meta-scriptWhat Was YouTube's Most-Streamed Music Video Of The Decade? |
What Was YouTube's Most-Streamed Music Video Of The Decade?

Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee in "Despacito"


What Was YouTube's Most-Streamed Music Video Of The Decade?

"Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee earns the spot of the most-streamed music video of all time with over 6.5 billion views to date

GRAMMYs/Dec 13, 2019 - 03:06 am

YouTube has released data for the most streamed music videos of all time on its platform. Not surprisingly, Luis Fonsi's and Daddy Yankee's huge 2017 Latin GRAMMY-winning hit, "Despacito," earns the spot of the most-streamed music video of all time with over 6.5 billion (!) views to date.

To be clear, this is the original version, not the Justin Bieber-assisted remix, although the pop sensation also makes the top 10 list, at No. 6, for his 2015 bop "Sorry." The Purpose track earns the spot with over 3.2 billion views. In fact, each of the top 10 videos has racked up over two billion views.

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The second most-viewed music videos on YouTube is one of the other catchy-as-hell, inescapable hits of 2017: Ed Sheeran's GRAMMY-winning "Shape Of You," which has over 4.5 billion views to date. Another one of the British pop star's GRAMMY-winning songs, 2014's "Thinking Out Loud," also makes the list, at No. 10 with over 2.8 billion video views.

As for the third and fourth spots, we have 2015's "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, a GRAMMY-nominated song from the Furious 7 Soundtrack, and 2014's GRAMMY-winning bop "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. These two music videos have over 4.3 billion and over 3.7 views, respectively. Fifth place goes to PSY's 2012 meme-ready viral hit, "GANGNAM STYLE," at over 3.4 billion video views.

The seventh most video of all time goes to the song that allegedly prompted a stranger to throw sugar at Adam Levine's face, Maroon 5's GRAMMY-nominated hit "Sugar." The 2015 track's visual has over three billion views on YouTube and is followed by Katy Perry's 2013 GRAMMY-nominated empowerment anthem, "Roar" at over 2.9 million views. Finally, the number nine spot goes to OneRepublic's 2013 barn-stomping pop hit, "Counting Stars."

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The data, which YouTube shared via a press release, broke out the top music videos by the last four decades, based on the year they were originally released because, of course, YouTube has only been around since 2004. While the aforementioned top 10 videos of the 2010s were also the top 10 videos of all time, the top music videos of the 2000s, 1990s and 1980s also had some interesting finds.

The No. 1 song of the 2010s is Axel F's "Crazy Frog" at over 1.9 billion views, surpassing Linkin Park's Numb," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and Taylor Swift's "You Belong To Me," which followed chronologically on that decade chart. Guns N' Roses take the number one spots for both the 1990s and 1980s list, with "November Rain" topping the former and "Sweet Child O' Mine" the latter.

An honorable mention goes to "Baby Shark Dance," the kid's song that was released in 2016 by South Korean company Pinkfong and went viral earlier this year. The original video (not to be confused with the many spinoffs or official EDM remix by JAUZ) has earned more views than "Uptown Funk." Baby Shark's family takes the number five spot of the most viewed videos of all time (music or otherwise) list on YouTube. Don't worry, Fonsi and Yankee are still at the top of this all-content list, so they don't have to worry about any hungry baby sharks—for now, at least.

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The Sonic And Cultural Evolution Of Reggaeton In 10 Songs
Bad Bunny performs during the 65th GRAMMY Awards

Photo: Timothy Norris/FilmMagic


The Sonic And Cultural Evolution Of Reggaeton In 10 Songs

Reggaeton is now firmly in the mainstream, with stars like Bad Bunny and Karol G topping charts with consecutive hits. But the genre has had a complex history and development over decades; read on for 10 songs that track reggateon's evolution.

GRAMMYs/Oct 17, 2023 - 01:41 pm

Once a marginalized genre associated with lewdness and criminality — much like the genres from which it draws so much influence, dancehall and hip-hop —  reggaeton is now firmly in the mainstream. While dominant across Latin America in the new millennium, reggaeton has made huge inroads with English-speaking audiences in the past decade, particularly with crossover hits like "Bailando," "Despacito," and numerous Bad Bunny songs from the past three years.

Although many associate reggaeton with Puerto Rico, the roots of the genre can be found in Panama, with artists like El General and Nando Boom taking Jamaican dancehall riddims — like dembow, first introduced in the Shabba Ranks song of the same name — and rapping in Spanish over them in the early 1990s. In Puerto Rico, early reggaeton was called "underground," and gained popularity in the mid-1990s through mixtapes put out by DJs like Playero and Negro, who utilized hip-hop techniques to alter the dancehall riddims as an instrumental track for local rappers and singers like Daddy Yankee.

Reggaeton has long been a male-dominated genre (with Ivy Queen being the main exception to the rule), but in recent years female singers have become more prominent. Colombian singer Karol G, for example, is currently one of the genre’s biggest stars, and Spanish singer Rosalía pivoted to reggaeton for her 2022 album Motomami, which won a Latin GRAMMY for Album Of The Year. 

Colombian artists have also been making their way to the top of the reggaeton charts in recent years — alongside Karol G, there’s J Balvin and Maluma — although Puerto Rican artists still dominate the genre, with current stars like Rauw Alejandro and Anuel AA.

Reggaeton will only continue to evolve and develop; read on for 10 songs that represent the sonic and cultural evolution of the genre in the past three decades.

El General - "Tu Pum Pum" (1990)

Years before the term reggaeton was invented, Panamanian rapper El General (Edgardo Franco) was the first artist to gain recognition recording reggae en español. Given the history of West Indian immigration to Panama to build the Canal, it’s not surprising that the story of reggaeton begins there. This proto-reggaeton style emulated Jamaican dancehall much more closely than later styles would. El General and his friends got started by taking Jamaican riddims like the genre-defining dembow and rapping in Spanish over them; they used to board buses in Panama City and perform for fellow riders. El General was known as a skilled improvisor.

He moved to New York to study in the late 1980s, and hooked up with fellow Panamanian and producer Michael Ellis, who is said to have invented the term "reggaeton." El General’s first hit, "Tu Pun Pun" is a Spanish-language version of Jamaican dancehall artist Little Lenny’s 1990 song "Punnany Tegereg" that’s quite faithful musically to the original. 

The title of the song is slang for female genitals, and the lyrics chronicle El General’s sexual prowess in graphic detail. Its chorus chants, "Your pum pum, baby baby, won’t kill (tame) me." The song became a hit in the U.S. and El General went on to have a successful, albeit brief, career. 

Tego Calderón - "Pa’ Que Retozen" (2003)

One of the biggest tracks on Tego Calderón’s debut album, El Abayarde, "Pa’ Que Retozen" was a party anthem and one of the first reggaeton hits in the U.S. It represents the culmination of many musical shifts that took place during the 1990s in Puerto Rico. By the mid-1990s, the dembow riddim began to dominate the Puerto Rican underground scene. As the millennium approached, DJs and producers began to incorporate elements of Latin popular music genres as well.

"Pa’ Que Retozen" is a good example of this trend, as bachata-style guitar riffs play underneath Calderón’s rapping. The background track switches up several times in this song, including an incredibly catchy, high-pitched synth riff heard in the second verse. Other tracks on El Abayarde also incorporate Latin genres and instruments — like bongó drums on "Abayarde," Afro-Puerto Rican bomba percussion on "Loíza," and a full salsa orchestra and vocals on "Planté Bandera."

Ivy Queen - "Quiero Bailar" (2002)

Known as the "Queen of Reggaeton," Ivy Queen was the only prominent female reggaeton artist for nearly two decades. She released two albums in the late 1990s, but it was her third album, Diva, in 2003, that really broke through. Ivy Queen intentionally wrote from a female perspective, as she had come up in a male-dominated scene in San Juan where women were constantly being objectified.

With her deep, throaty vocal tone, Ivy Queen proclaims on "Quiero Bailar" that although she wants to dance — even in the sexualized perreo style that had become synonymous with reggaeton — that doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to have sex with her dance partner. The song is still an important anthem for women who want to feel free to bump and grind and express themselves on the dancefloor without men expecting a sexual encounter. 

Don Omar - "Dile" (2003)

Three of the genre’s most influential artists exploded on the scene at roughly the same time: Calderón, Daddy Yankee and Don Omar, with the latter two involved in a rivalry for the title of "King of Reggaeton." However, Don Omar always stood out among the three for the lyricism of his voice — he was a more gifted singer than many of his peers.

His debut album, The Last Don, is considered to be a classic, utilizing a similar approach as Calderón of injecting more melodic Latin styles, like bachata and salsa, into his music. The Dominican production team Luny Tunes, who was instrumental in expanding the sound of reggaeton and distinguishing it further from its Jamaican roots,  produced about half the album’s tracks.

Like "Pa’ Que Retozen," Don Omar’s first major single, "Dile" relies heavily on a bachata guitar line, but his vocal style is quite different from the deep, resonant rapping of Calderón. The combination of Don Omar’s tenor voice with the melodic instrumentals of "Dile" makes for a very aesthetically pleasing, yet danceable song. In addition, he interpolates a salsa song, Joe Arroyo’s "La Noche," into a bridge-like section in the middle of "Dile." 

The subject matter is also more emotional than many reggaeton songs had been up to this point, as he’s pleading with a woman to tell her boyfriend that she wants to be with someone else (Don Omar).  

 Daddy Yankee - "Gasolina" (2004)

The first reggaeton song to be nominated for Record Of The Year at the Latin GRAMMYs, "Gasolina" still stands as the genre’s most iconic and recognizable song. The song catapulted not only Daddy Yankee into the mainstream, but also the genre itself. It appeared on Daddy Yankee’s third studio album, Barrio Fino, which broke numerous records and won many awards.

Barrio Fino took a broad approach, which proved incredibly successful. Many of the album’s tracks were produced by Luny Tunes, including its two biggest hits, "Gasolina" and "Lo Que Pasó, Pasó." The album also features a salsa-reggaeton fusion and an R&B-inflected rap song that sounds like it could have been recorded by Big Pun.

As for the concept behind "Gasolina," Daddy Yankee was living in a San Juan housing project with his family, where he often heard people on the street shouting, "iComo le gusta las gasolina!" ("How she likes gasoline!"), referring to women who accept rides from men with nice cars. He took that phrase and ran with it, creating the famous hook "A mí me gusta la gasolina, dame más gasolina" ("I like gasoline, give me more gasoline"). A decade later he laughed at the idea that the term "gasolina" referred to drugs — as many people assumed — claiming that he used it literally, to refer to cars

"Oye Mi Canto" - N.O.R.E., feat. Nina Sky, Gem Star, Daddy Yankee, and Big Mato

Reggaeton exploded in popularity in the mid-aughts, which explains why there are so many classic songs from that time period. "Oye Mi Canto" was the first collaboration between an American rapper (N.O.R.E.) and reggaeton artists, and included verses in English and Spanish.

The song originally featured Tego Calderón but Daddy Yankee replaced him in the video. It also signaled an acceptance of reggaeton by New York hip hop artists — Fat Joe also appears in the video. It peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 100, a first for a reggaeton song.

The song utilizes a common feature of commercial hip hop at the time, a catchy R&B hook sung by a female vocalist, Nina Sky. The hook borrows from and adapts the recognizable chorus "Boricua, morena, Boricua, morena," which was heard on Big Pun’s massive 1998 hit "Still Not A Player," but extends it to include other Latino ethnicities beyond "Boricua" (Puerto Rican).

Calle 13 -"Atrévete-te-te" (2005)

Hardly a traditional reggaeton group, Calle 13 nonetheless created one of the genre’s most popular, beloved songs in 2005 with their irreverent hit "Atrévete-te-te." Rapper Residente and instrumentalist/producer Visitante, step-brothers, founded the group in 2004, and gained fame with a song about the FBI killing of Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos called "Querido FBI."

Residente is the most politically outspoken rapper within reggaeton, a genre the two musicians have tended to distance themselves from, preferring not to be labeled. The group’s music has always been eclectic, using live instrumentation and unusual timbres. These elements undoubtedly relate to the fact that Visitante plays dozens of instruments. The brothers still hold the record for most Latin GRAMMY Awards in history, a whopping 27 each!

"Atrévete-te-te" is an infectious cumbia-reggaeton hybrid featuring an unforgettable high-register clarinet. Residente’s lyrics are raunchy, witty, and replete with American pop culture references and anglicisms. He dares a "Miss Intellectual" to get down off her culturally elitist high horse and let loose: "I know you like Latin pop rock, but reggaeton gets into your intestines, under your skirt like a submarine, and brings out your ‘Taino’ (indigenous people native to Puerto Rico)." He reinforces his point later, singing, "Who cares if you like Green Day? Who cares if you like Coldplay?"

"Bailando" - Enrique Iglesias feat.Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona (2014)

In the 2010s reggaeton’s popularity continued to grow, and "Bailando" was one of the songs that significantly raised the genre’s visibility among English-language audiences. Nonetheless, Spanish pop singer Enrique Iglesias originally didn’t like the song.

"Bailando" was written and recorded by Cuban singer/songwriter Descemer Bueno and Cuban reggaeton duo Gente de Zona, who had become one of the island’s biggest musical groups. When Iglesias heard Bueno’s recording, he changed his mind and they added his vocals. 

Garnering many awards, and winning Song of the Year at the 2014 Latin GRAMMYs, "Bailando" was flamenco-infused reggaeton designed for mass appeal. It follows a traditional pop song format, with Iglesias singing the verses and trading off with Gente de Zona and Bueno in the extended chorus sections. The lyrics are standard love song fare, and don’t include any of the rapped vocals or Cuban slang that had made Gente de Zona so popular in Cuba. Nonetheless, it peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent a record-breaking 41 weeks at the top of the U.S. Latin charts. 

"Despacito" - Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee, with a remix feat. Justin Bieber (2017)

Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to ignore the cultural impact of "Despacito." It was already a huge hit in its original version, by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. But when Justin Bieber called Fonsi up to inquire about doing a remix, it became 2017’s song of the summer.

Like "Bailando," the original version was already as much Latin pop as it was reggaeton, and although Daddy Yankee has some rapped vocals in the second verse, he’s mainly singing as well. The producers decided to use a Puerto Rican cuatro, which opens the song, in addition to an acoustic guitar in order to give the song a more local feel. One unique element was the insertion of a rhythmic break right before the chorus "Despacito" (which translates to "slowly") comes in. The way Fonsi breaks up the three syllables in the title word, taking his time with them, is a nice touch.

The Justin Bieber remix was released three months later, and maintained the song’s original rhythms and Daddy Yankee’s verses. An English verse was added for Bieber at the beginning of the song, and he sang the "Despacito" choruses in Spanish — the first time he’d ever sung in Spanish. It quickly rose to No. 1 on the Hot 100 charts, which gave Fonsi and Daddy Yankee their first No. 1 hit. It stayed at the top of the charts for 16 weeks, tying with "One Sweet Day," by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, and remained the longest-leading No. 1 single until 2019. "Despacito" also won Song and Record Of The Year at the Latin GRAMMYs.  

"Titi Me Preguntó" - Bad Bunny (2022)

Bad Bunny is not only the most prominent artist in contemporary reggaeton — he was the biggest artist in the world in 2022. It’s impossible to list all of the accolades Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio has attained in his short career, but here are a few: His latest, Un Verano Sin Tí, was the first Spanish-language one to be nominated for Album Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs, he's been Spotify's most streamed artist in the world for three straight years.

Un Verano Sin Tí was a masterful achievement, showcasing a wide variety of contemporary Latin music beyond reggaeton, including Dominican dembow and mambo, bachata, electro-cumbia, and even indie rock — all anchored by Bad Bunny’s emo vocal style. The album is a celebration of Spanish Caribbean identity, paying homage as much to Dominican as to Puerto Rican music.

"Titi Me Preguntó" is not only one of the album’s biggest hits, but also one of its most complex tracks, featuring several discrete sections. It begins with a bachata guitar intro, followed by Bad Bunny’s rapped vocals accompanied by a sparse backbeat. His aunt is asking why he goes out with so many girls and won’t settle down. The body of the song speeds way up, keeping a sparse accompaniment, as Bad Bunny lists the names and cities of different girlfriends. 

But there’s an interesting shift at the 2:15 mark, where the bachata guitar returns and we hear a woman’s voice admonishing him for being an f-boi. It’s followed by anguished Bad Bunny vocals singing, "I’d like to fall in love but I can’t." The music changes back to the sparse backbeat accompaniment when he sings: "I don’t even trust myself," and notes how many women say they want to have his first-born child. The singing returns, as a spooky electronica melody is added into the background mix: "Listen to your friend, I’ll only break your heart…I don’t know why I’m like this." 

This is a man struggling with interpersonal demons, and this vulnerable masculinity (and his past refusal to conform to rigid gender norms) is precisely why Bad Bunny is so beloved by his female fans.  

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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How Skrillex & Fred Again.. Became Dance Music's Favorite Friendship: A Timeline
Fred Again (L) & Skrillex (R) in 2023

Photos: Kate Green/Getty Images & Venla Shalin/Redferns


How Skrillex & Fred Again.. Became Dance Music's Favorite Friendship: A Timeline

Before they both play Ill Points in Miami this October, journey back through the highlights of Skrillex and Fred again..'s party-starting bromance.

GRAMMYs/Oct 9, 2023 - 07:13 pm

Few friendships in dance music have burned as brightly as the bromance between Fred Gibson, aka Fred again.., and Sonny Moore, a.k.a. Skrillex. In a few short years, the English phenom and Los Angeles-born bass don have forged a dynamic bond as DJ partners, co-producers, and mutual muses.

Brought together as fellow Ed Sheeran collaborators, their partnership went legit on "Rumble," an instant wobbly-bass classic featuring grime MC Flowdan, which Fred teased in his star-making 2022 Boiler Room set. Mere months after "Rumble" officially dropped that January, they closed Coachella with a historic set alongside their buddy and studio secret weapon Four Tet. 

Alongside all the music and viral moments, the friendship has clearly given Skrillex — a producer always looking for his next musical evolution — a new lease on life. 

After a pinch-yourself start to the year that also included a sold-out show with Four Tet at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Skrillex and Fred again.. will meet again this October at Ill Points in Miami. While billed separately, there’s no keeping these two apart. With much more expected from this superstar pairing, we’re taking a look back through their friendship so far. 

2019: Before his breakthrough as a solo artist, Fred again.. earned his stripes as a producer for U.K. grime acts like Headie One, Stormzy and AJ Tracey, and pop stadium-filler Ed Sheeran. While hailing from different sides of the Atlantic, he and Skrillex were destined to meet some day. 

Returning as a producer on Sheeran’s 2019 album, No.6 Collaborations Project, Fred again.. intersected with Skrillex (and producer/engineer Kenny Beats) on "Take Me Back to London," featuring Stormzy. Fusing pop hooks with grime swagger, the song hinted at the crisp basslines and drums to come from future Skrillex/Fred team-ups. 

In this period, Fred played Skrillex an early iteration of "Rumble," which he’d been trading back and forth with Flowdan. "The first time I ever met Sonny, I played him the first version we had," Fred recalled in an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Jack Saunders.

Skrillex requested the "stems" (the individual isolated parts of a recording) and made a version that he worried missed the mark. "I didn’t like it," he also told Saunders. "I thought I ruined the song." He and Fred tweaked the elements until it  clicked — and their friendship was born.

2021: With COVID-19 keeping artists grounded, Fred again.. released Actual Life (April 14 - December 17 2020), a collection of achingly personal electronic elegies that cemented his signature sound.

He followed it later that year with Actual Life 2 (February 2 - October 15 2021), which explored themes of grief and catharsis through a collage of electronic production, samples and audio clips from the producer’s "actual life." Skrillex, meanwhile, kicked off the year by releasing his collaboration with Four Tet and Starrah, "Butterflies," setting the stage for more transatlantic collaborations. 

June 2022: To kick off summer, fast friends Skrillex and Fred again.. rented a house in the idyllic English village of Pangbourne to work on new music. As Skrillex recalled on Instagram, he had an album to finish, while Fred again.. was finalising music for his then-imminent Boiler Room debut. Four Tet agreed to come and hang out for a bit, bringing his toothbrush just in case he was compelled to stay. As Skrillex put it on Instagram, "This moment marked the birth of the Pangbourne House Mafia."

July 2022: When Fred again.. rolled up to his Boiler Room debut in London, no one could’ve predicted the energy to come. Surrounded on all sides by sweaty, screaming admirers, the producer blazed through a hybrid DJ-live set that blended house, U.K. garage, grime, drum & bass, and pop.

He also used the set to preview a few of his collaborations with Skrillex, including "Rumble," which sent fans clamouring for clues online. The Boiler Room session blew up on YouTube (where it now has 22 million views), catapulting Fred again.. and his to-be-released collaborations to a whole new level. 

October 2022: While promoting his third album, Actual Life 3 (January 1 - September 9 2022), Fred again.. sat down for an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe at Skrillex’s house in Los Angeles. "We’ve done a home swap at the moment," the producer told Lowe, "so he’s staying at mine in London and I’m at his in L.A." Now, that’s true friendship.

January 2023: After making fans wait, Skrillex and Fred again.. Kicked off the year with a bang and finally released "Rumble" via Skrillex’s OWSLA label. The pair also grabbed Four Tet for a surprise back-to-back-to-back DJ set at London’s Electric Ballroom, which featured a whirlwind of new and unreleased music. What started as a one-off show rolled into three extremely sold-out nights at different venues, with the trio of DJs clearly having the time of their lives.

February 2023: In a career-defining month, Skrillex released his much-anticipated album Quest for Fire, which featured collaborators like Porter Robinson, Missy Elliot, Mr Oizo, Bobby Raps, and — of course — Fred again.. and Four Tet. To celebrate the release, the "Pangbourne House Mafia" casually announced a show at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden, which sold out within three minutes. To warm up, the trio created pandemonium with an impromptu DJ set in Times Square, where they trialled some new edits ahead of the big show.

April 2023: After selling out Madison Square Garden without breaking a sweat, and releasing team-up track, "Baby again.." in March, the unlikely supergroup of Fred, Skrillex and Four Tet went looking for the next high.

As it happened, that opportunity came on the second weekend of Coachella. With Frank Ocean relinquishing his Sunday headlining spot after a divisive weekend performance, the festival left a tantalizing TBA in the final slot. Before long, the cat was out of the bag, and dance music’s new favorite trio were headed to the desert with memeable merch bearing the slogan, OMG TBA.

"I didn’t think I was gonna be back with my brothers like this for a longgggg time," Fred again.. wrote on Instagram. "Until last night. And here we are." 

Appearing on a circular stage deep in the crowd, the DJs closed down Coachella with the excitement of three friends who couldn’t quite believe their luck. 

June 2023: With the members of the "Pangbourne House Mafia" returning to life as solo artists after Coachella, Fred again.. announced a three-night run at New York’s Forest Hills Stadium in October, followed by Ill Points in Miami, and then eight shows at Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles. With LA being Skrillex’s hometown, the two producers are sure to cook up something new - after, this is one friendship with a lot more to give.

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11 Reasons Why 2023 Is Ed Sheeran's Definitive Year: Two Albums, Stadium Attendance Records & More
Ed Sheeran performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April 2023.

Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images


11 Reasons Why 2023 Is Ed Sheeran's Definitive Year: Two Albums, Stadium Attendance Records & More

What may just be Ed Sheeran's busiest year yet has arguably also been his most career-defining. From epic special guests on tour to unique fan surprises, take a look at 11 ways 2023 has been monumental for the pop superstar.

GRAMMYs/Oct 3, 2023 - 06:20 pm

It's hard to say that Ed Sheeran is having a "moment" — since his debut album + in 2011, he's had countless groundbreaking career milestones. But 2023 may just be his most monumental year yet.

Sheeran's banner 2023 came on the heels of what was arguably his hardest year to date, as his Disney+ documentary, Ed Sheeran: The Sum Of It All detailed. The four-part doc sees the star cope with losing his best friend, his wife's cancer diagnosis, and his copyright case for "Shape of You" — and in turn, channeling all of that pain and grief into his sixth album, Subtract. By the end of the doc, Sheeran says of his wife's positive prognosis and the pending album releases, "All great news. And heading into a year where, hopefully, it's all good news."

Fortunately for the four-time GRAMMY winner, 2023 has been all good news. Sheeran himself has said this year has been his best year so far, telling fans on Reddit, "The older I get, the more I feel I'm figuring it out and having more fun with it." 

His latest 2023 achievement comes in the form of Autumn Variations, Sheeran's seventh album and second in just five months. What's more, the LP arrived just one week after Sheeran broke yet another stadium attendance record at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium, where he ended his North American Mathematics Tour on Sept. 23. (He'll play a rescheduled show in Las Vegas on Oct. 28 after experiencing production issues on Sept. 9.)

Below, check out 11 moments that helped 2023 become Ed Sheeran's definitive year.

Paying Tribute to Jamal Edwards

Sheeran started out the new year with a beautiful tribute to his late best friend, Jamal Edwards, on the YouTube channel for SBTV, which Edwards founded in 2006. Shot in Stamford Bridge — the home to Edwards' favorite football team, Chelsea F.C. — surrounded by candles, Sheeran raps about the anguish over losing his "brother" and vows to keep his legacy alive.

Edwards, who helped launch Sheeran's career in the early days, died suddenly from a drug-induced heart attack in February 2022. His death hit Sheeran hard, inspiring several songs for Subtract, including lead single "Eyes Closed." The F64 video relaunched the series for SBTV and garnered over 2 million views.

"Everyone remembers him the way the media is telling you — that he was a mogul and he set up SBTV and he was worth this and that," Sheeran emotionally told Zane Lowe in their Apple Music interview upon Subtract's May release. "But, he was just a really great, lovely, funny bloke."

Breaking Multiple Stadium Attendance Records

Throughout his Mathematics World Tour this year, Sheeran has broken several stadium attendance records — some of which were his own records. He first broke some in Melbourne, Brisbane, Wellington, and Perth in February and March;. at Melbourne's MCG Stadium, Sheeran initially broke the record by performing to a 107,000-strong crowd on March 2, but topped that record 24 hours later with 109,500 fans for this March 3 show. 

"Ed loves to break a record and he's smashed this one," Matt Gudinski, CEO of Mushroom Group, the live entertainment management group for the Mathematics World Tour, said in a press release.

In North America, Sheeran continued smashing attendance records in Santa Clara, Minneapolis, New Jersey, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Foxborough, Chicago, Nashville, Kansas City, Vancouver, and Los Angeles. As Sheeran noted on Instagram, his biggest US attendance was at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where he played to more than 82,000 fans. 

"My dad told me if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, and today was really reminiscing about playing my first show at mercury lounge in 2012 to 130 people," he added in the caption. "It feels like a dream today."

Debuting A Disney+ Docuseries

In May, Sheeran released a documentary series with Disney+ alongside his Subtract release. It documented the process of the album, and showed a little more depth into Sheeran's personal life — one that he keeps very private.

His wife, Cherry Seaborn, came up with the idea of the documentary after she was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their second child. Fortunately, it ended up being less serious than it was initially diagnosed, but it made her reflect on her own mortality — what people's perception of her would be and what she would leave behind. 

"For Ed, the whole point is that he wants to say to people, 'I'm not just this music machine. I'm not just this robot that tries to get No. 1. I'm a father. I'm a son. I'm a friend. I'm a husband,'" Seaborn reflects in the docuseries.

Filmed throughout 2022, the series follows Sheeran as he processes his pain and grief over the loss of Edwards, while also working on his visual album. The four-episode series focused on the themes Love, Loss, Focus, and Release.

After the release of the album and documentary, Sheeran told Z100's The Elvis Duran Morning Show how much he enjoys hearing that people are connecting with both the record and docuseries despite its sad undertones. 

"What I didn't want is like, 'sad pop star does sad documentary and sad album,'" Sheeran explains. "What I wanted was to do a sort of snapshot of grief and depression and have people connect it to their own feelings. The people that made the documentary for me, two of them lost their mothers whilst we were doing the documentary. They found the process cathartic by making it and watching it. I think it's good."

Releasing Subtract

Subtract, the final album in Sheeran's mathematically titled series, arrived on May 5. It's the first of his albums to have a visual album alongside it — 14 different music videos created for each song.

During his press tour, Sheeran shared that he loved all of his albums, but Subtract reflected more of who he was at the start of his career as an acoustic singer/songwriter. Because of this, he felt uncomfortable about the release, unsure how it would do commercially.

"It's foreign territory for me," Sheeran told Zane Lowe. "Usually with Equals, Plus or Multiply, it's like you write for three years and pick the best songs and then that's the album, whereas this one I wrote for a month and all the songs came out. It's not even necessarily a risk because my fans originally liked me for my singer/songwriter stuff, but it's the unknown of not having 'Shivers' to fall back on. Each of my albums, I've always been like I've got this."

Subtract in fact has been a commercial success: Sheeran reached his sixth No. 1 on the UK Music Chart, becoming the UK's fastest-selling album of 2023 so far, shifting 76,000 chart units in its opening week. It also reached No. 1 in Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Scotland, and Switzerland, and hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S.

Within two weeks of each other in May, Sheeran won two copyright infringement lawsuits involving his 2014 GRAMMY-winning song "Thinking Out Loud," which was sued for its similarities to Marvin Gaye's classic "Let's Get It On." He believes the verdict would help protect the creative process for songwriters in the U.S. and globally; Sheeran even claimed he would quit the music industry if he had lost the case.

"I am obviously very happy with the outcome of the case and it looks like I am not having to retire from my day job after all," he said after the rulings. "But at the same time I'm unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all."

Sheeran testified in court with his guitar, playing demos for the jury to prove the 1-3-4-5 chord progression at issue was a common "building block" of pop music and couldn't be owned. Music experts for the defense also proved that the chords were used prior to Gaye's song. After three hours of deliberations that followed the two-week trial, the jury were in favor of Sheeran, finding that he independently created his hit single. 

Performing With Luke Combs At The ACM Awards

On May 11, Sheeran made his Academy of Country Music Awards debut with his Subtract track "Life Goes On," which he performed as a duet with country superstar Luke Combs. The duet version of the song was officially released following the show.

While it was Sheeran's first ACM appearance, it wasn't the first time he and Combs have performed together. Combs — who has covered Sheeran's song "Dive" many times — brought Sheeran out as a surprise guest while singing "Dive" during his C2C Festival set in March 2022. (Combs later released an official recorded version of his cover.)

Their friendship hit a whole new level after Sheeran posted a video on Instragram of the country star teaching him how to shotgun a beer. Combs finished his beer within three seconds, to which Sheeran said, "That's really impressive."

Surprising Fans All Over The Country

In conjunction with the release of Subtract in May, Sheeran teamed up with American Express to create a weekend Subtract Pop-Up experience in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and Boston. Along with giving fans an interactive take on the album, Sheeran made surprise appearances to the pop-ups in NYC, LA, and Dallas, performing several songs outside each venue.

Sheeran made surprise appearances at iconic establishments on several stops of his tour — from performing "Lego House" at the LEGO Store at the Mall of America in Minnesota, to playing barista at the Starbucks' original Pike Place location in Seattle, to serving up cheesesteaks at Philadelphia's famous Philip's Steaks. He also sang "Thinking Out Loud" for not one, but two sets of newlyweds: one at his favorite karaoke bar in Nashville, and another at Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.

Before his Chicago concert at Soldier Field, Sheeran stepped behind the counter of The Wieners Circle, a restaurant notoriously known for hurling insults at their customers while serving hot dogs. According to a tweet from the establishment, Sheeran's stint seemingly held up his reputation as one of the nicest guys in the industry: "Our newest trainee @edsheeran has a lot to learn, he's way too proper and friendly."

He added to the fun with Autumn Variations, performing tracks from the album in fans' homes, which he unveiled in a series of videos and an album version titled Autumn Variations (Fan Living Room Sessions).

Giving Intimate Subtract Concerts

Alongside Sheeran's North American stadium shows, he played a series of intimate performances of Subtract in its entirety (as well as his biggest songs) at much smaller venues. The Subtract Tour was inspired by Sheeran's performance at London's Union Chapel, where he played the tracks in front of a crowd for the first time. As he was performing, he began to weep — a rare occurrence for the star, but an important learning moment.

"Every time you release music, it starts to just belong to the public. That's why music is really special because whenever an artist releases music, it does belong to you guys. It does become your stories and your thoughts," Sheeran said during his Subtract Tour show in Los Angeles. "And what I wanted with this album was to come out and play it more so I can feel less sad about it. It's kind of a grieving process for me to sort of stand on stage and sing these songs."

Performing Alongside His Heroes & Fellow Superstars

It's no surprise that a global superstar like Ed Sheeran would draw a number of famous folks to his concerts — like Chef Gordon Ramsey, Chris Hemsworth, Lil Nas X, and Matt Damon, who all paid Sheeran a surprise visit at his Metlife show.

But it was the guests that appeared next to him on stage that surprised the fans, too. Ontario-bred singer Shawn Mendes surprised the crowd at Rogers Centre in Toronto, where the pair sang Sheeran's 2011 single "Lego House" and Mendes' 2017 hit, "There's Nothin' Holding Me Back." Mendes had originally wanted to attend the concert, but Sheeran suggested, "You can't just come to the show. You gotta come up and sing a song."

When Sheeran's opener Khalid couldn't perform in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Sheeran called on some friends to help out: John Mayer on June 30 and Little Big Town on July 1. After Mayer opened the show, he later joined Sheeran on stage to sing "Thinking Out Loud" which they've performed together the 2015 GRAMMYs and again at Mayer's show in Tokyo in 2019.

"When Ed asked me, the idea was just too intriguing to pass up," Mayer wrote on Instagram. "I love the opportunity to help cover for two of my friends at the same time."

Two weeks later, Sheeran asked his Detroit crowd if he could perform a cover of the city's rap icon Eminem. In the middle of singing "Lose Yourself," Eminem emerged from beneath the stage and joined in on the song. They continued their duets with Eminem's 2000 hit "Stan," which the duo performed together during the rapper's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year.

"I remember spraying my hair yellow and rapping Eminem in the school talent show when I was 11, insane to be able to bring him out to my show in Detroit," Sheeran reminisced on Instagram. "Really a moment I will never forget, a real career and life highlight."

Sheeran continued the trend of bringing out a performer from their hometown with Macklemore at Lumen Field in Seattle. Sheeran caught up with Macklemore that day — as he told the crowd, they've been friends for 10 years — and invited him to perform alongside him that night."

The duo, who performed together back in 2014 at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, sang Macklemore's hits "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us." 

Opening For John Mayer At The Wiltern

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After opening for Sheeran at Gillette Stadium, John Mayer called on his friend to repay the favor to support a good cause at LA's The Wiltern on Sept. 19. The show benefitted the Heart and Armor Foundation, which supports the health of veterans of war.

Sheeran kicked off the evening with seven songs, including "Castle on the Hill," "Bad Habits," "Shivers," and "Shape of You." He later joined Mayer on stage to duet on 2006's Continuum fan favorite, "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," and a cover of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin." 

Following the duets, the two hugged and Sheeran told the crowd, "I just said to John, 'I feel like I'm going to watch that on YouTube for the rest of my life.' That was so special."

Releasing His First Album On His Own Label

As personal as Subtract was for Sheeran, Autumn Variations is truly his very own. It marks his first album released on his own label, Gingerbread Man Records.

Like he did on Subtract, Sheeran teamed up with The National's Aaron Dessner to create Autumn Variations, which he released on Sept. 29. Inspired by the composer Sir Edward Elgar — who composed Enigma Variations, where each of the 14 compositions were about a different one of his friends — Sheeran wanted to do the same about his own pals. In the fall of 2021, Sheeran and Dessner started working on music together, which Sheeran said in a statement "captured the feeling of autumn so wonderfully." 

"When I went through a difficult time at the start of last year, writing songs helped me understand my feelings and come to terms with what was going on, and when I learned about my friends' different situations, I wrote songs, some from their perspectives, some from mine, to capture how they and I viewed the world at that time," he added. "There were highs of falling in love and new friendships among lows of heartbreak, depression, loneliness and confusion."

By going through his own record label, Autumn Variations will mark the first studio album that Sheeran will own the copyrights to. With ownership of his work, Sheeran has more freedom to release whatever he wants and however he wants to — and not worry about industry pressures. 

As Sheeran revealed in an "Ask Me Anything" session on his Instagram stories on the eve of Autumn Variations' release, he has no expectations for the album to perform as well commercially as his past releases. The past year reminded him why he originally wanted to become an artist: to be able to release music that he wants out there.

"I haven't released an album independently since I was 19," Sheeran said. "I'm super excited to just put an album out for the sake of putting an album out and not having any sort of commercial pressures around that. And yeah, no singles, no videos and I hope you love it. It's meant to just feel like a warm hug."

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