Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the highly anticipated video for Ed Sheeran’s "Galway Girl" landed today. The three-minute ad for the Irish tourist board shows Sheeran’s very own Irish girl, Saoirse Ronan leading him by the hand through the streets of Galway as they embark on a pub crawl, run into locals, throw some shapes on the dance floor, knock back pints of Guinness and hit up a tattoo parlour.
The Irish-inspired anthem reached number two in the UK and number one in Ireland and hasn’t left the top 10 since it was released in March; so why does everyone I know seem – to put it mildly – to detest it so violently?
Other songs from Sheeran’s latest album Divide continue to dominate the charts and it's finally become acceptable to listen to "Shape Of You" without irony (phew). "Galway Girl" has been a huge popular success and has generated a forest’s worth of column inches, but it seems to be one of the most hated songs of our age.
It was panned by critics, described as a “ludicrous” song with a “preposterous” fusion of sounds, and a “hilariously literal take on Irish-inflected pop”. It’s been slammed on social media; even Sheeran's record label tried to keep it off the album. “They were really, really against "Galway Girl", because apparently folk music isn’t cool,” he told The Guardian. “But there’s 400m people in the world that say they’re Irish, even if they’re not Irish. You meet them in America all the time: ‘I’m a quarter Irish and I’m from Donegal.’ And those type of people are going to fucking love it.”
I’m not even one of those people – as far as I know, I’m roughly 0% Irish – but I fucking love "Galway Girl".
Considering the song’s phenomenal commercial success, I know I’m not alone but, among my friends, family and colleagues, I’ve become a pariah. I was very nearly banished from the office when I accidentally pulled out my headphones from the socket mid-song. I wish I was exaggerating.
I’ll admit the lyrics are a patchwork of Irish stereotypes and cheesy as fuck. Not only does Sheeran’s Galway girl “play the fiddle in an Irish band”, she’s also a whizz at darts and pool, and somehow manages to stay conscious after drinking Jameson, Jack Daniels, Guinness and Johnny Walker during a single evening. One minute she’s dancing to Van Morrison and the next she’s dancing a ceilidh to trad tunes.
So, no, it’s not subtle and if I were Irish there’s a chance I would be offended by Sheeran's checklist approach to my culture. But then again, it all seems to be done in good faith and his heart is in the right place. Sheeran clearly loves the Irish and a pretty sizeable chunk of them seem to love him back – fans showed up in their droves to watch the video be filmed in Galway last month, and the song is still in the Irish top three. The album's other "full-on Irish trad song" (as Sheeran put it), "Nancy Mulligan", even reached a higher chart position in Ireland than it did in the UK.
All the hackneyed Irish references have got me craving a mini-break to the city – and the Irish tourist board has only Sheeran to thank.
Even without its questionable-but-well-intentioned lyrics, "Galway Girl" would still be catchier than herpes. Sonically, it's worlds away from what we're used to hearing in the charts right now – and that's arguably something to be thankful for in itself. It was recorded with Irish trad/folk group, Beoga, and is set to bodhrán and uileann pipes – when was the last time you heard those in a top three single?
Yes, "Shape Of You" is a banger of the highest order and will no doubt come to be thought of as the song of 2017, but its tropical house vibe sounds like 90% of the rest of the pop chart. "Castle On The Hill", released at the same time, is a heartwarming nod to Ed Sheeran's Suffolk hometown and childhood, but its sound is at least five years out of date. (Sheeran even admitted it was a "Radio 2 single", while "Shape Of You" was expertly crafted with a Radio 1 audience in mind.)
"Galway Girl", though, defies categorisation. While girls like her probably don't exist, and the haters will no doubt keep on hatin', I'll keep listening to it and singing its praises – right after I've booked my flight to Galway.