What does "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran mean?
And you can check out my podcast about "Shape of You" on iTunes or here!
"Shape of You" Lyrics Meaning
Ed Sheeran released this song while I was on a trip to Africa, so I didn't get the chance to explain it right away, but there's still time, and I'd like to take a closer look at the meaning of the lyrics. Sheeran is an extremely talented musician, and I've greatly appreciated the artistry of some of his other songs, so it's a pleasure to explain this one.
"Shape of You" is unique mostly because of the island style beat and instrumentation. The lyrics seem unique for Ed Sheeran songs. They're largely about sex and falling in love with a woman's body whereas many of his songs seem a bit sadder and less sugary. But that's all right. We're here to explain, not to judge "Shape of You," and the light-heartedness of this song's meaning can be a good thing anyway.
"Shape of You" Meaning
In "Shape of You," Ed Sheeran describes a relationship that begins at a bar and quickly leads to a bedroom. Before long, the two people are dating; the woman's body and the man's impetuosity bring them together. Through this song, Sheeran hints at how sexual attraction can lead to a deeper relationship but doesn't explore that too much further, preferring to focus on the sexual attraction, which makes up the larger part of the theme of this song.
Interestingly too, "Shape of You" follows a pop structure stereotype. It is organized verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus. This particular structure is well known to pop music and appears in many songs. For example, The Weeknd's recent album Starboy employs this structure in over half of its songs. Many other pop artists make free use of this structure too.
Sheeran begins "Shape of You" by describing the environment and letting us know that he's interested in love: "The club isn't the best place to find a lover / So the bar is where I go." Perhaps the bar is more conducive to discussion, but in any case, he goes there with his "friends" who are "at the table doing shots / Drinking fast and then we talk slow." They're moderately drunk or at least buzzed when Sheeran notices a women there.
He encourages her to "[c]ome over and start up a conversation with just me." He assures her, "And trust me, I'll give it a chance now." He wants to see what happens with her. In reference to Van Morrison--the writer of "Brown Eyed Girl"--Sheeran tells her, "Take my hand, stop, put Van the Man on the jukebox / And then we start to dance, and now I'm singing like," which carries him into the pre-chorus. But before we go there, we shoudl note that Van Morrison is one of Sheeran's musical idols, thus the mention here.
The pre-chorus of "Shape of Love" is almost a proposal of love or interest. Ed Sheeran sings, "Girl, you know I want your love / Your love was handmade for somebody like me." The "handmade" reference seems to be him saying that they were "meant" to be. The reverence some people give to handmade items is a reaction against industrialism and mass production of items to feel like they have less meaning because they are clones of other items.
Sheeran is saying here that her capability to love is well made and intended for a person like him. What kind of person is he? I think he's changing and that listening to this song (full of confidence and impetuousness) and the rest of the album will tell us.
He continues, saying, "Come on now, follow my lead / I may be crazy, don't mind me." While it's weird to tell a love interest to ignore you, Sheeran is saying that he wants her to live in the moment, not to think about him too much, and to have fun.
The rest of the pre-chorus, Sheeran's voice is accompanied by a falsetto version of his own voice, which, in conjunction with the lyrics, seems to indicate that these words are from the woman's perspective. Of course, the falsetto continues throughout the chorus, but that may just indicate that the falsetto mixed with Sheeran's voice sometimes indicates something they're both capable of saying.
In the pre-chorus, it's clearly the woman: "Say, boy, let's not talk too much / Grab my waist and put that body on me / Come on now, follow my lead." Sheeran's hopes have been realized. Not only is this woman interested in him, she's taking the lead in initiating sex.
In the chorus, Sheeran allows us to spend more time observing from his perspective. He sings, "I'm in love with the shape of you." Is he also in love with her? He doesn't seem to be so at first. This is purely physical attraction.
He describes sex with her when he sings, "We push and pull like magnets do," but he then reminds us that sex isn't all there is to any relationships, and it's quickly becoming only one of the several things making this relationship interesting. Sheeran tells her, "Although my heart is falling too," after he mentions the magnets. He's falling in love with her for real.
But he only lingers there for a moment and quickly brings it back to sex: "I'm in love with your body / And last night you were in my room / And now my bedsheets smell like you."
But their relationship still grows in other ways as he sings, "Everyday discovering something brand new." This could be in reference to sex and exploring her body or learning more about who she is in ways other than those related to her body.
In the second verse of "Shape of You," Sheeran sings, "One week in we let the story begin / We're going out on our first date." Here he's recounting the deepening of the relationship and mentioning that they've begun dating. The characters here are both somewhat poor, so he sings, "You and me are thrifty, so go all you can eat / Fill up your bag, and I fill up a plate." They're eating at a buffet so that they can eat a lot of cheap food for little money.
When he says that they "talk for hours and hours about the sweet and sour," it's reference to the buffet they're at, but it's also them talking about life's difficulties and good aspects. He's thoughtful, so they spend some time talking about how her "family is doing okay." Once that's over, they "[l]eave and get in a taxi, then kiss in the backseat / Tell the driver make the radio play . . . ." Despite veering into deeper topics for a moment, the two characters quickly return to what interested them about the other in the first place.
The bridge is a repetition of the sentence, "Come on, be my baby, come on." He wants her to be more permanently with him and to take on an appropriate title for the role.
Deeper Meaning of "Shape of You"
It's difficult and unwise to draw something too deep from "Shape of You." There aren't enough details to understand relationships better with, and the song is only describing the fun parts of the relationship. Sure there may be ups and downs, but it'll be interesting to see if a relatoinship like this one shows up in another song on Sheeran's upcoming album "Divide."