Ed Sheeran and all of his very famous mates collaborate on his new album.
Ed Sheeran and all of his very famous mates collaborate on his new album.

MusicJuly 22, 2019

Ed Sheeran is here to make friends

Ed Sheeran and all of his very famous mates collaborate on his new album.
Ed Sheeran and all of his very famous mates collaborate on his new album.

Fifteen tracks, 22 guests, one album. The Spinoff Music listens to Ed Sheeran’s No. 6 Collaborations Project and considers why each track really shouldn’t work – and the sometimes surprising reasons why they do.

1. Beautiful People – Khalid

Khalid and Ed Sheeran are two of the biggest stars in the world right now – Sheeran had the highest grossing tour by a solo artist of all time, and Khalid was in the not-too-distant past the most globally streamed artist on Spotify. Remember when Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey did a duet? This is like that, except it’s not the theme song to a film about Moses. Yet.

Why it shouldn’t work:

The early lyric ‘Lamborghinis and eating hummus’ does not inspire confidence, and Khalid’s throaty voice is similar enough to Ed Sheeran’s own croon that they might be hard to tell apart.

Why it does work:

Because the lyric is actually ‘Lamborghinis and rented Hummers’, which makes more sense but feels a lot less like Ed Sheeran to me. Also, because this is a Max Martin and Shellback co-production, and everything they touch turns to pop music gold. / Sam Brooks

2. South of the Border – Camila Cabello and Cardi B

Sheeran’s always wanted Cardi B on a record. She’s famously politically vocal, so with ‘South of the Border’ Sheeran is giving her the chance to spit a verse about the tense state of US-Mexico relations. Wait, that’s not what this song is about?

Why it shouldn’t work:

A song about Ed Sheeran somehow seducing Camila Cabello and Cardi B is maybe the most unrealistic concept on this entire album. Every lyric paints Sheeran as a modern Don Juan, which should never, ever work. “I love her hips, curves / lips say the words / te amo mami,” he croons at one point.

Why it does:

Sheeran’s tropical house prowess (‘Shape of You’) aligns perfectly with Cabello’s sultry pop vocals and Cardi’s reggaeton aura. Here the latter is toned down a bit, with a softer grito and even the hint of a rarely seen inside voice. “You never lived ‘til you risked your life,” she says, implying devastating things about Sheeran’s sexual skillset. / Josie Adams

3. Cross Me – Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock

The dedicated and avowedly woman-loving firm of Chance, Rock, and Sheeran are here, and they have one simple message: don’t cross their girl, because she’ll beat your ass and they’ll support her all the way.

Why it shouldn’t work:

The two rappers on this track are very suave, so Sheeran can’t rely on his pasty contrast with stereotypical rap culture to give this song cross-genre appeal. To strike the right tone, Sheeran apparently gargled cough syrup until his voice became that of Nick Jonas.

Why it does:

Singing like Nick Jonas may sound like an insult, but it’s a great choice for this song. He holds a longing note across PnB’s sweetly threatening refrain, “If you cross her / Then you cross me.” Coming from these three, this song feels sincere and heartwarming instead of like a pseudo-feminist money grab, which was definitely a risk. / JA

4. Take Me Back to London – Stormzy

Sheeran’s early career featured a ton of collaborations with UK MCs (he’s even been nominated for a handful of MOBOs), so it’s nice to see him go back to those roots with a song about London, this one featuring recent Glasto headliner and patron saint of the city’s south, Stormzy.

Why it shouldn’t work:

It starts with a tune that’s reminiscent of noughties house-rap, à la Labrinth. Short stabs on a violin, a couple of flat notes, referencing a “jet plane;” these are not throwbacks anyone asked for. 

Why it does:

The success of this track boils down to the singular fact that Stormzy has never done anything wrong, ever, in his entire life. He’s hard-boiled talent and charisma, and here merges the violin chords with modern UK grime drums to get Sheeran in the zone: “I’m gonna try new things / they just want me to sing / because nobody thinks I write rhymes,” he raps. Behold: the transformative powers of Stormzy. / JA

5. Best Part of Me – YEBBA

YEBBA is one of those names you don’t know yet, but mark my words, she’ll be inescapable by year’s end. She signed to Sheeran’s label in 2017, has done backing vocals for Jess Glynne and Mumford and Sons, and her featured track on Mark Ronson’s own collab Late Night Feelings is one of that album’s highlights.

Why it shouldn’t work: 

I’ve always felt that Sheeran’s best romantic relationship was with the invisible woman he is singing to in all of his best songs. His invisible wife, if you will. I didn’t think that introducing an actual aurally visible (or you know, audible) woman would be an improvement.

Why it does: 

Because if there’s one thing that Sheeran brings over from his earlier work to this, it’s his ability to nail the kind of song your niece will play during her first wedding dance in a couple of years. It’s sweet without being cloying, universal without being generic, and ‘part of me’ is one of those phrases that lends itself well to this sort of thing. / SB

6. I Don’t Care – Justin Bieber

Sheeran and Bieber have written together before (‘Love Yourself’ much?) but never featured on the same track. This song is everything they have in common: relentless romanticism and guitars.

Why it shouldn’t work:

To the untrained ear, Sheeran and Bieber have the exact same voice. You can only tell the difference when they’re really belting it, which is not something either of them does often. They’re also both fans of minimalist tracks – a beat, a few cute chords, and some soft singing. Collaborating on something so simple sounds boring.

Why it works:

Instead of sounding like a one-off collaboration, this song sounds a top-level boy band. Thanks to Bieber’s higher pitch, Sheeran actually sounds kind of edgy and gruff. If Niall Horan could jump on a remix, this might just be the best soft boy anthem since One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful.’ / JA

7. Antisocial – Travis Scott

I’m going to be honest here, I’m mostly familiar with Travis Scott as the guy who feuded with Nicki Minaj about who had a number one album and who performed with Maroon 5 at the Superbowl this year. I understand he’s a very good rapper though, and that ASTROWORLD is a great album.

Why it shouldn’t work: 

Despite his well documented collaborations with grime and rap artists (including on this very album), I’m always nervous when I see a collab between a pop artist and a rap artist – especially when I think of Ed Sheeran as the loop-pedal mastermind, and Travis Scott as the guy behind that bonkers circus-themed ASTROWORLD album cover.

Why it works: 

“All the cool people better leave because this is about to happen.”

It doesn’t just work, it bangs. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to swag surf, it doesn’t just celebrate being alone, it celebrates angry, rebellious loneliness. Sheeran and Scott play well off each other, and their voices layered over the production by Fred Gibson (the guy behind some PC Music gems) makes for maybe my favourite song on this album. / SB

8. Remember the Name – Eminem and 50 Cent

Collaborating with either Eminem or 50 Cent is mind-blowing, but to get both on the same track? Sheeran is clearly a witch.

Why it shouldn’t work:

Eminem and 50 Cent are both juggernauts of the rap world, and imagining them coming together to make Ed Sheeran of all people happy seems like some Make A Wish Foundation ridiculousness. Surely it won’t work.

Why it works:

Sheeran obviously idolises these two, Eminem in particular – if you need it, please see this extremely weird backstage clip for evidence. The hook in this song is written for Fiddy, and even the synths underneath it all are classic Eminem. It’s vintage, it bumps, and it’s actually fun. Sheeran raps even harder than he did on the Stormzy track, releasing his full English breakfast accent on top of a classic American hip-hop beat. Highlight: Fiddy rapping the clearly Sheeran-penned lyric, “I wanna crack on.” / JA

9. Feels – Young Thug and J Hus

You remember ‘Bang Bang’? That song from 2014 that tied up Ariana Grande, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj into some kind of pop music hydra and it kind of made sense, but the song kind of sucked? This is the diametric opposite of that. Putting Ed Sheeran with Young Thug, one of our most idiosyncratic rappers, and J Hus, the Londoner behind the era-defining flex anthem ‘Did You See’, may not make sense on paper, but it does make for a hell of a song.

Why it shouldn’t work: Because the word ‘feels’ should have died with Tumblr, or at least the Katy Perry / Calvin Harris / Pharrell song of the same name

Why it works: Both rappers deliver killer verses, and Ed Sheeran rhyming ‘feels’ with ‘something real’ is the kind of deceptively simple line that digs its way into your skull and signs a year-long lease there. Job done. / SB

10. Put It All On Me – Ella Mai

Ella Mai is the woman behind the earworm of 2018, ‘Boo’d Up’. It is a scientific fact that there are at least five Ubers playing this song at any given moment.

Why it shouldn’t work: I am immediately wary of songs that are about putting ‘weight’ on people. One, because they immediately compare to Aretha Franklin’s ‘The Weight’, and no song can compare to that, and two, because I raise my eyebrows and worry about the emotional health of everybody involved.

Why it works: ‘Put it all on me’ is one of those phrases that, rhythmically, makes for a perfect song. Don’t ask me how, it’s just science. Ella Mai’s verse – brassy yet vulnerable, fun yet flawed – gives the song the shot in the arm it needs, and makes what could have been a song about one-sided emotional labour into one about a healthy relationship. Phew! / SB

11. Nothing On You – Paul Londra & Dave

Paul Londra is an upcoming Latinx rapper who was inspired to become a rapper after watching 8 Mile, which makes him very, very young. Dave, despite the nondescript name, is maybe the breakout British artist of the year –  his album Psychodrama is already one of the highest rated hip-hop albums on Metacritic ever, and his Glastonbury performance produced maybe the festival’s best viral moment.

Why it shouldn’t work: 

See above, re: pop music hydra. On paper, this seemed like one of the stranger collaborations.

Why it works:

It’s a club song, baby. Imagine if Justin Timberlake’s ‘Senorita’ was a club song, and had some actual Spanish in it. Londra’s verse is one of the best on the album, and the synths keep this one grooving along well. / SB

12. I Don’t Want Your Money – H.E.R.

H.E.R is one of the best, most forward-thinking artists in R&B. If you haven’t checked out her self-titled album from 2017, I strongly suggest you do so.

Why it shouldn’t work: 

As mentioned earlier, Sheeran’s most potent romantic relationship is with the Invisible Wife™ he is singing to. Also, H.E.R is such a charismatic frontwoman that I worried she might take focus from Sheeran.

Why it works: 

Neither half of this duet takes focus from each other throughout – they overlap during the chorus as casually as you like, and when Sheeran steps aside to let H.E.R coo over the outro, it feels like the characters in the song coming home to roost. A lot of this album goes hard; it’s nice to have a song that goes soft. / SB

13. 1,000 Nights – Meek Mill and A Boogie wit da Hoodie

This song, about touring for 1,000 nights straight, is very representative of modern pop: a clear hook, a repetitive melody, and a couple of rap features.

Why it shouldn’t work:

Thematically, it doesn’t make sense to have Meek Mill and A Boogie on this track. Sure, they’ve all been on extended world tours, but their experiences are worlds apart. Meek Mill and A Boogie are social and upbeat, while Sheeran presumably spends his nights on tour alone in a hotel room with a guitar, a loop station, and a ton of McDonalds.

Why it does:

This is possibly the most Ed Sheeran-ish song on the album. It’s wistful and dramatic, with a pop of colour from the features, and then back to warbling. The features are short inserts about Meek Mill and A Boogie living the absolute life, and Sheeran’s singing is about being very tired. It’s quintessential genre stuff, and like any classic formula, it works. / JA

14. Way To Break My Heart – Skrillex

There are two things I know to be true about Skrillex. He introduced the phrase ‘wub-wub-wub’ to my vocabulary, and he borrows his naming convention from the popular video game series Kingdom Hearts; his name is an anagram of ‘Killers’ with an ‘X’.

Why it shouldn’t work: The music charts stopped taking calls from dubstep as a concept in about 2015, and saved dubstep’s number as ‘Do Not Reply’ just in case.

Why it does: Because Skrillex is actually quite good at dubstep, truth be told. His production here lends a downcast, confused, two-whiskeys-in misery to Ed Sheeran’s pining about someone breaking his heart. If Sheeran’s lyrics are a shot of Jack, then Skrillex’s production are the three ice cubes you drop in it to really taste it. / SB

15. BLOW – Chris Stapleton and Bruno Mars

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Bruno Mars finally snapped? I present to you: BLOW.

Why it shouldn’t work:

Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars teaming up on a Kravitz-esque sex-rock banger, on an album that’s otherwise dominated by pop-rap hybrids. What part of that doesn’t sound weird? Chris Stapleton has more classic rock experience, but can he really wrangle these lovelorn boychildren into AC/DC shirts and eyeliner?

Why it does:

I didn’t know I wanted to hear Ed Sheeran screaming at me that he wants to have a baby. Our good boys keep the content (mostly) wholesome and respectful, but the heavy guitars add a huge, sexy Stapleton edge. Sheeran and Mars’ voices naturally harmonise with each other, but on this song they growl and yell like rutting animals and then Stapleton jumps in with a snarl: “I’m comin’, baby, I’m gunnin’ for you.” Come for me, boys. / JA

This article was created in paid partnership with Warner Music. Learn more about our partnerships here.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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