He rose to worldwide fame with his debut album, +, which he wrote at the tender age of 17, resulting in millions of fans branding themselves "Sheerios" and winning him a gaggle of A-list celebrity friends.
Fast-forward five years and Ed Sheeran is releasing his second studio album, x ("multiply"). Days before the worldwide release date, the 23-year-old is celebrating his song "Photograph" making it to No. 1 on the U.K. iTunes chart. Meanwhile, x is already No. 1 based on preorders.
When we meet him in the West London offices of his record label, Sheeran is an upbeat and giggly presence, happily participating in BuzzFeed's word association game (and jokingly mouthing an expletive at the mention of Labour leader Ed Miliband, though he later confesses to not actually knowing which party Miliband represents).
Lending a somewhat surreal note to proceedings, the singer is accompanied throughout our interview by an artist — apparently part of his entourage for the current tour — who draws pencil sketches of Sheeran as we speak.
Your new album, x, is being received extremely well so far. How is this album different from your last one, +?
Ed Sheeran: It sums up the last three years of my life pretty accurately. The songs are better, my singing's better, my guitar playing's better, production's better. Everything's just got a little bit better. I did most of the first record when I was 17 and most of this one when I was 22 so there's like a five-year experience gap in that, I guess. So yeah, it's just a bit more developed.
Would you say it was a different sound as well? I mean, you worked with Pharrell, so do you think there have been different influences impacting this one?
ES: There's definitely been different influences. It's the same sort of sound but I dip my toe in a few more things.
Are you intrigued about how your fans will react to the new tracks?
ES: I think there will be a positive reaction to most of them. There's not too many shockers on there. All the songs that people would have heard, from "One" to "Thinking Out Loud" to "Sing" to "Don't" to "Tenerife Sea", they're all around that kind of bracket, I guess.
The last few years you've had to tour with the same old songs — are you looking forward to having a new set list now?
ES: It's going to be nice to have a different set list, yeah. It's going to be nice too once more singles are taken off the album to have a set list of just hits. Whereas now it's just like the first album and there were six songs that were singles on that so they're the songs that are reacted to the most. But then there was five other songs that weren't quite as big but kind of have a similar reaction. Whereas with this new album, if the album's successful you can have a set that's just "bam, bam, bam, bam, bam" (hit after hit).
And are they all written from personal experiences?
ES: Yep, everything on the album's a personal experience, things that have happened to me. That's kind of my rule — you write about shit that happens.
You worked with Pharrell and Co. on this one and you've had a few duets in the past. Is there anyone in particular now that you'd really, really like to work with?
ES: I met up with Timbaland and had an evening of playing him songs and him playing me songs and we were going to book another date after that but he was doing Jay Z and Timberlake at the time so we never found the time to do that... so I would like to go back and revisit that.
Who do you listen to yourself or who are you inspired by musically?
ES: I think Sam Smith — that will be the album of the year. Easily. I think he's incredible, and a really nice guy as well. It's nice when you get both of them right when it's great album and good person, because you get so many great person, not good albums or great album, not good person. He's got the package.
So what's next for you?
ES: I don't know which ones [tracks] I'm releasing in order. The next single we're shooting the video for soon — but it could be two different things, I don't really know yet. So we'll see.
Speaking of your videos, they're all quite fun and quirky. Where do you get the inspiration from?
ES: I just have some mad ideas, I guess. I mean, the idea for "Sing" came from a night out I had with Psy, as in "Gangnam Style" Psy, with a bunch of his mates and it pretty much went like that. Not strip clubs, basically the director had the idea for the puppet and the strip club and then I had the idea about the karaoke and the Koreans, so we just fused the two.
And for your next album, will it run with the different colour and +/x theme again?
ES: That theme's going to carry on at some point but I think the next record I put out won't be part of that theme and it won't just be me, it will probably be a collaboration as well.