Long division: A look back at a remarkable couple of months for Ed Sheeran and ÷

Long division: A look back at a remarkable couple of months for Ed Sheeran and ÷

After months of build up, the day the world finds out how many copies Ed Sheeran’s ÷ sold in its first week is finally here. In the last Midweek update, the record had cleared 500,000 sales and was cantering towards turning double platinum. 

So while you wait for the final figure to emerge this afternoon, take a trip back through the timeline of Sheeran’s comeback, the biggest music industry story of the year so far. 

December 13, 2016: Sheeran posts an image of a blue square on Twitter.

January 1, 2017: The singer returns to Twitter, this time with a video promising ‘New music coming Friday!!’.

January 2: The big one. Well, the first big one. The title of Sheeran’s third album is out of the bag as he tweets the ÷ symbol in a video accompanied by the message ‘6th January 5am GMT | midnight ET x’

January 3: Now he’s posting lyrics, as ‘When I was six years old I broke my leg’ flashes in blue type against another blue background.

January 6: The first taste of Sheeran’s new music arrives, as Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill are released. Less than 12 hours later, both rocket to more than 1 million YouTube views apiece and hit Nos 1 and 2 in the iTunes chart. “Hello 2017!,” he said.  “I’ve been working hard on the new material and I hope you can be as excited about it as I am. I really wanted to show two different sides to my music that I’m equally as passionate about and I just knew I wanted to roll with two songs at the same time. I’m absolutely buzzing to be back.”

January 9: Three days later, Shape Of You had shifted 83,000 copies and was heading for the singles summit, with Castle On The Hill not far behind. The tracks also broke Spotify’s first day streaming record, reaching more than 13m combined plays. 

January 10: The first Midweeks. Sheeran’s comeback songs are outselling the rest of the Top 20 combined, with 112,544 sales for Shape Of You and 102,590 for Castle On The Hill.

January 12: ÷ is given a March 3 release date, as the tracklisting is revealed. We’ll be seeing a lot more of every song on it. 

January 13: Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp talks to Music Week. On whether the huge anticipation brings pressure, he says, “We’re very grateful to be in this situation and hope we can live up to that, we’re just happy people care and are interested and we hope we give them what they want.” Which now seems rather quaint.

January 13: The first week numbers are in. They’re all massive (except the ones that just read ‘1’). Relive the memories here. The headline is: Shape Of You gets 271,541 sales (134,198 from streams) and Castle On The Hill gets 230,659 (110,744 from streams). This is the biggest opening week for any artist since Adele’s return with Hello in November 2015, which debuted at No.1 with 332,000 combined sales.

January 20: The first news of touring plans drops in an interview with MTV. Sheeran says he’ll be on the road in March.

January 26: As his stranglehold on the singles chart continues, Sheeran announces a UK tour for April/May.

February 6: The singer’s BRIT Awards performance is confirmed. He’s now held the top two spots in the singles chart for four weeks. No one’s getting bored of his new tunes any time soon.

February 13: After completing a fifth week at Nos 1 and 2, he announces a Teenage Cancer Trust show at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

February 17: Ed turns 26. That’s 26. To celebrate, he lobs another new song over his fence and into the world. Say hello to How Do You Feel (Paean). It hits No.2, tucking behind Shape Of You on 55,347 sales.

February 27: Music Week’s Ed Sheeran special issue hits newsstands, inside we talk to manager Camp and team Atlantic.

March 3: Release day. We ask if ÷ can become one of the fastest-selling albums ever, as the man himself visits HMV on London’s Oxford Street to buy a copy. Arriving at the till with his vinyl he says, “23 quid for the vinyl? Fucking hell!”. In the meantime, Shape Of You makes it eight weeks at the top of the singles chart.

March 4: It’s fair to say ÷ is off to a flying start. 232,000 physical and digital copies are sold in its first 24 hours of release.

March 6: The record closes on 500,000 sales, 431,702 to be precise. All 16 tracks bombard the singles chart. 

March 8: You guessed it (well, some of these music execs did when we asked for their week one Sheeran predictions) ÷ flies past half a million with a second Midweek total of 541,088. The portion of downloads (154,930) outstrips the biggest combined first week sales figure for the whole of 2016, David Bowie’s Blackstar (146,000). 

March 9: Spotify confirms that ÷ achieves the best first week of streams for an album in a little over four days. The previous record was held by The Weeknd, whose Starboy got 223m streams in 7 days last November. Sheeran's album notched 218m streams in just 4 days, then broke The Weeknd's total in the early hours of Tuesday (March 7). By the end of Tuesday, the album's fifth day of release, it had been streamed over 273m times. Shape Of You is global No.1 on the platform, with Galway Girl at No.2. All 16 tracks are in the global Top 50 while all 16 make up the Top 16 on Spotify UK. "It's fair to say that Ed Sheeran nearly broke Spotify this week,” reads a statement.

March 10: Just you wait…

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