British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is a notoriously nice guy: He donated his Grammy wardrobe to charity, guest starred on Sesame Street and secured himself a position in Taylor Swift's friend zone. In numbers, too, Sheeran's career is booming. His debut album, +, sold one million copies in six months in the U.K. alone, and his sophomore effort, x, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Still, Sheeran's music is safe and, let's face it, pretty boring. But it works for the guy — and what's perceived as boredom may in fact just be a rare groundedness. As the Observer put it so well, "Sheeran knows where his bread is buttered and that is in writing chick lit, not window-steamers." He may not be the most inventive songwriter, but he sure is likable — and he has one of the best perspectives of nearly anyone who has achieved his level of success. Here are nine times he showed just how down-to-earth he is:
1. On Critics
"I'm going to keep doing what I want to do. I'm not going to necessarily make something because the critics on the last album said that it wasn't what they thought it should be."
— NPR, January 2013
When Sheeran released his debut album, +, critics mostly gave the record a lukewarm reception. The Observer, in particular, was not excited about it. "Half-rapped banalities about watching Shrek 12 times and being 'crap at computer games' will certainly win hearts, but perhaps only those of a certain age," the British paper wrote.
Still, Sheeran's next album, x, showed the singer straying little from the acoustic pop formula he'd used throughout +. The Guardian was much kinder on X, though: X "sees Sheeran gently, but confidently, pushing at the boundaries of what he does," they wrote. By staying true to himself, Sheeran actually converted some nonbelievers. In refusing to apologize for his schtick, he made it seem all the more genuine.
2. On Quirks
"Quirks might seem weird when you're young, but they make you stand out when you're older and that's an important thing."
Sheeran has been very open in interviews about how his red hair was both a blessing and a curse. But when it came to fame, his signature ginger look ended up setting him apart as an acoustic songwriter in a landscape full of balladeers.
"Being ginger can seem like a bad thing when you are young, but as a musician it has been my saving grace," Sheeran told the Daily Mail. "If you see a ginger kid on TV and there is only one messy-haired ginger kid who plays guitar, it is very easy to find them on YouTube."
3. On Pleasing Everyone
"People say, 'This is my favorite song. You should write another song like that.' At the end of the day, fuck them. Be selfish. Why bother to please everyone? Please yourself. The rest will follow."
— Elle, July 2014
When a Twitter fan asked Sheeran, "Do you have a guiding sentence by which you live your life?" the singer responded with the Bill Cosby quote, "The key to failure is to try and please everyone." In a world where everyone's a critic, being a famous musician and maintaining integrity is no easy task. Sheeran's response is simple: Be true to yourself, because trying to please everyone is only self-destructive.
4. On Women
"There's rarely a guy that doesn't have a belly or bad legs. If women can accept that for us, why can't we accept that for them? I once dated a girl who didn't like the dimples at the bottom of her spine — I talk about it in the song — and that was my favorite part of her!"
— Z100, December 2012
Despite the fact that Sheeran's hit song "Don't" was about his girlfriend cheating on him with his best friend in a room down the hall, the songwriter still has proper respect for the women of the world. "Treat people how you want to be treated," Sheeran told the Sun about the incident that inspired the song. In his interview with Z100, Sheeran took his own advice to heart, and urged men to treat women with the respect they deserve. Though Sheeran's lovelorn, nice-guy aesthetic can perpetuate a more insidious form of sexism, on balance he preaches positive values towards women.
5. On Humility
"I know that at some point, my career is not gonna have the same trajectory it has now. But by the time I have kids, I can always be like, 'Look, I met this person, and I partied with this person. And I had a fucking wicked time.'"
— Rolling Stone, April 2014
Sheeran takes his fame in stride, an attitude that's no doubt born from his past struggles. Before the singer was famous, he was homeless. "Not proper cardboard box stuff," he clarified to the Daily Mail. "But yeah, I would gig at night and, if I didn't have a sofa to crash on, I'd sleep on the Circle Line all day. Then I'd gig the following night, and do it all again." Sheeran's humble beginnings have made him a surprisingly modest guy. He isn't under any delusions of eternal fame, either — he recognizes his current notoriety as a blessing that he can't take for granted.
6. On Business
"I'm more calculated than people think. When I said I wanted to play Madison Square Garden, a lot of people said I was nuts. And I made sure I did it. And when I said I wanted to sell 4 million albums, and we were stuck on 2.5 million, I went to the States and got on the Taylor Swift tour and made sure I did it."
— Rolling Stone, April 2014
Not only did Ed Sheeran play at Madison Square Garden, but he also sold out the massive arena three times. And it looks like the performer has his priorities straight: When Elle asked him which was better — selling out Madison Square Garden three times was better than losing his virginity, he replied, "Probably selling out Madison Square Garden three times. ... [My first time was] a benchmark in my life, but it wasn't the best thing I've ever done."
7. On Karma
"If you date a songwriter, be prepared to have songs written about you. If you do nice things, you'll have nice songs. And if you do f-ed-up things, you'll get a horrible song."
— Billboard, April 2014
For his song "Don't," Sheeran tore a page right out of fellow songwriter and friend Taylor Swift's book, and Sheeran makes no apologies for it. When asked whether he regretted writing what amounted to a harsh breakup letter gone public, he told the Daily Mail, "I think if it hadn't been a hit I would have done. In retrospect, it worked out for me. It elevated my career." You've got to hand it to him — Sheeran is nothing if not honest and practical about his career.
8. On Songwriting
"I would say, you can never do enough gigs and you can never do enough songs. Make sure that every opportunity you can, play a show and every opportunity you can, write a song. The more you write tunes, the better they will become. The more you do gigs, the better you will become. It's just kind of like the facts of life; the practice makes perfect thing. Keep your fingers crossed, start from the bottom and work your way up."
Before he was a star, Sheeran was just another struggling songwriter trying to make ends meet. "I got discovered by doing a lot of shows and releasing a lot of independent EPs," he told Interview. In 2009 alone, Sheeran played a staggering 312 shows. Then, in 2010, he flew from London to L.A. and was finally discovered by the owner of Jamie Foxx's club.
9. On Happiness
"Staying positive and happy is the way forward, too many negative people out there, eat some chocolate. Lindor is good. Try that."
Sheeran's Twitter page is full of wonderful little tidbits like this one. Other gems include this fantastic backstage ponderance:
Sheeran's unassuming personality has carried him further than most musicians could ever dream.