Ed Sheeran might not always be picking out hot sauces, but he sure knows how to pick a first single off an album. But the hitmaker recalls his last-minute decision to pick “Bad Habits” to lead his upcoming LP.
The English singer-songwriter sat down on Hot Ones Thursday (July 8) to talk about his forthcoming album and his strategy behind promoting it after a musical hiatus and the COVID-19 pandemic. He let the dance-pop single “Bad Habits” take the lead in the album rollout, and it paid off: The song debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Even though fans were weary of Sheeran heading in a different sonic and aesthetic direction, he recounted how it’s worked out for him in the past.
“Every time I’ve released a first single, the way that it works best is to do something, like ground that I’ve never covered before. Because I feel like as a fun of musicians, anytime anyone’s not reinvented themselves but come out with something that you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t expect him to do that.’ I think that’s usually the way I pick the first single,” he told host Sean Evans. “And it’s kind of like a Catch 22 because you put something out and your core fanbase goes, ‘Ah! He’s changed, and he’s going in this new direction!’ And suddenly, the album comes out and they’re like, ‘Oh actually…’ It happened my second album, I did a song called ‘Sing’ and then the third album, I did a song called ‘Shape of You.’ But both times, everyone was like, ‘Oh! This is too different.'”
Going in a new direction and being “too different” has worked out incredibly well for him. “Sing,” from his sophomore album x, swerved into the pop-R&B sound Justin Timberlake popularized with his albums Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds. The song earned him his first U.K. No. 1 single and peaked at No. 13 on the Hot 100. “Shape of You,” from his third album ÷, took inspiration from dancehall (and TLC’s “No Scrubs”) and not only topped the Hot 100 for 12 non-consecutive weeks, but also won a Grammy Award for best pop solo performance and became the most-streamed song on Spotify in 2017, surpassing Drake’s “One Dance.”
With both upbeat tunes working in his favor, Sheeran, in typical fashion, was ready to switch up the mood by picking a “lo-fi, depressing, sad” song to kick off his upcoming fifth studio LP. But then he made a last-minute decision based on the world opening back up after lockdown.
“This time, I had a first single picked, kind of like lo-fi, depressing, sad. And I made this really upbeat dance tune. And then [U.K. Prime Minister] Boris Johnson announced that England was opening up in the 21st of June, and my single was going to come out the 25th of June. So I said, ‘Let’s switch them around,'” the 30-year-old singer-songwriter recalled of his decision. “Because I was like, ‘What do I want to hear on the radio when the world opens up or if clubs are going to? Do I really want to hear a really depressed, lo-fi, acoustic tune?'”
Watch Sheeran take on the spicy wings of death while discussing his music: