The first single from Ed Sheeran's x album, this was premiered on Zane Lowe's show on BBC Radio 1 on April 7, 2014. "The reason I chose this song to be the first single is, I think if I put out an acoustic ballad first, everyone would be like 'ehh, it's alright,'" Sheeran told Lowe. "But with this, you get people who are either going to love it or going to hate it, but at least they're going to be talking about it."
This features Pharrell Williams, who also co-produced the song with Sheeran. It was the first time the English singer-songwriter had worked with a pre-existing track. However, it almost didn't happen. Williams recalled to Billboard magazine that when he played Sheeran a demo, "He was like, 'Nah, I love it, but it's not for me.' And I said, 'Just give me a shot. Pick up your guitar and strum along with it for a little bit, and see what happens.'"
"So after figuring out the chords that I had laid down," he continued, "in between jokes and people coming in with coffee, he kept playing it, and he looked up at me, like, 'S--t, is this really happening?' as I'm looking at him with an 'I told you so' smile."
The song owes a lot to Justin Timberlake. "It was pretty close to a direct inspiration," Sheeran told Billboard. "I love Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds, so I took inspiration from those."
The unconventional x album title is actually pronounced "multiply."
The song charts the beginning of a tequila-laced liaison with a girl that Sheeran met in Las Vegas in the summer of 2013. The experience eventually proved to be traumatic. He explained to Q magazine. "A totally f--ked up situation, which definitely left me tainted."
Commenting on his rapping and falsetto singing on the track, Sheeran told Ryan Seacrest: "I feel like I was veering off in one direction with that song. [It was] a very R&B led song and I wanted to pull it back and make it English so that's why I put the rap in it."
The song's music video was shot on location in LA and directed by Emil Nava, who worked on several clips from Sheeran's +
album, including "You Need Me
," "Lego House
" and "Give Me Love
The clip finds a Muppet look-a-like of Ed engaging in a debauched night out. The puppet stumbles into the human Ed and Pharrell Williams at the shoot for "Sing," and kidnaps the duo. Sheeran explained to MTV News: "The concept is The Muppets going out on a night out with a bunch of Korean business men who sing karaoke and then kidnapping me and Pharrell and taking us to that karaoke bar. Oh, and there's also a bunch of strippers in it. It's really weird, really weird, I don't know what I was on."
Speaking during an interview with Mix 104.1/Boston Sheeran revealed the puppet originally got into even more R-rated situations. "Unless you're into heavy, heavy drugs and strippers, you don't want to hang out with him," he said of his muppet double. "We cut that out of the video."
"The director went off on one [cut] and the original video is just [the puppet] in a strip club doing coke off strippers," Sheeran continued. And we're looking at the director being like, 'You know this is meant for TV, right?' You don't really want to hang out with him."
Sheeran told Live From MTV that a night of debauchery with PSY was the inspiration for the clip. "Basically the "Sing" video is based on a night out I had with him, and loads of his Korean mates," he said. "I went out on this night out with Psy and everyone was wearing a Psy mask in a Korean restaurant and they were all Korean and all wearing a Psy mask and I didn't know which one was Psy, I had no clue."
"I eventually found out who Psy was and he's just a monster when it comes to…," Sheeran added. "There's this Korean drink called Soju and so anyway I had this night out and that's what inspired the 'Sing' video with all the dancing and karaoke and stuff."
This was Sheeran's first ever UK #1 single as a performer. (He penned One Direction's 2012 chart-topper "Little Things
" was set to be the lead single from Sheeran's x
album until Pharrell Williams requested that "Sing" should the first song released from the project, Sheeran quipped during the MTV documentary series Nine Days and Nights
, "I swear Pharrell's got a foresight! … That hat or something!"
Sheeran recalled the story of the song during a Spotify track-by-track: "'Sing' was from my first session with him, and when you work with Pharrell, he tends to push you: he wants you to do the best thing possible. So you don't necessarily go for the first thing he plays you."
"It must have been on the seventeenth thing that he played me, and I had just dismissed everything," he continued. "I just didn't really get it. I don't really get jazz chords and Pharrell's very jazzy! He played me the beat, and I instantly dismissed it, it's not for me. OK, fair enough, move on, but I had a guitar in my hand, and I started playing that riff and he just looked at me and said, 'Do you know what you're doing, man?' I was like, 'No!', and then he puts back on the song and I said, 'Oh, OK, but I still don't want to do it', but just said, 'Man, just try it, it's not going to kill you to try it!'' So he went off ' he has three different studios in his building and has three different sessions going on at any one time - and I wrote the top line. He came back in, we pieced it all together."
"I wrote probably seven different verses and three different choruses and then we just picked the best ones and stuck them together," Sheeran concluded.
The second week of the release of x coincided with the incorporation of audio streams into the singles chart. Enough fans chose to stream the individual tracks that the 12 songs from the standard edition of the record occupied positions 4, 17, 25, 38, 45, 46, 49, 57, 59, 60, 62 and 82 on the tally. This meant that Sheeran become the first ever artist to see every one of the tracks from an album reach the Top 100 single chart concurrently. A couple of bonus tracks from the deluxe edition of x also reached the Top 100 the same week, meaning Sheeran had 14 songs in total on the chart.
X was the fifth single-character title to top Billboard's album chart. The previous four were:
1981 4 by Foreigner
2000 1 by The Beatles
2005 O by Omarion
2011 4 by Beyoncé
X was the top selling album of 2014 in the UK with 1,689,124 copies, the largest total for a LP since Adele's 21 in 2011.