At the end of last month, Ed Sheeran released his first solo track off an album in 4 years. “Bad Habits,” the first single off his upcoming fifth album, the track has stayed a radio favourite since its release on June 25th. The song debuted at number 5 on the Billboard hot 100, and has since surpassed K-pop giants BTS’ new track “Butter” for the #1 spot on Billboard’s global 200 excl. U.S. Chart as of July 10th. Just one day earlier, Sheeran released an acoustic version of the track, which has already accrued over a million plays and counting on Spotify.
While that million plays is a lot, it’s dwarfed by the near hundred million plays of the original version – though the original had a two-week lead on the acoustic version. At this point, it’s too early to tell if there’s a fan favourite, so we’re going to look at both versions and tell you which one we think you should listen to next!
Glossy synths dance across a melancholy, arpeggiated backing melody, as Ed’s tenor crooning floats over top. A bouncy, Y2K-style synth bass and club-ready kick and snare pattern pump through the second verse, leading up to the danceable chorus where Ed riffs on the idea of comparing a former lover to a bad habit.
The whole song takes on a smoky, glitz-and-glam synth house character, fairly new territory for Sheeran, musically. And this moody aesthetic is matched in the music video that sees Ed in a slick, bring pink suit, and sporting heavy, dark glittery eyeliner, a set of black polished pointed fingernails, and a pair of vampire fangs pointing out between his lips.
As always, a stripped down acoustic ballad is 100% in Sheeran’s wheelhouse, and his latest single is no different. A little slower and more intimate, this is the realm that Sheeran has spent most of his songwriting tenure – it’s where he’s most comfortable. It’s also where a lot of his fans like him best.
Sheeran’s talent in his minimalist, acoustic singer-songwriter style really comes through in this song. The guitar and vocal tracks feel raw and close, with Sheeran switching to an almost whisper-quiet falsetto during the choruses. An accompanying piano part fills the spaces between Sheeran’s finger-plucked guitars and really adds a subtle but needed support that really drives the song forward.
For this reason, there’s no competition when you compare the original and the acoustic version. The original, while catchy, feels very flat. It’s got no direction, and the chorus is indistinguishable from the verses, which isn’t what you want for a dance pop hit. Then just when you think the song’s about to go somewhere, it’s over.
With the acoustic version, however, Sheeran takes his time, and the dynamics really add a shape to the song as a whole. It takes the listener along for a journey, and feels much more like the heartfelt acoustic balladry where Sheeran really shines. Only time will tell what Ed’s fans will think, but for us, it’s the acoustic version all the way.