Ed Sheeran is having quite the year. Recently named the most listened-to artist on Spotify for 2017, the popularity of March album ÷ has carried the British singer-songwriter to the top of both U.K. and U.S. charts alike several times with dancey singles like “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill.” Although the album was met with mixed critical reviews, its commercial success and widespread radio play has led to a pop monopoly for Sheeran; his nice-guy reputation and narrative-based love songs appeal to teenage girls just as much as they do to adult pop listeners. This success has led to a new post-release single from the singer and pop legend Beyoncé, a stripped-down acoustic duet of Sheeran’s song “Perfect.”
It’s doubtful that anyone would have expected this duo would ever collaborate, especially in the wake of Beyoncé’s experimental R&B album “Lemonade,” which won the Grammy award for Best Urban Contemporary Album this year. Although strange to hear Knowles’s powerhouse voice over a bare-bones acoustic instrumental, it adds something profound to “Perfect,” more than Sheeran could do himself. The song begins with Sheeran’s trademark vocals and a homey guitar accompaniment, and as the first chorus hits, the power of his husky English drawl makes up for a simple background. It sounds much like the original album version, if not more intimate in nature; the lyrics are sappy but simple and create an image of rom-com romance.
However, as Beyoncé begins the second verse, it’s clear that lived experience adds something deeper to the ballad. Where lyrics like “I found a man / stronger than anyone I know” and “(carrying) children of our own” may feel contrived coming from the mouth of an unmarried and childless 26-year-old, they ring true with the soulful voice of a woman with a husband and three children. It’s that soul, namely in the gospel-style harmonies Knowles provides to the verse and following choruses, that brings “Perfect” to another level of musicianship. This version of the song is certainly different than the original, but arguably more poignant; Sheeran’s at times sickly-sweet style is balanced by Beyoncé’s sincerity, creating a genuinely enjoyable listen.