The “Sad, Skinny Girl” Trope in Indie Music: Ed Sheeran’s “A Team”

It seems like this is a recurring theme in indie music: you know, the girl who’s just so skinny and sad and broken that the singer has no choice but to write about it (instead of…helping her?) The Toast wrote about this a few years ago, but seeing as it’s a consistent issue, I felt like writing about it – specifically, as the trope occurs in “A Team” by Ed Sheeran.

Ed Sheeran is the classic boy-with-a-guitar singer/songwriter. He’s the type that you remember showing up at college talent shows with a sheepish, “anyway, here’s ‘Wonderwall.’

“A Team” is one of Ed Sheeran’s most popular songs. Musically, it’s fairly simple, and even catchy. What’s most surprising is that the beginning of the song is so upbeat sounding: the guitar goes skittering quickly underneath his voice as Sheeran sings about “White lips, pale face/Breathing in snowflakes/Burnt lungs, sour taste/Light’s gone, day’s end…”

The song tells the story of a drug-addled call girl who still retains her beauty and her “Class A team…daydream” despite the tough situation she’s in. Sheeran’s role is one of impartial observer – a familiar role for singers in this genre. Why is it that male singers feel the need to write women like this? In indie music, women are firstly and most importantly described as beautiful. Then, to give them “dimension”, the lyricist gives these women baggage that he watches her struggle with – but will not intervene by making himself an actual character in the song.

I still enjoy listening to indie music, but I think it’s important to be aware of what lyrical tricks these songwriters are pulling.

What songs are frustrating to you?

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