Now comes the time when every music blog and magazine known to man comes out with its “Artist of the Decade” feature (those still offering print issues capitalize on this by featuring their choice on the cover).
Aptly described by Vice as the “decade where it felt like time sped up,” the 2010s were a wild decade, to say the least. A decade in which streaming media seemed to have its claws fully dug in, every single sound got its own genre, and electronic music took the reigns of the pop music ship.
As the name suggests, these pieces discuss a given artist’s importance on the sound of a period of ten years. Where it started, where it’s gone, what they did, and how they defined those ten years. So few discuss the worst musical artists in popular music: the lackluster; the uninteresting; the ones with unrealized potential; the just downright… terrible, horrendous, godawful.
So, that’s why I will be talking about the exact opposite of what most magazines and blogs are talking about. As we come to the end of this bizarre decade, I want to bring up arguably the worst artist (at least the one I consider the worst).
That artist, folks, is the Artist of the Decade, Ed Sheeran.
Truth be told, Sheeran isn’t that bad of a songwriter. He’s had his hand in more than several of the biggest pop hits of the past decade: “Love Yourself,” by Justin Bieber, and the Major Lazer/ Justin Bieber/ MØ collaboration “Cold Water,” as well as his featured track on Taylor Swift’s 2012 album Red, “Everything Has Changed,” to name a few.
But then, if we’re treating music as a mere popularity contest, what point do critics have in writing pieces on the “Artist of the Decade?” Why should anyone care? Still, even here, Sheeran loses to acts like Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, as well as fellow musical buddy Taylor Swift.
No, the reason Ed Sheeran is the worst artist of the 2010s is that, unlike artists like Taylor Swift, there was little-to-no stylistic change. And, unlike bands such as Tame Impala, there was no forward-thinking innovation apparently in his music. Basic, run-of-the-mill pop songs. Nothing more, nothing less.
In songs like “Thinking Out Loud” and “Shape of You,” Sheeran traffics in the same middle-of-the-road pop music that Journey and Genesis did so much better – almost forty years ago. His music isn’t necessarily the worst thing on the planet, or even utterly abhorrent to my ears that I demand we switch the music to something else.
But, that said, it’s also not great. It’s been claimed that the worst art to create is something average. At least bad art will be talked about, even if the reviews aren’t good. It will be remembered, even if it’s remembered in a less-than-positive light.
Groups like The Shaggs still get discussed and debated in a mythical way by a lot of critics and weird-music aficionados. Look into their album Philosophy of the World to hear what I’m talking about.
But Ed Sheeran is no Shaggs, both in mainstream sound and quality. His music is better than theirs, at least in appealing to base tastes of what “good” music should be. Nothing in his style indicates anything more than a willingness to stick with what is a proven winning strategy in pop music.
There is no experimentation, no risk-taking. Nothing more than sticking with the basic pop formula of love songs, major chords, and cheesy lyrics and melodies.
It’s pop music blown dangerously into bland-out. Forward-thinking artists such as Lorde, Halsey, and Lana Del Rey don’t get enough credit within the ever-present sphere of pop music.
Now, I get that well-crafted pop song aren’t as easy to create as one might think. I sure couldn’t do it. But one would also hope that an artist would want to try to get away from the typecasting evident in his tunes. If you have the talent to write songs, wouldn’t you want to impress people, rather than shooting for the money?
Shame on the industry, too. At the 2018 Grammys, Sheeran took home a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance for “Shape of You” – a song fans and critics noted contained glaring similarities to TLC’s classic hit “No Scrubs.” This is one thing, but he bested several women (Lady Gaga and Ke$ha, among others) for the award. Women who had written powerful songs about empowerment and overcoming abuse lost out to a middling songwriter, someone effectively a plagiarist. It’s almost a crime, really.
Ed Sheeran doesn’t deserve the praise he gets from fans and other artists. And maybe I’m being overly harsh, but, in a decade full of progressive, genre-busting artists such as Lady Gaga, Lorde, and Tame Impala, pop music can’t afford to heap any more praise on someone so… average.