When Ed Sheeran appeared on The Late Late Show’s London episode for Carpool Karaoke on Tuesday night, he was in full Ed Sheeran form: full of songs with impressively catchy hooks, and firm in the performative belief that he is the biggest underdog in pop.
Ed Sheeran is one of the most successful pop stars in the world right now. “Shape of You” is playing on every radio. Sheeran can hook up with Taylor Swift’s girl squad and then brag about it to Rolling Stone when they put him on the cover. But as New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica put it, “The greatest trick Ed Sheeran ever pulled was convincing the world he’s an underdog.”
Sheeran’s underdog persona at first appears at odds with his sex-god lyrics, but it tends to come with a faint tinge of leering: He is so sad, so lonely, and so underappreciated; wouldn’t it be wonderful if some nice girl would comfort him?
“I was quite an unfortunate-looking kid,” Sheeran told Corden on Tuesday night, as part of an intimate revelation about why he feels the need to hide behind his guitar while performing. “I feel like God looked down on me and was like, ‘You need help getting laid, mate.’”
It’s a line with all of the slightly sleazy self-pity that Sheeran tends toward — and the kind of line that’s made him such a strangely divisive pop star. Which is a shame, to be honest, because “Shape of You” really does have an impressively catchy hook.