(Asylum)
One of the world’s biggest pop stars only slightly tweaks the formula for an album that many will already have decided they either love or hate

Ed Sheeran’s new album contains a song called 2step. It features a pummelling sub-bass and the sound of the singer-songwriter rapping, this time at warp-speed. Amid the lyrical declarations of love for his wife, there’s a line that seems to address his plethora of critics: “Sometimes,” he says, “the words cut deep.”

Even if you’re inclined to the belief that pop stars – particularly those who have shifted 150m records in the space of ten years or whose last tour was the highest-grossing in history – should take their lumps when it comes to criticism, you can see why it might rankle him. As soon as Sheeran arrived in the mainstream consciousness he became subject to a particular kind of opprobrium that goes beyond bad reviews, to a disproportionate point where dislike becomes performative and the artist in question a kind of living shorthand for all that’s wrong with popular music. A decade, four multi-platinum albums and umpteen hit singles later, he still is: no one seems to have come along to seize that particular position from him.

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