When Ed Sheeran releases a new album, he often confidently ascends to No. 1 and continues to rule the Top 40 throughout the ensuing months.

But when the 32-year-old songwriter releases his fifth album, – (Subtract), on May 5th, there will be more at stake than usual.

The song recounts a string of incidents from last spring, which Sheeran has called the most trying time of his life. After receiving a tumor diagnosis, his wife Cherry Seaborn was unable to undergo surgery until after the birth of their second child. Jamal Edwards, a musician and businessman, was his best buddy and passed away at age 31 from cocaine use. In a well-known UK court case, Sheeran was also accused of plagiarizing the works of two other songwriters for his 2017 blockbuster hit song Shape of You.

Sheeran prevailed in the case, but this week he is in a US court fighting accusations that his 2014 tune Thinking Out Loud violates the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s 1973 smash Let’s Get It On. The outcome of the lawsuit might be announced on the day Subtract is released. The complaint claims that Sheeran and co-writer Amy Wadge plagiarized an ascending four-chord sequence and its rhythm. It is being brought by the heirs of Ed Townsend, who wrote Let’s Get It On with Gaye.

Related: In His New Music Video For Boat, Ed Sheeran Rides The Waves Of Sadness And Depression

The success of his earlier victory is not a guarantee, according to entertainment attorney Gregor Pryor. Sheeran might definitely have a little more faith in the legal system in the UK. It is more difficult in the US where there is a jury trial. Sheeran is “one of the highest-profile targets, so it’s got a whiff of the US celebrity lawsuit about it” in a succession of recent pop copyright disputes that also involve artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

Additionally, a live video of Sheeran transitioning from his song into Gaye’s has been referred to by the prosecution as a “smoking gun” and could be harmful to the defendant. It’s just unfortunate, Pryor said. The fact that many songs use the same chord progressions could be used to support his argument, but I don’t believe it does.

The strain on Sheeran this week is increased by the uncertainty of whether his fans would connect with a profoundly personal song that departs from his typical spread-betting genre fare to concentrate on a single, mournful sound. Sheeran is a pop everyman who has built his career on relatability.

Miley Cyrus’s 10-week reign at No. 1 with Flowers, supported by a signed CD single that cost 99p, came to an end at the end of March when the lead single from Subtract, Eyes Closed, the album’s poppiest outlier, charted at No. 1. However, its second single, the subdued Boat, only peaked at position 48 this week.

After the albums + (2011), x (2014), (2017), and = (2021), Sheeran’s series of musical representations of mathematical symbols concludes with Subtract. The National’s Aaron Dessner, who is best known to pop fans as the co-producer of Taylor Swift’s two previous albums Folklore and Evermore, helped him create the album. Sheeran and Swift are close friends, so she encouraged them to collaborate when she requested Dessner to work on the re-recording of her 2012 album Red, which includes two duets with Sheeran.


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