Just as Ed Sheeran is synonymous with mathematical symbols, so is he with sit down chats with Zane Lowe soon after one of those albums appears on his Apple Music profile, and Subtract, the final installment of the series, is no different! With the New York skyline appearing behind them in its brilliant shades of blue – appropriate seeing as Subtract dives into the more melancholic sides of life – the conversation starts with a simple thank you for Ed being as open as he’s being, vulnerable about his best friend Jamal Edwards’ death and his wife Cherry Seaborn’s cancer that is thankfully in remission. Traveling through talking about his friendship with Sagittarius Zing and hour-long therapist Taylor Swift, lawsuits, and almost letting ‘Shape of You’ scrape through the musical nightlife scene, we eventually end up in a metaphor about mourning living in a liminal space.
It starts around the 23:42 mark, focusing on Ed’s F64 performance, a touching tribute at Chelsea Football grounds, Jamal’s favorite football team, for SBTV. “Ever since he passed away, I cry every day,” Ed Sheeran admits; there’s a bit of worrying there that he will become pigeonholed in the ‘sad popstar’ box, but Zane reminds him that emotions come gushing, and so do Ed’s fans. After a gig, they found themselves stuffed into a bar, and while it could’ve turned into a photo moment, it was instead something he still remembers: that “life can fit around grief.”
Its reminder comes in photographs, a book labeled ‘grief’ as day one, and then upon reaching day 2078, the first book is still there. Still, scattering others around it, symbolic of the other people we’ll meet along the way, the other memories we’ll make, all with the acknowledgment that we lost something important. While our days go on, that piece of grief is still tucked away somewhere meant to be felt.
Even if some of us haven’t felt death’s lingering more than others, there have been times when life reminds us how fragile everything can be, and often it’s in those moments that we mature. In honor of Ed’s album, his Zane Lowe interview, and combining forces with Apple Music once again to kick off the newest season of Apple Music Live concerts, we wanted to create a small three-track set list that dove into this subject. So keep your iTunes and a box of tissues nearby because even if Ed goes in an entirely different direction come May 10, having this playlist on your phone will bring you to tears whenever you listen to it!
‘End Of Youth’
The thing about grieving or even anxiety about Cherry’s health or feeling depressed and stuff like that, none of that matters with your kids because they’re just like… I would go to bed crying, I’d cry myself to sleep after spending hours and hours at Jamal’s mural, and I’d get in at two, and I just remember just sobbing. And then waking up in the morning at six to your daughter being like, “Hey, let’s eat porridge.”
Ed Sheeran for Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1
‘End Of Youth’ is this haunting reverie at that moment that often sneaks upon us, for we never really know what will be the identifiable marker that sets apart our innocence with maturity. For some, like Ed, it’s the loss of a best friend, and for others, like the children in its visualization, it’s school shootings. Ed’s done a remarkable job of capturing the stark moment, from stunning couplets like “Is this the ending of your youth when pain starts taking over? / I just don’t know if I can ever just let it go” to its pure symbolism.
For one, the video starts with this bubbling effect, like the ‘Boat’ has been shipwrecked, the passenger now found in its ocean’s depths, unaware of how to bring himself back to life, and yeah, okay, it’s a car that we actually do see, and this snapshot is at every video companion piece, but the metaphor is there. Then we capitulate to a playground; its lines on the ground are blues and yellows, blue for its emotional grief, and yellow for the album’s aesthetic. Ed’s stuck in one spot, whereas those children play around him. At one point, there’s a silhouette of the monster in ‘Eyes Closed’ that represents Jamal, the little girl cuddling up to him, her imaginary friend that’s 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 yet again with “Can you pull the curtains? Let me see the sun shine / I think I’m done with my hiding place.” More than that, it opens Pandora’s box for the concert concept that we were going for all along, that grief never really leaves. It just nestles into our lives and stays, even in those chapters full of bright spots.
What immediately takes our breath away concerning the video itself are the flickers of blue; the forest has this mystifying oceanic tinge. Ed is no longer amongst the trees but rather the pathway between them, symbolic of his grief still brushing past him even if he’s not in the thick of it. Then he’s gushed into a place surrounded by people, the public, or his inner demons, whichever you’d like to think of them as, tugging at his shirt and trying to get what’s left of him.
He’s fighting against it until he doesn’t anymore; he just surrenders, and what was blue turns orange, the sun. Then, he’s ready to ask again, “Can you pull the curtains?” he looks directly at the camera, willing to share his story with us. It’s hopeful, but with the continuous lapsing into the blue mist, there’s also an understanding that once a life-altering event occurs, there’s no going back.
And I think artists, we’re expected to be these, as you said, this sheen and this perfect thing and never have struggle. “Why would you ever have struggles? You are not a human being.”It’s a thing that’s expected, and it’s a thing that I’ve played into over 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 as it fits with the concept laid out in Ed’s interview with Zane.
The track has its simple ivory-key patters, just a simple piano backing, but the lyrics’ entangling truly creates the imagery of grief changing a person. It first starts with a counterintuitive statement against ‘Curtains,’ with “I wasn’t lookin’ for a hideaway / I need the heat of a thousand bodies” for he gets as much out of his live audience as they do out of him, using it as an unhealthy coping mechanism to retreat from his worries. However, as much as it looks on the outside, and how much he seems accomplished, the true success is with his friends who can sleep peacefully, having not lost someone close to them. “They are sleeping, and I am stoned / All my friends have settled and grown,” he muses on the chorus.
Lullabies In The Astral Plane
Ed Sheeran has created a remarkably touching piece of work that’ll be with us through moments we can’t quite get through. If you’re going through something like that now or would simply like to hear Ed’s lyricism range at its best, you can listen here!
Just in time for you to memorize it all for his Apple Music Live gig at the Eventim Appolo, London, come May 10th, noon PST – it’ll be the entire Subtract album and not just three songs. Hence, we’re in for a treat, especially with The National’s Aaron Dessner onboard! If you can’t wait that long, which is understandable, watch the trailer, and chat with us on our Twitter @thehoneypop! Then after it’s aired, head over to Shazam for exclusive footage.