The idea that well-loved teddy bear Ed Sheeran might actually be cool and worthwhile is the greatest pop-culture con of 2017. It is a dangerous myth perpetuated on this very website, and by rights, it should end today, with Sheeran’s new Beyoncé collaboration “Perfect Duet.”
Don’t let the name fool you, because the “Perfect Duet” is not. First of all, it’s an Ed Sheeran song, already released in solo form on his bestselling album and commemorated with an unbearably sincere winter-themed video. “Perfect” is the No. 5 song on the Hot 100 right now, even though it’s basically a repackaging of Sheeran’s own “Thinking Out Loud” created so that couples getting married next year can avoid copying their friends who got married last year.
Naturally, the addition of Beyoncé all but guarantees that “Perfect” will enjoy continued commercial success into December. She sounds great, of course, especially when she sings “an angel in person”; the layered backing vocals are more aesthetically pleasing than the original song’s string section. You should need no further proof of Ed Sheeran’s corniness than the way a line about “[carrying] children of our own” sounds coming from a grown woman who’s done the job, as opposed to how it sounds coming from 26-year-old adolescent getting way too far ahead of himself on the third date.
Listening to regular “Perfect” against “Perfect Duet,” you’ll notice Beyoncé’s part was gender-swapped. Changing “Well, I found a woman / Stronger than anyone I know” to “I found a man…” means one can’t help but picture Jay-Z, making the duet something of an epilogue to the marital discord and reconciliation storylines of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Jay’s 4:44. As for why Beyoncé agreed to inscribe this epilogue into a months-old Ed Sheeran song—well, I can only imagine he asked very politely. “I don’t deserve this,” Sheeran sings in “Perfect,” and Ed, buddy, you’re absolutely correct.