'Ed Sheeran' review: Honest and, at times, heart-breaking

Love, music and friendship are the three pillars of Sheeran's life

147-Ed-Sheeran-The-Sum-of-it-All Ed Sheeran: The Sum of it All on Disney+Hotstar

Eight years ago, English singer-songwriter Sam Smith was accused of plagiarising from Tom Petty’s 1989 hit, ‘I Wont Back Down’ for his song ‘Stay With Me’. In order to avoid a court battle, Smith settled with Petty and agreed to give him due credit. Not so the case with Ed Sheeran, parts of whose 2014 single, ‘Thinking Out Loud’, bore an uncanny resemblance to Martin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’, or so it was claimed. Believing in his craft, Sheeran said that he would quit music if he lost the copyright trial. On May 4, Sheeran was cleared of the charges in a big win for the music industry.

Growing up in Britain, Sheeran always felt different because of his looks and his stammer.

“There are four chords that get used in pop songs, and there are however many notes―eight notes or whatever―and there are 60,000 songs released every single day,” said Sheeran upon winning the case. “And if you just think mathematically the likelihood of this song having the same chords as this song … you are going to get this with every single pop song from now on. Unless it just stops, which I don’t think it will, because it is big money business to take things to court.”

With several artists like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Drake and Pharrell Williams having faced the same allegations, the verdict is landmark as it protects the artist’s creative freedom. The case showed one side of Sheeran―the gritty, unrelenting singer who will fight for his beliefs, no matter what. But it is not just steel beneath the surface. There is sentimentality, too, from which he draws for his sundry ballads. To uncover the many parts of Sheeran, one must watch the four-part docu-series―Ed Sheeran: The Sum of it All―that released around the same time he won the case. It literally sums up his roller-coaster journey, his creative process, hitting rock bottom and rising from there, and eventually emerging a winner.

The series does not idolise him, but treats him with the impartiality that he deserves. Despite his 2017 hit ‘Perfect’, Sheeran is not perfect. Growing up in Britain, he always felt different because of his looks and his stammer. “I am specky, ginger hair, really short, English, from the countryside who stutters and beatboxes. That guy doesn’t become a pop star,” he says with wonder in his voice.

His journey starts at the cusp of the internet explosion, when several new artists were establishing themselves, often through YouTube. He describes how it was a norm then to first make it independently and then wait for a label to sign you up, as opposed to today when, with platforms like Spotify, even new artists find backup.

Love, music and friendship are the pillars of Sheeran’s life. He finds his love early on in wife Cherry Seaborn, who talks about how the singer wrote about seven songs in four hours when she was diagnosed with cancer―an amazing feat that was questioned at the trial.

Time and again, Sheeran has swayed the world with his magical compositions like ‘Perfect’, which is an ode to finding one’s true love; ‘Shape of You’, about a budding romance; ‘Thinking Out Loud’, that talks of everlasting love; and ‘Photograph’, about a long-distance relationship. The series is an honest, inspiring and at times heartbreaking account of his journey. His is the story of a ‘different’ boy who takes on the world and eventually becomes one of its most loved pop stars. The charm of the series is that in the end, you do not find yourself applauding the superstar, but rather cheering the underdog.