thinking Out Loud was inspired by Irish musician Van Morrison and writing the song took him and his co-writer just 20 minutes.

In 2017 Sheeran won a separate lawsuit alleging that another of his hits Shape of You copied part of a song by fellow British artist Sami Switch.

At the time he said that such legal claims made to seek settlements were damaging to songwriters. This week, he threatened to quit music altogether if he loses the current civil case.

The title of the docuseries Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All is a play on his mathematically themed albums: His 2011 debut Plus (+) was the addition of the EPs he had released until that point, Multiply (x) three years later would ‘make it bigger’, 2017’s Divide (¸) is a double album and Equals (=) in 2021 is the sum of all the parts.

The first episode of the documentary “Love” exposes the mental health challenges that faced Sheeran when his wife, Cherry Seaborn was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their second child while the second “Loss” is about the death of his best friend, the British music entrepreneur and DJ Jamal Edwards.

Edwards who gave Sheeran his big break by posting his music on an online platform he created for emerging artists, died in 2022 of drug-induced cardiac arrest at the age of 31.

In a poignant scene, Sheeran is seen breaking down on stage while performing the single Eyes Closed, a tribute to Edwards, for the first time.

The episode “Focus” follows Sheeran as he writes and records the new album and the final part “Release” is about the challenges in finding a balance between work and parental responsibilities.

Edward Christopher Sheeran first became interested in music after joining a church choir with his mother at the age of 4 and by 11 had learned the guitar. He overcame a childhood stutter by learning the rap lyrics of his idol and future collaborator Eminem.

Sheeran got into the music business by playing at small venues in London, and developed an aggressive work ethic so that if his peers were playing one show per week, he would be performing three shows a night.

Among his admirers were Elton John and Atlantic Records, the label to which he is still signed.

The songs that he has written for the new album were shaped by the events that happened in his personal life over the space of just one week. According to Sheeran, he poured his “deepest darkest thoughts” into the album.

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