Photo: ‘The Joker & The Queen’
Sheeran & Swift Has A Nice Ring To It
Last Friday, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift released the official video to their newest duet, “The Joker And The Queen,” and fans noticed right away that the two lead actors were none other than Ava Ames and Jack Lewis, the two-child actors featured in Sheeran and Swift’s 2012 duet “Everything Has Changed.” It’s a lovely touch, and Ames and Lewis have certainly changed over the past 9 years, but today’s Most Changed superlative goes to Ed Sheeran’s music video persona.
Jack Lewis is one of a few lookalikes who have performed in Sheeran’s music videos. In each case, these ginger doppelgangers have performed a character who is, at the very least, an Ed Sheeran type. These many iterations (Ed-erations, you might say) have solidified Sheeran’s not-quite-everyman persona and today we’ll use them as a case study in persona building, starting with Rupert Grint.
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Building A “Lego House”
That’s right. Ron Weasley is Ed Sheeran. Or was in a music video once. For those of you who don’t remember, Rupert Grint played an obsessive Ed Sheeran fan in the video for “Lego House,” and for those of you who do remember it may be worth revisiting the comments section for an afternoon’s worth of Harry Potter jokes. In the video, it seems like Grint is playing Sheeran himself until we find out that he is in fact an obsessed fan who has somehow slipped past security and onto the stage. While being escorted out, he enters an elevator that Sheeran is exiting, reminding us that Ed Sheeran is on his way to stardom.
Up to this point in his career, the only widely circulating videos of Sheeran showed him in solo studio sessions where he tore it up with just a guitar and a loop pedal. He had released the video for “The A Team,” but only featured in it as a passerby in the lead actress’ life. “Lego House” hinted at Sheeran being more of a rockstar than the mellow singer-songwriter most knew him to be at the time. It brought the rocker in the studio to fans of his early hits.
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The rest of the videos from the album + (“Plus”) either centered around other people or Ed himself in unglamorous situations. The video for “Small Bump” shows him in a hospital waiting room and in the video for “Drunk” he and his cat get drunk together. Those videos laid the foundations of Sheeran’s relatable, down-to-earth vibe, but alongside “Lego House,” where Sheeran is posited as a bigger deal than Ron freaking Weasley, those videos felt like bricks in something grander being built.
“Everything Has Changed”
Ed Sheeran’s first full album catapulted him into the limelight, and nowhere was that more apparent than his features on other projects. He wrote “I See Fire” for ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ and “All of the Stars” for ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ Then, he appeared on a Taylor Swift song. The two are a match made in music heaven, and the first of their duets featured two adorable elementary students playing a young Ed and a young Taylor.
Just when Sheeran’s name became a regular part of headlines and Tumblr feeds, he was represented by a kid in a nostalgic, innocent love song. It played into the version of Ed Sheeran that most fans knew–someone in touch with their roots whose heart soars and breaks at the same speed as anyone else.
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On the flip side, it worked because we recognized the kid as Sheeran’s lookalike. He had reached a level of fame almost on par with Taylor Swift’s, and the video capitalizes on that. Not many people anticipated, at that point in time, how prominent the rockstar part of his persona would become.
Along came x (“Multiply”), reaching No. 1 on charts across the world, and with it new videos with new takes on Ed Sheeran as a celebrity. We still got some classic Ed-and-his-guitar material with the video for “One,” but this time it’s in black and white and he performs in an empty arena instead of a studio. Ed, the singer-songwriter had become Ed Sheeran the chart-topping artist.
The chart-topper can be seen in a black SUV in the video for “Don’t” while the homespun artist is shown growing into his role in the music video for “Photograph,” which shows footage of Sheeran spanning from his birth to his stardom. The two seem to coexist, but with the punchline being “Ed Sheeran’s a star now” every time. Even the iconic dance routine from “Thinking Out Loud” came with a host of stories about Sheeran’s training for it, as people were interested in Sheeran not only as a musician, but as a celebrity.
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In this chapter of Sheeran’s career, the weirdest of his music video personas made its debut. Puppet Ed came onto the scene as a hedonistic rockstar straight out of the 80s. In the music video for “SING!,” we see Puppet Ed crowded by beautiful women in a Hummer limo, aggressively thrusting, frequenting a strip club, doing all manner of things that we never imagined the Ed Sheeran from “Small Bump” doing. In the midst of Puppet Ed’s rampage, Ed Sheeran and Pharrell show up singing the song in front of a background fit for a PBS show in the 90s. Ed and Puppet Ed meet and Ed chuckles at that silly little puppet, seeming mildly amused and aloof.
That video, more than any of his others, performs the balancing act between Ed Sheeran the rockstar, and Ed Sheeran the singer-songwriter. At that turning point in Sheeran’s career, his persona was masterfully tended to. The music videos from x (“Multiply”) told us over and over that this was the same down-to-earth guy we knew and loved, but did so without ignoring his newfound celebrity.
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The One Time Ed Sheeran Was Divisive
The videos released for the songs on ÷ (“Divide”) largely continued the trend of x (“Multiply”). In the videos for “Perfect” and “Shape of You,” Sheeran plays the male lead in what are essentially miniature romcoms. Familiar, but glamorous. For “Galway Girl,” Sheeran filmed first-person footage of another romance featuring Saoirse Ronan, so his life again feels both close and far away.
In the meantime, we were revisited by Puppet Ed, who this time around showed his sensitive side in the video for “Happier,” no longer having to brashly proclaim that he’s a rockstar. We also met another young Ed. In “Castle On The Hill,” Hugo Fairbanks Weston plays a teenage Ed growing up with friends in the English countryside, while Ed himself reminisces through the same misty landscape but in the present. It posits to the audience that Ed Sheeran was once like us and that there’s a part of him that still is despite his ascent to the top of the Billboard charts.
It was around this time that Sheeran ran into an infamous persona slipup. Invited on set by the creators of Game of Thrones as a surprise for Maisie Williams, Sheeran appeared in Season 7, Episode 1 as a Lannister soldier. It went over terribly. Fans were upset by how his appearance broke their suspended belief and undermined the fantasy of Westeros. He had simply become too famous to play “Soldier #2.” Unlike in his music videos which contextualize him as a star playing a persona, being a background player in Game of Thrones demanded anonymity.
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Ed’s Going Full Glam, And It Works
Nowadays Ed Sheeran is a vampire in his spare time. Perhaps glampire is more appropriate, considering his hot pink suit and deep blue eyeshadow in “Bad Habits.” In the equally fantastical video for “Shivers,” we see him at one moment zapped across the room by tension alone, and at another dressed like his mentor Elton John in a diamond contained within his eye. In both videos, there are hints that he is, even now, the same old Ed he once was, but those moments are far outweighed by celebrations of the star he has become. The outfits and elaborate fantasies push the limits of what Ed Sheeran can look like, but he’s so familiar at this point that it automatically feels like Ed.
At one point in the “Bad Habits” video, glampire Ed sees a CGI version of his everyman persona melt before his eyes, and at that moment the glampire seems way more realistic than the everyman. Sheeran has been reveling in stardom like any of us might do after living in it for so long. Even then, just in case the old fans need that everyman to remain, the video offers a brief moment of Ed-and-his-guitar after all the vampires hide from the rising sun.
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The Joker And The Queen
Not satisfied with a de-vampirized Ed on a rooftop? Need more nostalgia? Lucky for you, Sheeran & Swift (I’m telling you, it should be a record label) released one of Sheeran’s most mellow songs to date, and he even titled that part of his persona that first appeared in the video for “Drunk.” The Joker part of Ed Sheeran remains with us even after all this time, and may be the most important component in the success of Sheeran’s persona. There’s something undeniably relatable about Ed Sheeran, and it has been painstakingly preserved over the past decade. “The Joker And The Queen” serves as a perfect way to achieve what his music videos have been working at for years. Through the growth of Ava Ames and Jack Lewis, the video simultaneously revisits Ed Sheeran’s humble beginnings and joyfully marks how far he’s come.
If you haven’t already, grab a blanket, brew a hot drink, and give it a watch – video below.
By Kevin Hauger
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