Welcome to the new episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed below on Billboard.com or downloaded in iTunes. (Click here to listen to the previous Tuesday’s edition of the show on Billboard.com.)
When Ed Sheeran’s cousin Murray Cummings began filming him early on in his career, it was just a way to have archival footage of the young singer/songwriter on the rise. But when Cummings happened to capture the moment Sheeran and pop producer/songwriter Benny Blanco began writing what would become the No. 1 Justin Bieber smash hit “Love Yourself,” an idea for an intimate documentary was born.
For the latest episode of the Pop Shop Podcast, we sat down with Sheeran to talk all about the brand-new documentary Songwriter — which premiered Tuesday (Aug. 28) exclusively on Apple Music — recognizing when a song is a hit, and why any major-label artist should aspire to be as big as Adele.
The Songwriter film — which follows the making of Sheeran’s massive third album Multiply — might never have existed had it not been for that clip of Sheeran and Blanco crafting “Love Yourself” on a tour bus. “[Cummings] played that for people and they really liked it and were like, ‘You should make this into a documentary,’ so he spent a year making it and now it’s coming out,” Sheeran said of his cousin’s project. “It’s one of those things I didn’t know I wanted until I was shown it, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is really good.'”
That’s not to say that he was thrilled about every aspect of the film. “I’d kind of let myself go a little bit,” he said of the between-albums filming process. “I go from very skinny and in shape on tour to just not really giving a fuck. That’s kind of weird to see as well. As an artist in the spotlight, I like to give off the impression I don’t really care what people think what I look like, but it’s nice to feel healthy and in shape and you don’t want pictures like that out there. So catching those moments in the studio in sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt and just looking really unhealthy with long hair, it’s kind of hard to watch that and feel good about it.”
Any aspiring musicians looking for a fly-on-the-wall view of the pop songwriting process are in luck. In the film, you see Sheeran writing on his own and collaborating with Blanco, Julia Michaels, Foy Vance and many others, spitballing lyrics and melodies that become standout tracks on Multiply. And Sheeran swears he wasn’t born a songwriter; he worked at it. “Anyone listening to this podcast, go on YouTube and type in, ‘Ed Sheeran, Addicted.’ Just go and listen to that song,” Sheeran said to offer up examples of his less-than-stellar early songwriting. (Listen for yourself here.) “I can’t sing, and it’s not a very good song, it’s very out of tune, and I always play that for people who say, ‘Oh, well, but you’re you.’ No, you do really just have to start from the beginning. … You don’t just start being good at something. I hope people watch this and want to get inspired to write songs.”
Sheeran himself still gets inspired by other artists too, saying in one of the film’s most memorable lines, “I don’t want to be ‘the male Adele.’ I want to be Adele.” He says some people might think that line sounds arrogant, but it’s all about working toward being the best. “If you’re a basketball player, you want to be LeBron James, don’t you?” he says. “I’m not saying I could ever be bigger than Adele, but if you don’t aim there, then you won’t ever get there. … If you don’t want to be as big as Adele, then don’t sign a major record label deal, you know? Just be independent and be happy playing gigs. But if you sign to a major record label and you want to be the biggest artist in the world, you should aim to be the biggest artist in the world.” He later adds: “If you don’t aim for the top of the mountain, you won’t get halfway up. If you get halfway to being Adele and halfway to being LeBron, you’re good.”
Also in the interview, Sheeran talks about writing another song for Liam Payne (“It’s kind of like the big brother of ‘Strip That Down'”), knowing whether a song will connect (“I can’t tell what’s a hit or not. I can tell what I like, but I’m not Mr. Tastemaker”) and whether he’ll ever make a Subtract album. Listen to the full interview above.
Also on the show, Keith & Katie talk about charts moves for Ariana Grande, 5 Seconds of Summer and Janet Jackson and Daddy Yankee. Plus, news about Aretha Franklin’s all-star tribute, a new collaboration from Selena Gomez, Cardi B, Ozuna and DJ Snake, and Taylor Swift teaming up with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill to sing… “Tim McGraw.”