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Sometimes the formula doesn’t work

You will be familiar with the work of Ed Sheeran, a staggeringly successful singer-songwriter. His world tour last year grossed more money than any other live tour, $432m according to this piece in the Guardian. Yes, you read that right: four hundred and thirty two million dollars, paid out by people all over the world in the course of 12 months, to witness one man, his guitars and his effects pedals. As far as I know there were no laser shows, no pyrotechnics, no dancing troupes, there was no backing band, no specially-constructed 360-degree set. Correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. The second highest grossing tour in 2018 ($345m) was by his good friend Taylor Swift. She puts on a bit more of a show: more elaborate sets, dancers, a band and backing singers. Between them these two artists racked up over $770m million dollars’ worth of ticket sales in 2018.

In addition to his revenues from live shows, and the continuing sales and streams of his recordings, Ed Sheeran has written hit singles for a variety of other performers. This dates back at least as far as One Direction’s 2012 #1 “Little Things”. In recent years there have been distinctive-sounding recordings by James Blunt, Anne-Marie and more recently Olly Murs, Boyzone and Westlife. You are probably familiar with the work of Olly Murs, lovable cheeky-chappy “X-Factor” contestant (runner-up in 2009), successful singer (4 UK #1s to date) and a judge on the UK version of “The Voice”.

Last year, in late September, Olly Murs released a song called “Moves”. It tells the story of him going to a club, having a couple of drinks, spilling one down his shirt (oops), trying to cover it up and then dancing with a hot young lady. At some point (and I might be getting this confused with another similar-sounding song) she kisses him on the mouth. She’s a really good dancer. She’s got the moves you see. You get the general idea.

I first heard the song one Saturday night on the Jonathan Ross show on ITV. Olly started his performance in the audience, possibly high-fiving the people sat in the front row, and then walked onto the set to complete it. He was also interviewed by Jonathan Ross. (Not all the musical guests on the show are interviewed by the host.) As I suspected on first hearing “Moves” it was co-written by Ed Sheeran. The version of the song that was released in September features Snoop Dogg. It was BBC Radio 2’s Record of the Week, so I heard it often during October, along with Olly himself promoting the song on a variety of shows.

On 2 November it was a question on Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 quiz Pop Master (along the lines of “What is the name of Olly Murs’s recent release featuring Snoop Dogg?”). I was unable to remember the title. Three points lost on that round, and I looked up the song’s chart position. It hadn’t made it to #1 but surely it would have made the upper reaches of the UK Top 10. Nope. There it was, nestled outside the Top 50, and it got no higher than #46. This is a song performed by Olly Murs (popular), written by Ed Sheeran (staggeringly popular), given the full promotional treatment by ITV, BBC Radio 2 and goodness knows how many other channels, and it didn’t manage to break into the Top 40.

Irish boyband Boyzone, another act you are doubtless aware of, have also been on our radios and TV sets often in recent months, promoting new releases and a forthcoming tour. They too were given the Olly Murs treatment on the Jonathan Ross show last autumn (an interview and a live performance). They too had a song co-written by Ed Sheeran, called “Because”. It was released last July and was promoted in much the same way as “Moves”. I knew that it had not reached #1 but until just now had not checked its chart history. It didn’t make the Top 75.

So here we are, with two historically successful chart acts releasing singles co-written by the man who is currently the world’s most successful songwriter. The singles get a heap of airplay and promotion, all over our TV and radio stations, and do not make it into the UK top 40. Why is this? Sometimes the formula doesn’t work.



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