Just as Ed Sheeran is synonymous with mathematical symbols, so is he chatting with Zane Lowe shortly after one of those albums appears on his Apple Music profile, and Subtract, the final part of the series, is no different! With the New York skyline behind them in brilliant shades of blue – appropriately seen Subtract delves into the more melancholy sides of life – the conversation begins with a simple thank you to Ed who is as open as he is, vulnerable about the death of his best friend Jamal Edwards and the cancer of his wife Cherry Seaborn who is happily in remission . Traveling through talk of his friendship with Sagittarius Zing and hour-long therapist Taylor Swift, lawsuits, and nearly scraping “Shape of You” through the musical nightlife scene, we eventually land into a metaphor about grieving living in a liminal space.
It kicks off around 11:42pm and focuses on Ed’s F64 performance, a moving tribute at the Chelsea Football ground, Jamal’s favorite football team, for SBTV. “I’ve been crying every day since he passed away,” Ed Sheeran admits; there’s a bit of worry that he’ll be pigeonholed in the “sad pop star” box, but Zane reminds him that the emotions are coming, and so are Ed’s fans. They were crammed into a bar after a performance, and while it could have been a photo opportunity, it was instead something he remembers: that “Life fits around sadness.”
The bookcase of sadness
The memory comes in pictures, a book labeled “grief” as day one, and upon reaching day 2078, the first book is still there. Yet others scattered around, symbolic of the other people we will meet along the way, the other memories we will make, all acknowledging that we have lost something important. As our days go by, that piece of sadness is still tucked away somewhere meant to be felt.
Even though some of us haven’t felt death more than others, there have been times when life reminds us how fragile everything can be, and often we grow up in those moments. In honor of Ed’s album, his interview with Zane Lowe, and re-joining forces with Apple Music to celebrate the latest season of Apple Music Live concerts, we wanted to make a small setlist of three songs that touched on this topic. So keep your iTunes and a box of tissues handy, because even if Ed goes off in a completely different direction on May 10, having this playlist on your phone will bring you to tears listening to it!
‘End of Youth’
The point of mourning or even concern about Cherry’s health or feeling depressed and things like that, none of that matters with your kids because they’re just like… I’d go to bed crying, I’d cry myself to sleep after spent hours and hours. at Jamal’s mural, and I would come in at two, and all I remember was sobbing. And then waking up at six in the morning and telling your daughter, “Hey, let’s eat porridge.”
Ed Sheeran for Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1
‘End Of Youth’ is this terrifying reverie in that moment that often creeps up on us, for we never really know what will be the identifiable marker that separates our innocence from maturity. For some, like Ed, it’s the loss of a best friend, and for others, like the kids in the visualization, it’s school shootings. Ed did a remarkable job capturing the grim moment, from stunning verses like “Is this the end of your childhood when the pain starts to get the better of you? / I just don’t know if I’ll ever be able to just let it go” to its sheer symbolism.
First, the video begins with this bubbling effect, as if the “Boat” was shipwrecked, the passenger is now found in the depths of the ocean, not knowing how to bring himself back to life, and yes, okay, it’s a car that we actually see, and this snapshot is with every video companion piece, but the metaphor is there. Then we capitulate to a playground; the lines on the ground are blue and yellow, blue for the emotional sadness and yellow for the album’s aesthetic. Ed is stuck in one place, while those kids play around him. At one point, there is a silhouette of the monster in ‘Eyes Closed’ representing Jamal, the little girl who cuddles up to him, her imaginary friend keeping her safe this time. Even at the end we see a snapshot of a younger Ed with his speckled glasses.
Ed Sheeran has a knack for creating opening lines. He’s done it again with ‘Can you close the curtains? Let me see the sun shine / I think I’m done with my shelter.” More than that, it opens Pandora’s box to the concert concept we’ve been going for all along, that sadness never really goes away. It just settles into our lives and stays, even in those chapters full of bright spots.
What immediately takes our breath away in regards to the video itself are the flickers of blue; the forest has this enigmatic oceanic hue. Ed is no longer among the trees, but rather the path between them, symbolic of his grief still hurtling past him even though he’s not in the middle of it. Then he stumbles to a place surrounded by people, the public or his inner demons, whichever way you want to see them, pulling at his shirt and trying to get what’s left of him.
He fights it until he can’t anymore; he just surrenders, and what was blue becomes orange, the sun. Then he’s ready to ask again, “Can you draw the curtains?” he looks straight into the camera, willing to share his story with us. It’s hopeful, but with the continued disappearing into the blue mist, there’s also an understanding that once a life-changing event happens, there’s no going back.
And I think artists, we’re expected to be this, as you said, this shine and this perfect thing and never have a battle. “Why would you ever have struggles? You’re not human.” It’s something that’s expected, and it’s something I’ve been in for the last 13 years of my career, of just being like, keep calm and shut up, and just get on stage, sing the songs…
Ed Sheeran for Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1
“Stoned,” found on the deluxe album as a bonus track, doesn’t come with a lyric video, but we had to include it in our hypothetical concert for Apple Music because it fits the concept laid out in Ed’s interview with Zane.
The song has its simple ivory key patterns, just a simple piano background, but the intertwining of the lyrics really creates the picture of sadness that changes a person. It first starts with a counter-intuitive statement against ‘Curtains’, with “I wasn’t looking for a shelter / I need the heat of a thousand bodies” for he gets as much out of his live audience as they out of him, using it as an unhealthy coping mechanism to withdraw from his worries. But no matter how it looks on the outside and how much he seems accomplished, the real success is with his friends who can sleep peacefully because they haven’t lost anyone close to them. “They’re asleep and I’m stoned / All my friends have settled and grown,” he muses over the chorus.
Lullabies in the astral plane
Ed Sheeran has created a remarkably moving piece of work that will stay with us in moments we can’t quite get through. If you’re experiencing something like this right now or just want to hear Ed’s lyrical range at its best, you can listen here!
Just in time to remember everything for him Apple Music Live gig at the Eventim Appolo, London, is coming May 10, 12pm PST – it will be all Subtract album and not just three songs. That’s why we’re in for a treat, especially with The National’s Aaron Dessner on board! If you can’t wait that long, which is understandable, check out the trailer and chat with us on our Twitter @thehoneypop! After it airs, head over to Shazam for exclusive footage.
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