When analyzing Ed Sheeran’s song, “What Do I Know?” it became clear that there is more than one musical lineage that the song sprouts from. However, there are two main ideas that become the most apparent. Although the song is in the folk-pop genre, these themes and concepts have been spreading through all different genres through time. These genres include folk, rock, blues, pop, and even country. 

One musical lineage that came to mind with this song has to do with peace, spreading love, and coming together as a nation or community. There are many lines in the lyrics of “What Do I Know” that contribute to this theme. The entire chorus is stating that with love, understanding, and positivity, we can make the world a better places. Meanwhile, the verses specifically call out certain social issues occurring in our society that include our obsession with wealth, our current protests, our judgments of one another, and our overall division of humanity. With this song, Sheeran is attempting to tell the world that a lot our societal problems can be helped by changing our attitude, and spreading love and positivity to one another.

Going off of this theme, there are many songs that have contributed to the idea of spreading peace and love throughout time. There are two songs that we have even talked about in class extensively. First, “If I Had A Hammer” by Pete Seeger expresses almost the same message that Sheeran is sharing now. The lyrics “If i had a hammer, I’d hammer out love between my brothers and sisters” is spreading the same message as the lyrics “Love could change the world in a moment,” or “we could change this whole world with a piano.” Another song that we looked at in class is “Imagine” by John Lennon. This also shares the concept of dreaming of a peaceful world in hopes that society will learn to love one another. In addition to these two songs, I branched out into other genres and time periods that share the same ideas and themes. “Heal the world” by Michael Jackson is another song that emphasizes the fact that we as humans need to learn to take care of each other in order to make the world a better place. Lastly, in the hip hop genre, “Where Is The Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas is a more modern depiction of these same elements. It illuminates all of the problems and concerns going on in the world, and constantly asks “where is the love?” hinting that with love, the world will be better. All of these songs, from different times and different genres, all contribute to the musical lineage of peace, love, and spreading happiness within humanity.

Another musical lineage that came to mind when looking at this song is the struggle that Ed Sheeran is having internally. Throughout the song, he seems to make digs at himself for just being a man with a guitar. Just being a man without a college degree. Being a man without a platform to make these societal comments. One takeaway that I gathered from this aspect of the song is that one person cannot change the entire world. One artist and one song cannot change the minds of every person, no matter how much they want to. It has occurred to me that there are many artists that have these thoughts and emotions about these subjects, but are afraid to express them. These artists have constantly been told that they should keep politics out of their music and to “shut up and sing.” In recent years, artists have started going against this critique, and both subtle and overtly bringing their opinions into their music. This song by Ed Sheeran seems to be his way of working out if he can make a difference, and how he can make a difference. He is deciding to use song to express his thoughts and feelings, while at the same time making the point that music, love, and positivity can make a difference if artists and humanity as a whole come together. 

Other songs that came to mind when thinking about these ideas and themes include “Waiting On The World To Change” by John Mayer, “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, “Change The World” by Eric Clapton, and “I Can’t Change the World” by Brad Paisley. While all four of these songs hit at a different genre and sound, they all contain the same ideas. John Mayer speaks about how some people feel unimportant and unheard in society. He then goes on to say that they end up standing back, and watching the world crumble. Next, Michael Jackson takes a different approach, and emphasizes the need for people to start with themselves. He sends the message that if we want change, we have to start with ourselves. Instead of stepping back and watching others take control, we have to change ourselves in order to spread change in others. Lastly, both Eric Clapton and Brad Paisley run with the idea that they would like to change the world and spread love, but do not feel they can. They combine this theme with the first theme of spreading peace in that they state that if they could change the world, they would change it in a way that creates love.

These two musical lineages definitely brought me deeper into Ed Sheeran’s song “What Do I Know.” It is becoming very clear that while the song is definitely spreading the message that society needs to spread love, understanding, and positivity, it is also spreading the message that many people are having internal struggles with their status. Even a super successful popstar like Ed Sheeran is degrading himself, and deems himself unworthy of speaking up. I have learned that many artists are feeling this way, and that they are struggling with the idea of spreading their thoughts and feelings with the world. When they have such a high status in our world, why can’t they use it to spread love?