Ed Sheeran hasn't yet released a Number One single in the U.S. under his own name – "Thinking Out Loud" stalled at Number Two thanks to the unstoppable "Uptown Funk." However, this February a song Sheeran wrote with Justin Bieber, "Love Yourself," ended up topping the charts. In fact, you've been hearing songs that Sheeran wrote for and with other artists for years, whether you've known it or not. Here are 10 of the most noteworthy.
After showcasing his contrite side with "Sorry," Justin Bieber released this lightheartedly spiteful kiss-off to a former flame. It was the first time the Biebs and Sheeran had worked together, though their career paths had crossed before: Sheeran had contributed a video clip to Bieber's "What Do You Mean?" countdown, and subbed at a Wembley benefit show when Justin cancelled at the last minute. "He's just a really chill guy," Bieber said of his writing partner, adding that it was valuable "just to have his input and his stories and our stories and match them up together."
This U.K. band first collaborated with Sheeran on "Bloodstream," a track about an MDMA experience that appeared on his 2014 album, X. (Two members of Snow Patrol also helped craft the song – is there anyone Sheeran hasn't worked with?) When Rudimental was prepping their second album, he returned the favor, co-writing and singing this piano-driven groove. "This is my final thing I'm releasing for a while," Sheeran tweeted after the song came out. "Bad news if you like me, great news if you don't. We cater for everyone at SheeranCorp."
A strange thing happens toward the end of the Weeknd’s album Beauty Behind the Madness: Ed Sheeran sings. While you might have to suspend some disbelief to accept Ed as the tough guy he insists he is here, his soulful vocals and starkly reverbed electric guitar fit right in with the Weeknd’s murky sonics. The song was written after a post-awards show party in Toronto that didn’t wrap up till 5 a.m. – “So you can imagine how that night went,” the Toronto singer quipped to MTV News, going on to call Sheeran “the fastest and most talented songwriter I’ve ever worked with, ever… If we stayed in the studio another week, we could’ve had a full album, maybe.”
Kelly opened for Sheeran at one of his 2013 Madison Square Garden shows, and was impressed by his lack of airs. "Watching him be natural with everyone around him really inspired me," she said. "He can keep it real and you feel like you can just hang out with him – that's something that I took." Soon the two collaborated on this easy-rolling acoustic ballad, as co-songwriters and duet partners – but nothing more, as Kelly was soon required to make clear to reporters, quashing rumors that she and Sheeran were dating: "He's been someone I consider a friend and even a mentor."
Ed Sheeran can be a hard guy to pin down. “He had been doing a promo day in L.A. and he’s like, ‘I know you have a 2-year-old, but could you please come and record at midnight?,'” Hilary Duff told MTV News. The new mom made the time, knowing that this energetic but gently folkish Sheeran track, about the unseen marks that love leave was a perfect fit for her first album since 2007. Sheeran, who handled vocal production on the cut, accompanied Duff in the vocal booth while she sang. “I was really intimidated because, normally, they don’t do that,” she said. “So I kept looking up and being like, ‘You’re Ed Sheeran and I’m singing the song that you wrote and I want to do right by it.'” According to an impressed Duff, Sheeran then added backing vocals in 15 minutes.
Though Sheeran and collegiate pop-rap cutie Hoodie Allen were longtime pals, they didn't collaborate until 2014, when they cut this track for Allen's debut studio album, People Keep Talking, in a single night. "We finished the whole song in four hours," Allen told Billboard. "And eight months later, after tweaking the beat nonstop, we had the final version." The sing-song rap style Sheeran adopts here allows him to boast more explicitly about his writing skills than he does in his pop-folk mode, and the video, in which both performers dress like musclebound superheroes, permits Ed to goof around too.
"I've stopped giving away songs now," Sheeran said in 2014. "I'm just going in with people to write songs, because I find then it's a lot easier to let songs go." One such collaborator was Jessie Ware, already well-known in the U.K. and critically acclaimed in the U.S. for her alt-R&B fare. "Say You Love Me" may have only been a minor hit for Ware, but it was a track she felt nudged her forward artistically. "I have to give [Sheeran] so much credit for being able to write something that's so right for me and elevates the way I sing – he really pushed me hard," she said.
Just as Sheeran's opening slot on Taylor Swift's Red tour was breaking him to U.S. audiences, he surfaced by singing the hook on Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco's nostalgic single "Old School Love." Though it seems like an unlikely collab, Sheeran had already collaborated with British hip-hop acts Wretch 23 and Devlin. "[Lupe] just gave me about seven beats and said write choruses to all of these," Sheeran said at the time, calling himself "a massive Lupe Fiasco fan." But with Ed lending his easy, mild-tempered feel, you'd think the singer and the MC were in the same room.
Though Taylor Swift has collaborated with top-shelf songwriters from Nashville pro Liz Rose to Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, Sheeran is among the few who also sang a duet with her. The two wrote "Everything Has Changed" at Swift's home, where, according to Sheeran, he questioned a chord Swift wanted to use. She responded to his challenge playfully, pointing to her shelf full of Grammys, but he held his ground: "She didn't like that but I forced it upon her." The session was playful, with the two superstars completing the song while bouncing on Swift's newly purchased trampoline – because, as Swift told MTV, "The combined maturity of us is like eight years old."
As a songwriter, Sheeran got in on the ground floor of the 1D world takeover, contributing "Moments" to the group's debut, Up All Night. Two of his songs appeared on the group's second album, including this sweetly teasing ballad, which he offered them at the very last minute. "I wrote that song with … Fiona Bevan when I was 17 and we lost the song," Sheeran said at the time. Years later, Bevan found it and sent a copy to Sheeran, asking if he recalled writing it – he did and was in the studio with "the One Direction boys" at the time. According to Harry Styles, "We went in to record a different one of his and he said, 'I've written something else if you want to hear it.' … We said, 'All right, we want to record that now.'"