The Tears and Tragedy Behind Ed Sheeran’s New Single


Ed Sheeran’s new single is a preview of his upcoming album, “-” (Subtract). (Courtesy of Twitter)

On March 24, Ed Sheeran released his single “Eyes Closed” and gave listeners a sneak peek of his upcoming sixth studio album, “-” (Subtract), which is due on May 5, 2023. Subtract will be the last album of Sheeran’s math-themed albums. In 2011, Sheeran released “+,” the debut album of the collection, and has since released “X” in 2014 and “÷” in 2017. As the final puzzle piece of the math-themed album collection that has been building up over the past 12 years, this last iteration has been long-awaited by fans. 

As an artist, Sheeran is known for creating meaningful music that sparks deep emotional awareness and resonates with his audience. This track is no exception. Beginning with the opening verse, the song is ridden with poignant messages that tear at the listener’s heartstrings. Whether or not one is familiar with Sheeran’s background, it is evident that he is writing about a profound loss. The song centers on the complex idea of losing somebody, grieving and moving through life while still mourning somebody you love. 

When listening to the song, I noticed the stark contrast between the song’s rhythm and the emotionally charged, tragic lyrics. As a listener, I typically associate songs about tragedy with slower, more solemn rhythms. However, Sheeran went an alternate route by pairing a more upbeat, faster-paced rhythm with emotionally charged, tragic song lyrics. Beginning with the opening lines of this heartfelt song, it is clear that Sheeran has been struggling with mourning the loss of somebody he loved, as he notes that he has “been inside for most the year” and is “still holdin’ back these tears.” Throughout the song, Sheeran is vulnerable and transparent in connecting with his audience about moving on from losing a loved one. In this instance, Sheeran is explicitly writing about grieving the death of his best friend, Jamal Edwards, who died suddenly in Feb. 2022.

In his interview with Rolling Stone, Sheeran publicly confessed that the track is dedicated to Edwards as the tears, trauma and tragedy behind this piece were inspired by his passing. On Feb. 20, 2023, Edwards died from a cardiac arrhythmia due to cocaine use. Born in the U.K. like Sheeran, Edwards was a music entrepreneur and founded the online hip-hop platform, SmokeyBarz (SB) TV. Just the night before Edwards passed, Sheeran was out to dinner and was exchanging messages with Edwards about shooting a music video the next day. However, 12 hours later, Sheeran awoke to discover his best friend had passed. In addition to coping with the death of his best friend, Sheeran also found out that his pregnant wife, Cherry Seaborn, was diagnosed with a tumor that needed surgery around the same time. 

Amidst dealing with these ongoing adversities in his life, Sheeran was struck with more bad news when it was revealed that another one of his closest friends, Shane Warne, died in early March. These tragic events culminated into an emotional downward spiral, which Sheeran expresses throughout the chorus. 

As the song continues, Sheeran articulates how deeply these losses impacted him and discloses his struggles with using alcohol as a coping mechanism, as he sings, “thought a few drinks might help.” Likewise, Sheeran expresses that no matter where he goes, he is constantly reminded of his old friend and voices, “everywhere I look, I still see you.” To escape this vicious cycle of grief and heartbreak, Sheeran resorts to dancing with his “Eyes Closed” to pretend his friend is still dancing alongside him in the present moment. 

Throughout the entire track, Sheeran expresses that he is suffering from losing his best friend and filling the void from this loss. Through doing so, he crafts a universal message on a complex, tragic subject matter that everybody in his audience can resonate with.