10 Aug 2017

The Singles Life: Meet New Zealand's answer to Ed Sheeran

10:23 am on 10 August 2017

Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.

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Photo: Unknown

Love him or hate him, Ed Sheeran is one of the most popular musicians in the world, with a strong Kiwi fan base. So strong in fact that one of them decided to literally follow in his footsteps: 21-year-old Mitch James who, having gigged around the UK and Europe, recently landed a record deal with Sony. But is this Sheeran-alike worth the hype? Katie and Hussein have some reservations.


Hussein: New Zealand musicians - and maybe even politicians, for that matter - have a rich history of ripping off popular international artists to try and make a name for themselves. So it comes as no surprise whatsoever that someone would eventually try and do the same with Ed Sheeran, the often-gross, always-cheesy King of the Charts.

That's where Mitch James comes in. He's a singer/songwriter from Auckland, who scored himself a deal with Sony Music over here. But not only does James sound like Ed Sheeran, he's weirdly mimicking his every move (minus, of course, the mass success).

“I finished school at 17 and I read about Ed Sheeran’s blueprint – basically going to London and gigging every single night, whether it’s an open mic night or a gig for a meal or just busking. So I flew over on a one-way ticket with £20,” he told The Spinoff.

His latest video is for a song called ‘Won’t Bother Me’, which is about “an old friend that let me down who virtually got jealous of my new-found success”. It contains the lines “you can hate on me / as hard as people can be / it won’t bother me”.

Katie: This whole project - the sound, the aesthetic, the fact that HE WENT TO ENGLAND TO BE LIKE ED SHEERAN - is a strange one, and maybe that’s just because he’s so open about what he’s doing.

And I mean, he’s not the only one. Every day it seems like there’s a new singer doing the Rihanna patois and, locally, there are more young pop singers doing the Lorde thing than you can shake a stick at.

Unlike most of the trendy-yet-miserable elite, I have no problem with Ed Sheeran. He seems like a lovely, amiable little man who is entirely good humoured about the fact that he slightly resembles a potato. His music, while not for me, is very, very popular and actually OK for being insanely corny.

Having said that, I don’t think it should be replicated. Why does this being derivative bother us more than all the other things that are derivative?

Hussein: It probably has something to do with this press release.

Katie: It had to come up eventually. Everything in that press release from the subject line ‘Homeless to Hitmaker’ to the scintillating bullet points letting us know he witnessed a stabbing is just wrong and I just can’t imagine who thought it would be a good idea.

Now, of course, it's hard to know how much say in something like that James would have had - maybe he was just as mortified as us? - but I think it's pretty clear that fetishising and romanticising homelessness to sell some music is super tone-deaf. Do rough sleepers really want to hear this guy singing a song called ‘No Fixed Abode’? I think not.

Hussein: It's always amusing to see those types of press releases get sent out and then a day or two later finding an article that regurgitates the entire thing.

But as calculating and icky as that rollout feels, what got him here was a YouTube mash-up of ‘7 Years’ by Lukas Graham, ‘Let It Go’ by James Bay and ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’ by Six60 (not to mention a recommendation from his label-mate MAALA). He says the mash-up approach gives him a point of difference from the thousands of dudes that play cover songs on the internet.

I can kind of see the appeal. James has got a powerful voice, but too often he adopts the same vapid soul-searching shtick that Sheeran seems to default back to time and again. When it comes to his own music, there's a song about not being able to hold down a relationship while on the road, another about unrequited love, and one about "being mesmerised by a lover" and trying to live in the moment. They're all interchangeable, seemingly destined for a short lifespan.

Or maybe not. There is an audience for this, after all - Ed Sheeran having the number one album in the country says enough about that - but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect something that’s not quite as unimaginative. I hope in some way he gets the time and resources to develop his own sound.

Katie: That - and some better PR advice.

Follow Katie and Hussein on Twitter.