Sheeran also made inroads with featured roles on two Pop Songs hits last year: Taylor Swift's "Everything Has Changed" (No. 14) and Lupe Fiasco's rhythmic-leaning "Old School Love" (No. 34).
Sheeran's return with "Sing" continues his apparent evolution to incorporating beats, thanks to Pharrell's involvement and Sheeran's admission that the song was inspired by Justin Timberlake. "Sing" previews Sheeran's second Atlantic Records album, "x," due June 23.
The new song's bouncy beat is clicking at radio, with "Sing" already ranking in the 40-position Pop Songs and Adult Pop Songs building charts after a day of availability (April 7). It drew 351 plays on 118 Nielsen BDS-monitored stations yesterday, translating to a first-day audience of 457,000.
"We're excited about 'Sing.' It's a very welcome next level and sounds amazing on the radio. Audience reaction has been instant and positive," says Alex Tear, Clear Channel national top 40 brand coordinator/ VP of programming, Miami, including Pop Songs reporter WHYI. With Clear Channel pop stations playing the song hourly yesterday, the station spun "Sing" six times in its first day. "We wanted to get this track on so quickly due to listener demand.
"His winning track record made it easy for us to be a leader in breaking his new project."
CBS Radio's Pop Songs panelist WBBM Chicago played "Sing" four times yesterday. Music director/assistant program director Erik Bradley says that "Old School Love" helped warm up WBBM listeners to Sheeran's sound, as the station has traditionally leaned dance/pop. With Pharrell aboard "Sing," "We're now officially in business with Ed Sheeran. He's on the verge of becoming a legit superstar in every sense of the word," Bradley says.
"'Sing' is perfect."
Consumers concur with radio's assessment of the song, which is off to an impressive sales start. With "Sing" having been on sale since 3 p.m. ET yesterday, industry sources say that it's too early to forecast the track's full first-week sales sum. Still, it already ranks in the iTunes Store's top five. (Likely to aid the song's early sales, Sheeran will be the musical guest on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" on April 12.) With a strong retail bow, the song could make a noteworthy entrance on next week's airplay/sales/streaming-based Hot 100, to be revealed on Billboard.com on April 17. (The song is not expected to yet impact the Hot 100 to be updated this week; highlights of the top 10 will post tomorrow (April 9), with the chart updated in its entirety the following day.)
Beyond its arrival, "Sing" could become a lasting multi-format hit. With Pharrell's sound infusing the song, following his featured turns on last year's Billboard song of the summer "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke and fellow smash "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, in addition to Pharrell's five-week Hot 100 reign and counting with "Happy," some are already hailing "Sing" as this year's potential summer song to beat.
"There are no doubts that this will be a top 10 hit," Tear says. "I would not be surprised if Ed grabs No. 1."