Ed Sheeran, the wildly successful English singer-songwriter with 113 awards and over 65 million monthly Spotify listeners, dropped his supersized new album No.6 Collaborations Project on July 12th. He wrangled seemingly every major musical artist in the United States and United Kingdom for a feature on the album—Khalid, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Chance The Rapper, Stormzy, and Justin Bieber all make appearances before the album reaches the halfway point.
Looking at the concept behind this album, one can’t help but feel that Ed Sheeran’s primary focus is on amplified streaming statistics, countless radio plays, and awards to be won across the world. No.6 Collaborations Project is less of an album and more of a carefully designed experiment. If AI could generate passable, guaranteed platinum pop-crossover hits, this is ultimately what it would churn out.
Every single song sounds like a Kidz Bop version of the featured artists’ style. They’re watered down pastiches of good work, cynically designed to be jammed at the top of popular Spotify playlists across the genre spectrum. There are plenty of songs on No.6 Collaborations Project that are inoffensive, even pleasant; however, their musical significance is akin to the nutritional value of cotton candy. The production is half-baked and vocals are thin at best, with each song blending into the next, like a pop white noise machine that rings through the husks of retail stores struggling to hang on. The songs that do happen to stand out are noticeably bad; the vaguely racist undertones of “South Of The Border (feat. Camila Cabello and Cardi B)” are uncomfortable, while the truly horrendous “Remember The Name (feat. Eminem and 50 Cent)” reeks of dated wordplay and cringe-worthy attempts at cheekiness.
The only merit that can be bestowed on No.6 Collaborations Project is the idea that a wider swath of listeners will be introduced to some more exciting rap and R&B artists. Young Thug, J Hus, Dave, Stormzy, H.E.R., and Ella Mai are bright spots on an otherwise forgettable album—if No.6 Collaborations Project is the vehicle that gets the average listener to expand their musical horizons, then so be it.
No.6 Collaborations Project is ultimately not bad, but not great either. However, it’s an album that knows how to expertly manipulate the system we’ve accepted as a measure of artistic success. Hopefully, the overt gamification of streaming that Ed Sheeran is attempting will cause us to look at our own dependence on these metrics. When it comes to the music, what really counts: streaming numbers, or emotional resonance? Perhaps No.6 Collaborations Project will serve another purpose—to move the music industry’s barometer of success to more of a qualitative scale than a quantitative one.
Stream Ed Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project.