Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran faced a devastating year in 2022, with his wife Cherry Seaborn being diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy and the loss of his best friend Jamal Edwards, founder of SBTV. Despite the personal turmoil, Sheeran had already committed to a year-long stadium tour to celebrate his four arithmetic-themed studio albums.
The year following these tragedies is explored in the final installment of his mathematical-equation set, “Subtract,” and the Disney+ docuseries “Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All.” Sheeran admits that writing songs helps him cope with difficult situations, but viewers can also see the compromises necessary to turn deeply personal experiences into a successful product.
The documentary offers intimate access to Sheeran’s private conversations with Seaborn, as well as his emotional performances at the Union Chapel in London, where he debuted songs from “Subtract.” Many of the tracks were written on the same day Seaborn’s tumor was discovered, adding to the emotional weight of the album.
The juxtaposition between Sheeran’s public persona and private turmoil is palpable, as he cries openly on stage and then quickly composes himself for a meet and greet with fans. Seaborn expresses her concerns that Sheeran is not taking a break from his work to heal properly, creating tension between opposing commitments. Despite the challenges, the documentary captures Sheeran’s commitment to his craft and his dedication to inspiring his fans through his music.
“Subtract” itself is a bookend to the soul-searching of Sheeran’s earlier work, exploring the fallout from his recent tragedies with introspective lyrics and stripped-back arrangements. The album showcases Sheeran’s ability to synthesize different genres and styles, resulting in a sound that is uniquely his own. Despite accusations of copyright infringement in the past, Sheeran’s songs are not simply imitations of other artists. Instead, his music is a reduction and extraction of various influences, resulting in a style that is both familiar and innovative. “Subtract” is a testament to Sheeran’s resilience in the face of personal tragedy, as well as his dedication to his craft and his fans.