Connect with us

Music & Concerts

New Ed Sheeran album is another easy-on-the-ear, feel-good album

26-year-old British singer-songwriter made Billboard history in January



Ed Sheeran, gay news, Washington Blade

Ed Sheeran stays on course musically with his new album. (Photo courtesy Atlantic Records)

British singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran just turned 26 and he’s already one of the world’s biggest pop stars thanks to two mega-smash albums and a string of chart-topping singles.

All signs point to a third blockbuster with the just-released “÷” (pronounced “divide”). There’s zero doubt that “÷” will storm the Billboard 200 and debut at no. 1, as did his 2014 release “x.” Sheeran is already ensconced at the top of the U.S. singles chart, where “Shape of You” has reigned for six weeks. Sheeran made Hot 100 history in January when he became the first artist to have two songs debut in the Top 10 the same week: “Shape of You” at no. 1, and “Castle on the Hill” at no. 6.

Sheeran is riding high thanks to an earnest blend of folky guitar-pop with brushes of modern electronica, a winsomely photogenic appearance, mild and reedy tenor vocals that practically ooze sincerity and the glossy commercial sheen of his music. Of course, like many mainstream artists who reach such complete cultural saturation, Sheeran has his share of detractors who are dismissive of his mild-mannered music and persona. The condescension by “serious” critics and music aficionados is so toxic that it’s almost enough to make one like Sheeran out of spite — if only his music could be taken out of the equation.

Don’t expect great depth of feeling or originality on most of “÷.” Sheeran dabbles with different sonic flavors, but overall he stays within his same tried-and-tested formula. He opens with a bit of quasi-rapping on “Eraser,” an autobiographical track about the trials and tribulations of being a rich and famous pop star. “I think that money is the root of all evil/and fame is hell,” he declares. Poor guy. Yeah, it sucks to be adored by millions, richer than God, and still be all sad and misunderstood.

Sheehan injects some Celtic flavor on “Galway Girl,” another song on which he attempts to rap during the verses and then sings a soaring chorus over lines of fiddle that seem more like appropriation than homage. It’s cultural window dressing. “Shape of Things” is already guaranteed to be one of the year’s biggest singles, and it’s easy to see why. Sheehan develops a pseudo-Caribbean vibe with an electronic marimba-like hook and a funky groove to back up the irresistibly upbeat, radio-friendly melody.

“Castle on the Hill” is a nostalgic rocker with an anthemic, arena-rock chorus that will appeal to the more rock-inclined members of Sheehan’s fan-base (assuming any exist). “Dive” is a bluesy ballad on which Sheeran goes for broke on a full-throttle attempt at an impassioned vocal, but it comes off ponderous and overwrought, emotionally on par with something we might hear from Creed. “What Do I Know?” is a peppy acoustic pop ditty that comes and goes without much impact, but it’s melodic bounciness will surely find enthusiastic support at pop radio.

As one would expect, there are no shortage of ballads. “Perfect,” with its sparse electronic beats, unobtrusive acoustic guitar and flowery strings, will be a monster hit for sure. “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” is lovely and sentimental, while “How Would You Feel (Paean)” is highlighted by guest John Mayer’s dulcet guitar solo. The finale “Supermarket Flowers” is the strongest moment on the album, a genuinely moving portrait of loss and grief that Sheehan wrote in tribute to his late grandmother.

There are enough commercial tracks on “÷” to keep Sheehan riding high on the charts for many months to come. The album may be somewhat bland and safe, but it’s generally well crafted and there are a few excellent moments. Sheeran is undoubtedly talented. His music isn’t for everyone, but if you liked him before, you’ll like the new album.

Providing moments of happiness and refuge via music, especially at a tumultuous time when so many are riven by woe and anxiety, is a fantastic and profound gift.


Music & Concerts

Musical icons and newer stars to rock D.C. this spring

Brandi Carlile, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, and more headed our way



Brandi Carlile plays the Anthem this month.

Bands and solo artists of all different genres are visiting D.C. this spring. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will team up to perform at the Wolf Trap in June, and girl in red will play at the Anthem in April. Some artists and bands aren’t paying a visit until the summer, like Janet Jackson and Usher, but there are still plenty of acts to see as the weather warms up. 


Brandi Carlile plays at the Anthem on March 21; Arlo Parks will perform at 9:30 Club on March 23; Girlschool will take the stage at Blackcat on March 28.


Nicki Minaj stops in D.C. at Capital One Arena as part of her North American tour on April 1; Bad Bunny plays at Capital One Arena on April 9 as part of his Most Wanted tour; girl in red performs at the Anthem on April 20 and 21; Brandy Clark plays at the Birchmere on April 25; Laufey comes to town to play at the Anthem on April 25 and 26. 


Belle and Sebastian play at the Anthem on May 2; Chastity Belt performs at Blackcat on May 4; Madeleine Peyroux stops at the Birchmere on May 5; The Decemberists play at the Anthem on May 10; the rock band Mannequin Pussy performs at the Atlantis on May 17 and 18; Hozier plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 17 as part of the Unreal Unearth tour. 


Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will sing soulful melodies at Wolf Trap on June 8; Joe Jackson performs at the Lincoln Theatre on June 10; the Pixies and Modest Mouse are teaming up to play at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 14; Maggie Rogers plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 16 as part of The Don’t Forget Me tour; Brittany Howard headlines the Out & About Festival at Wolf Trap on June 22; Sarah McLachlan plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 27; Alanis Morissette performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 29 and 30

Continue Reading

Music & Concerts

Grammys: Queer women and their sisters took down the house

Taylor Swift won Album of the Year



When the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, her answer was simple: Nine. She stated: “I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” RBG did not attend the Grammy’s last night, but her spirit sure did. Women, at long last, dominated, ruled and killed the night.

Cher, in song a decade ago, declared that “this is a woman’s world,” but there was little evidence that was true, Grammy, and entertainment awards, speaking. In 2018, the Grammys were heavily criticized for lack of female representation across all categories and organizers’ response was for women to “step up.”

Be careful what you wish for boys.

The biggest star of the 2024 Grammys was the collective power of women. They made history, they claimed legacy and they danced and lip sang to each other’s work. Standing victorious was Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA (the most nominated person of the year), Lainey Wilson, Karol G, boygenius, Kylie Minogue and Victoria Monét. Oh, yes, and powerhouse Taylor Swift, the superstar from whom Fox News cowers in fear, made history to become the first performer of any gender to win four Best Album of the Year trophies.

In the throng of these powerful women stand a number of both LGBTQ advocates and queer identifying artists. Cyrus has identified as pansexual, SZA has said lesbian rumors “ain’t wrong,” Phoebe Bridgers (winner of four trophies during the night, most of any artist) is lesbian, Monét is bi and Eilish likes women but doesn’t want to talk about it. Plus, ask any queer person about Swift or Minogue and you are likely to get a love-gush.

Women power was not just owned by the lady award winners. There were the ladies and then there were the Legends. The first Legend to appear was a surprise. Country singer Luke Combs has a cross-generational hit this year with a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” When originally released, the song was embraced as a lesbian anthem. When performing “Fast Car,” surprise, there was Chapman herself, singing the duet with Combs. The rendition was stunning, sentimental and historic.

Chapman, like many of the night’s female dignitaries, has not been public with her sexuality. Author Alice Walker has spoken of the two of them being lovers, however.

The legend among legends of the night, however, was the one and only Joni Mitchell. Not gay herself, she embodies the concept of an LGBTQ icon, and was accompanied by the very out Brandi Carlile on stage. On her website, Mitchell’s statement to the LGBTQ community reads, “The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”

Mitchell performed her longtime classic “Both Sides Now.” The emotion, insight and delivery from the now 80-year old artist, survivor of an aneurism, was nothing short of profound. (To fully appreciate the nuance time can bring, check out the YouTube video of a Swift lookalike Mitchell singing the same song to Mama Cass and Mary Travers in 1969.) In this latest rendition, Mitchell clearly had an impact on Meryl Streep who was sitting in the audience. Talk about the arc of female talent and power.

That arc extended from a today’s lady, Cyrus, to legend Celine Dion as well. Cyrus declared Dion as one of her icons and inspirations early in the evening. Dion appeared, graceful and looking healthy, to present the final, and historic, award of the night at the end of the show.

Legends did not even need to be living to have had an effect on the night. Tributes to Tina Turner and Sinead O’Conner by Oprah, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor and Annie Lennox respectively, proved that not even death could stop these women. As Lennox has musically and famously put it, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”

Even the content of performances by today’s legends-in-the-making spoke to feminine power. Eilish was honored for, and performed “What Was I Made For?,” a haunting and searching song that speaks to the soul of womanhood and redefinition in today’s fight for gender rights and expression, while Dua Lipa laid down the gauntlet for mind blowing performance with her rendition of “Houdini” at the top of the show, Cyrus asserted the power of her anthem “Flowers” and pretty much stole the show.

Cyrus had not performed the song on television before, and only three times publicly. She declared in her intro that she was thrilled over the business numbers the song garnered, but she refused to let them define her. As she sang the hit, she scolded the audience, “you guys act like you don’t know the words to this song.” Soon the woman power of the room was singing along with her, from Swift to Oprah.

They can buy themselves flowers from now on. They don’t need anyone else. Cyrus made that point with the mic drop to cap all mic drops, “And I just won my first Grammy!” she declared as she danced off stage.

Even the squirmiest moment of the night still did not diminish the light of women power, and in fact, underscored it. During his acceptance of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay-Z had a bone to pick with the Grammy voters. He called out the irony that his wife Beyoncé had won more Grammys than any other human, but had never won the Best Album of the Year. Yeah, what’s with that?

But then, it brought additional context ultimately to the fact that the winner of the most Grammys individually … is a woman. And to the fact that the winner of the most Best Album of the Year awards … is a woman.

Hopefully this was the night that the Grammys “got it.” Women are the epicenter of The Creative Force.

Will the other entertainment awards get it soon as well? We can hope.

Most importantly, in a political world where women’s healthcare is under siege. Will the American voters get it?

A little known band named Little Mix put it this way in their 2019 song “A Woman’s World.”

“If you can’t see that it’s gotta change
Only want the body but not the brains
If you really think that’s the way it works
You ain’t lived in a woman’s world

Just look at how far that we’ve got
And don’t think that we’ll ever stop…”

From Grammy’s mouth to the world’s ear.

Continue Reading

Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson returning to D.C, Baltimore

‘Together Again Tour’ comes to Capital One Arena, CFG Bank Arena



Janet Jackson is coming back to D.C. this summer.

Pop icon Janet Jackson announced this week an extension of her 2023 “Together Again Tour.” A new leg of the tour will bring Jackson back to the area for two shows, one at D.C.’s Capital One Arena on Friday, July 12 and another at Baltimore’s CFG Bank Arena on Saturday, July 13.  

Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster. LiveNation announced the 2023 leg of the tour consisted of 36 shows, each of which was sold out. The 2024 leg has 35 stops planned so far; R&B star Nelly will open for Jackson on the new leg. 

Jackson made the tour announcement Tuesday on social media: “Hey u guys! By popular demand, we’re bringing the Together Again Tour back to North America this summer with special guest Nelly! It’ll be so much fun!”

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade