This week’s biggest new release is British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s x. Sheeran’s songwriting work for Taylor Swift and One Direction and acoustic pop style have earned him a fan base that’s heavy on younger listeners, but x (which is apparently meant to be pronounced “multiply”) deals with more mature themes, like the alienation that comes with fame and life on the road, as well as the ways sexual and chemical diversions can get away from you. People seem to be digging his new grown-up persona–our Melissa Maerz gave the album a B.
For this installment of the Breakdown we’ll take x apart and figure out what it’s made of.
18% Justin Timberlake
JT’s influence is all over x, which makes sense considering the album’s teenybopper-star-grows-up theme. It comes through especially clear on the Pharrell-produced single “Sing,” with its blend of dance floor drums and choppy acoustic guitar that sounds like the exact halfway point between “Like I Love You” and “SexyBack.”
22% Robin Thicke
While Sheeran admits to aiming for Timberlake status, the vaguely bohemian white boy soul on tracks like “Don’t” often land closer to the territory controlled by pop’s most intense thirst lord.
12% Taylor Swift
4% The Streets
While Sheeran’s a troubadour type, he’s also an outspoken hip-hop fan, and on “The Man” he actually drops a couple of rapped verses that bear a marked resemblance to verbose, perpetually bummed-out British MC Mike Skinner, aka the Streets.
Albums by young pop stars grappling with the existential fallout of newfound fame are basically an entire genre now, and a rather popular one at that. There seems to be no limit of people on the Hot 100 wondering what being a celebrity really means, but no one does it like the most emotional man in rap, Aubrey Graham.
4% Nick Drake
Sheeran’s milieu is acoustic singer-songwriter pop, and while he normally leans a little heavier on the John Mayer/Jack Johnson end of things, on x‘s opening track, “One, ” he channels the hushed intimacy of the cultishly beloved British folkie.
x is positively drenched in pianos, aching melodies, and plaintive singing that often sounds more like Coldplay than their new album.
14% John Mayer
Sheeran’s a sensitive dude with an acoustic guitar who really wants to share his feeling through song, particularly if there’s a pretty lady he can share them with. He’s following in the steps of the modern-day king of being That Guy.