'Divide' and Conquer: When Ed Sheeran Was All Over the U.K. Charts
With his third album ÷ (Divide), Ed Sheeran did a few things on the British pop charts that no artist had ever done before.
Things got going when the first two tracks from the album were released as singles - each marking very different sides of his musical personality. "Shape of You" was an upbeat track with a dancehall tempo - one he was set to offer to Rihanna to sing - while "Castle on the Hill" was a to-the-windows folk-rock track reflecting on carefree days growing up with friends in his native Framlingham in Suffolk, England. Inspired in equal measure by Bruce Springsteen and Snow Patrol, "Castle" was a reminder of Sheeran's ability to spin deeply-felt tales into song ever since he struck out as a professional songwriter.
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The results were nothing short of spectacular: "Shape of You" and "Castle on the Hill" debuted in the top two slots of the British, Canadian, Australian and German singles charts - the first time such a feat ever happened in the United Kingdom - while "Shape of You" topped the charts in America, Canada and elsewhere throughout Europe. ("Castle" was no slouch, either: peaking at No. 6 in the U.S. and the Top 5 throughout Europe.) "Shape of You" is still the most-streamed song in Spotify history, and the only one to pass the 3 billion mark.
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But that was only a teaser for Divide's unbelievable conquest in England. The album sold 672,000 copies in its first week, more than half in its first weekend of availability. (Only Adele and Oasis have sold more in a week.) And, thanks to digital song placements on the singles chart, nine of the Top 10 spots were taken by tracks from the record. (The other songs off the album all landed in the Top 20.) As a result, the country's charting system ended up changing its rules, limiting the amount of Top 10 debuts by one artist to three.