The A Team (song)

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"The A Team"
Single by Ed Sheeran
from the album +
Released 12 June 2011
Format Digital download
Recorded 2010
Genre Indie folk
  • 4:18 (album version)
  • 3:42 (radio edit)
Writer(s) Ed Sheeran
Producer(s) Jake Gosling
Ed Sheeran singles chronology
"If I Could"
"The A Team"
"Young Guns"
Music video
"The A Team" on YouTube

"The A Team" is the debut single by English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. It was released as a digital download in the United Kingdom on 12 June 2011, serving as the lead single from his debut album, + (2011). "The A Team" is a folk ballad with lyrics that speak of a prostitute addicted to crack cocaine, a Class A drug. It was written after Sheeran visited a homeless shelter and heard some of the stories of the lives people had been living. Making the song upbeat and using the line "Class A Team" was his way of masking the heavy subject matter. He wrote the song following a last-minute performance at an event for the homeless. The chorus of "The A Team" was also used by Sheeran in the track "Little Lady", which features Mikill Pane. "Little Lady" is available on the EP No. 5 Collaborations Project.

The song received acclaim from critics, who commended the lyrics and production and Sheeran's vocal performance. It became a top 10 hit in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It debuted at number three on the UK Singles Chart, with sales of 57,607 copies.[1] The song was serviced to U.S. radio formats in late 2012 and became a sleeper hit there, gradually rising up the Billboard Hot 100 to peak at number 16 – becoming Sheeran's first single on that chart. On 5 December the song received a Grammy Award nomination for Song of the Year, Sheeran's first Grammy nomination. At the 2012 Brit Awards it was nominated for Best British Single.[2]

Background and release[edit]

"'The A Team' came from an experience I had when I did a gig at a homeless shelter", says Sheeran of the song. "I was 18 at the time and kind of quite naïve. So, I was a bit taken aback by some of the stories that I heard. I got home that night and I just wrote a lot of the lyrics. I wanted to write it so it sounded kind of upbeat, so you wouldn't really know what it's about, because it's quite a dark subject." In a video interview with Billboard, Sheeran explained the song's title. "A drug like crack cocaine is called a 'Class A drug'. That's in the same category as heroin. Instead of making it clear and just saying what the problem was, I'd say, 'She's in the 'Class A' team.' It was kind of my way of covering up (a person's addiction), I guess, making it a bit more subtle."[3] The single was released 1 May 2011, in the UK through Atlantic Records. In U.S. "The A Team" was serviced to radio format Adult album alternative (also triple-A, AAA, or adult alternative) on 27 February 2012.


According to the sheet music published by EMI Music Publishing, "The A Team" is set in common time with a tempo of 170 beats per minute. Written in the key of A major; Sheeran's vocals range from the note of A2 to A4. Instrumentation is provided by guitar, piano and vocals.[4] "The A Team" is an indie folk/soul song. Gary Trust from Billboard compared the song to "folk/rock hits like Suzanne Vega's 'Luka' (about child abuse), 10,000 Maniacs' 'Like the Weather' (depression) and Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car' (alcoholism)", songs that "shade their heavy topics under a melodic canopy".[3]

Critical reception[edit]

"The A Team" received critical acclaim by music critics. Ryan Reed from Billboard praised the songwriting and musical composition writing:

[T]he song is a dark yet overwhelmingly tuneful slice of jazz-folk. Built on palm-muted guitars and a simmering string arrangement, Sheeran chronicles a young girl's descent into an endless web of drug addiction and prostitution: "Stuck in her daydream… Lately, her face seems slowly sinking, wasting, crumbling like pastries," he sings. A songwriting prodigy—he released his first two albums while still in high school—and up-and-coming phenom in his native Britain, Sheeran has an unflinching eye for subtle details and colorful imagery, and his music is full of soulful vocal runs and patient atmosphere. Although the subject matter of "The A Team" isn't exactly radio-friendly, the hook sure is.[5]

Mark Moore of awarded the single 7/10 and stating that the song is a "beautiful melodic track that is made by its dark lyrical content..."[6] Critics also praised Sheeran's vocals. Robert Copsey of Digital Spy awarded the song 5 stars out of 5 and wrote, "man-and-his-guitar concept is about as cliché as they come, but it's his intelligent lyrics and softer-than-cream-cheese vocals that set him apart from the pack." He further praised the song commenting "Sheeran's frank honesty and lump-in-the-throat-like emotion are weighted by a folky melody and off-kilter acoustics."[7]

Chart performance[edit]

The track made its debut on the UK Singles Chart at number three on 19 June 2011[8] – entering as the second highest new entry behind Calvin Harris and Kelis' "Bounce", which debuted at number two. On its second week charting, the single fell two places to number five – falling a further place to number six on 3 July. On its fourth charting week, "The A Team" returned to its peak of number three – where it spent three consecutive weeks.[8] "The A Team" became the best selling debut single and the overall eight best selling single of 2011, shifting 801,000 copies.[9] "The A Team" also saw chart success elsewhere, peaking at number two and number three on the Scottish Singles and Irish Singles Chart, respectively.

The single debuted on the Australian Singles Chart at number thirty-two, 23 October 2011. It peaked at number two for two weeks[10] and has been certified triple platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for sales of 210,000 copies.[11] On the New Zealand Singles Chart the entered at number thirty-eight, 21 November 2011. It peaked at number three and has been certified platinum by Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) for sales of 15,000 copies.[12]

After being serviced to radio formats in U.S., the song made its first American chart entry on Billboard‍ '​s component Adult Pop Songs at number thirty-eight.[13] It also debuted at number 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since peaked at number 16, becoming his first top 20 hit on the chart. It also peaked at 29 on the Canadian Hot 100. As of February 2015, "The A Team" has sold 2.3 million copies in the United States.[14]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the song was shot and edited by Ruskin Kyle (Rivers Rush Video Production Company).[15] Sheeran refers to when he first created the demo for the song during an interview with 96.1 KISS,[16] "Whenever I wrote songs in the past, I never recorded them down because I didn't have a recorder but I had a Mac computer and made a video version of it." The original demos for "The A Team" were originally all recorded in this manner but not released to the public. When asked about his inspiration behind the Grammy nominated hit, Sheeran shared, "The A Team is written about a woman that I met in a homeless shelter."

The video was uploaded to YouTube on 22 April 2010.[17] It narrates the story of a girl addicted to drugs, living on the streets of London, played by Selina MacDonald. She tried to sell magazines for money, but only managed to sell one to Sheeran. The girl struggled so much that she resorted to selling her body to earn money. She may not have loved it, but it provided her with a general income. Later on, the pain became too much for her to bear and she just wanted to end it all. She traded in her "dirty" money for drugs, referencing the lyric "...and in a pipe she flies to the motherland." In the end, the girl succumbs to her drug abuse. An acoustic, unplugged version of the song was also uploaded onto the official Ed Sheeran YouTube page on 10 May 2011.

Live performances[edit]

Ed Sheeran performed the song on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on March 30, 2012 and on the talk show Conan on May 8, 2012. Sheeran performed an acoustic version of the song live at the Diamond Jubilee Concert in front of Queen Elizabeth II on 4 June 2012.[18] Sheeran performed the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show along with "Grade 8" on October 4, 2012 and on Jimmy Kimmel Live! along with "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" on December 19, 2012. Sheeran also performed "The A Team" as a duet with Elton John at the 2013 Grammy Awards on February 10, 2013.

Cover versions[edit]

In July 2011, Birdy covered the song at BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge.[19][20] Luca Hänni, winner of the ninth season of Deutschland sucht den Superstar performed the song in the Top 16 show on 25 February 2012. Kendall Schmidt from Big Time Rush posted a cover of the song on YouTube in June.[21] On 17 June 2012, during One Direction's Up All Night Tour, member Niall Horan covered the song at Anaheim's The Theatre at Honda Center.[22] The X Factor contestant Lucy Spraggan has also used the music from the song, rewriting the lyrics from the perspective of the man who uses the services of the girl of the song, with version entitled "The B Team". X Factor Indonesia contestant "Mikha Angelo" covered the song in the third gala show. Also, the Jonas Brothers covered the song on their tour during Latin America.[23] In May 2013, Caroline Glaser performed the song on the live playoffs of The Voice. Felicia Hallengren did a cover at the contest Talang Ronneby 2013. In 2013 the French movie "Les Gamins" used a cover version by St John's International School choir for its OST [24][25][26] On January 19, 2013, singer Masha, covered the song on her YouTube channel, as of November 2013 Masha's cover has received nearly 50,000 views.[27] In January 2013, YouTube stars, Andy Lange and Chester See, made a cover on Lange's channel. The video currently has over 140,000 views. [28]

Track listing[edit]

Digital download
No. Title Length
1. "The A Team"   4:18
2. "The A Team" (Shy FX's Ackee and Saltfish Remix) 4:28
3. "The A Team" (KOAN Sound Remix) 4:39
4. "The A Team" (True Tiger Remix) 3:39
5. "The A Team" (Acoustic) 4:01
CD single
No. Title Length
1. "The A Team"   4:18
2. "The A Team" (KOAN Sound Remix) 4:39
7" vinyl
No. Title Length
1. "The A Team"   4:18
2. "The A Team" (Shy FX's Ackee and Saltfish Remix) 4:28

Charts and certifications[edit]

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label
Ireland 10 June 2011[86] Digital download Atlantic Records
United Kingdom 1 May 2011[87]
10 June 2011[88]
13 June 2011[89] CD single
United States 27 August 2012


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External links[edit]