I don’t have ginger hair, I’ve never won a Brit Award, I’m yet to appear in a music video with Taylor Swift and at no point have I written a lyric as chronically bad as, “They say I’m up and coming like I’m fucking in an elevator”. So, suffice to say, it’s safe to assume that I’m not Ivor Novello-winning singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.
One thing I do have in common with young Edward though, is that we both grew up in leafy and tranquil Suffolk – home to the UK’s most easterly point (Lowestoft), the ridiculously middle-class Latitude festival and the headquarters of British horseracing (Newmarket). Suffolk has no cities, no motorways, and lots and lots of farms. Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that, according to BBC Radio 1Xtra, the county was the breeding ground for the most important artist in the urban music scene: our Ed.
I’m actually a handful of years older than Ed, so perhaps Suffolk had moved on by the time I decamped to university on the other side of the country, but when I was growing up, the “urban music scene” largely consisted of teenagers in Vauxhall Corsas blasting out two-step outside the local One Stop. Maybe as Ed entered his formative years there were rap battles in Woodbridge, or the market town of Bury St. Edmunds became the epicentre of a burgeoning, hyper-local dubstep scene. If so, apologies, because I missed all of that.
This isn’t the first time the industry have been made to look foolish whilst putting a label on “urban” music. In 2005, Joss Stone, whose teenage home was a hamlet in Devon, won the Brit Award for Best Urban Act. Indeed, Sabotage Times has already written on how ludicrous it is that Sheeran’s been given such an accolade.
However, it’s refreshing to know that someone with a similar background to me can apparently be so powerful according to the 1Xtra audience. It seems that having a song on the soundtrack of the most recent Hobbit movie – a film so un-urban it makes The Chronciles Of Narnia look like Attack The Block – is no barrier to success in this field.
There’s also a strong middle-class element to this 1Xtra list, adding further fuel to the fire of the seemingly endless posh pop debate. No-one’s saying Sheeran has bought his way to the top – on the contrary, his continuous gigging and sofa-surfing has been well-documented – but the lack of money and the increase of nepotism in the creative industry means that not everyone has the luxury of being able to spend fruitless years grinding away on the circuit. Whilst obviously not every urban artist should be a council estate kid from Bow, there’s going to be a severe lack of anti-establishment anger if the people in question are part of the establishment themselves.
Yasmin Evans, 1Xtra DJ, claims Sheeran deserves his lofty placing in their power list due to, “Having JUST his music in mind and disregarding anything else that we may have considered for other artists”, which sounds entirely nonsensical to me. Therefore, are we to assume his Suffolk upbringing made him the influential artist he is today? Take a bow, Framlingham. Kudos, Sudbury. Shout out to Felixstowe and Leiston. Together you’re clearly all a vital part in what is arguably the most exciting and inventive scene in British music today.
Of course, that’s a ridiculous notion. But at the same time, there’s a separate debate to be had: does a person’s upbringing necessarily exclude them from making a particular sort of music? Fakery has been part of popular music from the year dot and it’s continuing today – does anybody really believe that Lana Del Rey’s life is a never-ending Instagram of red dresses and unsuitable bad boys. Plus, Joe Strummer, counter-culture icon and one of the most important figures in the formative days of British punk, went to boarding school and was the son of a diplomat.
So, for Ed and me, and countless other kids who grew up comfortably in a place with only six buses a day, what music should we be listening to and making? Just because I can’t identify first-hand with some of the gritty, first-hand tales, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate grime. Similarly, my experience of blissed-out summers getting high in Laurel Canyon is pretty limited, but I like Crosby, Stills and Nash nonetheless. From Leadbelly to Lana, authenticity is a meaningless, overrated concept.
It’s easy to see why Ed Sheeran being top of 1Xtra’s power list would rub some people up the wrong way; lists always do. The point is, there’s nothing to say a ginger, Caucasian urchin from Suffolk can’t be the most influential figure in urban music. However, listen closer to the music of Ed Sheeran. It’s primarily based around acoustic guitars and simple melodies and, while he’s clearly listened to a fair bit of hip-hop in his time, he mirrors trends and apes what’s going on rather than sets the agenda. That’s the reason why Ed Sheeran’s position atop this list is a travesty – his skin colour, heritage, class and background have nothing to do with it.