Performer: "Shape of You" is currently #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Ed Sheeran has had five songs in the top 10, including "Thnking Out Loud," which peaked at #2.
Writers: Ed Sheeran, Steve Mac, Johnny McDaid
Title: A phrase that could mean many things when taken out of the context of the lyrics.
Structure: Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus
Purpose (think/dance/vibe/sing-along): vibe, dance
1) Picture it: an older man and woman sit on a couch with their grandkids. They are seventy, which isn't really old at all, but nonetheless, they are still in love. The woman speaks softly, "And then he said to me, 'Although my heart is falling to / I'm in love with your body.'" The kids sigh. Grandad is so romantic. "We went to the Chinese buffet on our first date," the man says, "and she stole a bunch of food. Her bag smelled like kung pao all night." The kids inhale deeply through their noses. "He was the only man I have ever met who could dance to Van Morrison," she continues, "and the only man who ever even wanted to try. He called Van Morrison 'Van the Man,' which was super-weird, but whatever." The kids start singing "Brown-Eyed Girl," and the family "dances" along.
2) Sheeren has followed up "Thinking Out Loud," a skillfully crafted lyric for the most part, with a lyric that in many cases sounds forced into a rhythm that stresses all kinds of incorrect syllables. For example, when Sheeran sings "Every day discovering something brand new," it sounds more like "Every day is covered in some thing brand new, because he sings "dis-COV-er-ing" as "dis-cov-er-ING," and "SOME-thing" as "some-THING."
3) "Shape of You" follows a recent trend of songs with one repeated loop through the entirety of the song; verse, pre-chorus, chorus; with the exception of the bridge in this case, which maintains the rhythm of the original loop but drops other elements. In one respect, I'm impressed by the writers for creating distinct and separate sections with only the vocal rhythm and melody to work with. And they have succeeded in creating distinctive sections. However, I think this is a structure that much better suits the dance music that it is appropriating, and however skillfully done, it has always felt repetitive and boring to me in the context of radio pop.
4) "Shape of You" is at its most infectious and most singable in the pre-chorus, which is unusual. However, the move actually works quite well in the context of a hum-drum verse vocal and a chorus mostly intended to make you dance and think about sex. The writers have deftly added in some "Oh-I-oh-I-oh-I-oh-I"'s half way through the chorus to reengage our singing in a way that keeps us thinking about nothing but sex.
5) At the risk of running long, I want to recognize a subtle and brilliant move in the second half of the pre-chorus, in which suddenly the woman character starts to speak through Sheeran's vocal. The producers add a high vocal harmony to signify the change in character, and I think the move is really effective and clever. It actually reminds me of the chorus of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby," which utilizes a similar move, although I find it less effective in the Beach Boys song because they always harmonize their choruses, and so the move doesn't sound as unique and intentional when they use it.