“‘The A Team’ came from an experience I had when I did a gig at a homeless shelter,” says 21-year-old British singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran of his breakout single. “I was 18 at the time and kind of quite naïve. So, I was a bit taken aback by some of the stories that I heard.
“I got home that night and I just wrote a lot of the lyrics. I wanted to write it so it sounded kind of upbeat, so you wouldn’t really know what it’s about, because it’s quite a dark subject.”
In a video interview with Billboard, Sheeran explained the song’s title. “A drug like crack cocaine is called a ‘class A’ drug. That’s in the same category as heroin. Instead of making it clear and just saying what the problem was, I’d say, ‘She’s in the ‘class A’ team.’ It was kind of my way of covering up (a person’s addiction), I guess, making it a bit more subtle.”
In the tradition of folk/rock hits like Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” (about child abuse), 10,000 Maniacs’ “Like the Weather” (depression) and Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” (alcoholism) that shade heavy topics under a melodic canopy, “The A Team” has gotten fans singing along to its sunny sound. Last summer, the track soared to No. 3 on the Official Charts Co.’s UK Singles chart. It has since reached the top 10 in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Norway.
This week, Sheeran’s worldwide hit makes its first appearance on a U.S. songs chart, debuting at No. 30 on the Triple A adult alternative radio airplay tally. Triple A reporter KTCZ (Cities 97) Minneapolis leads all chart panelists with 137 plays songs to date, according to Nielsen BDS. Among all monitored stations, adult pop KLLC (Alice @97.3) San Francisco leads with 338 plays to date, having been the first to spin it in the U.S. on Jan. 27.
Sheeran, honored at this year’s Brit Awards as British breakthrough act and British solo male artist, reached No. 17 on the Folk Albums chart last month with EP “The A-Team.” The five-song collection sets up the U.S. debut of his proper full-length, “Plus,” a No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart for three weeks last year.
Seemingly molded by the struggles about which he’s written, Sheeran is thankful for his success. “The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile,” he says.
“Always appreciate things, because (they) could be gone tomorrow.”