If you’re already counting down the days till you get to see Ed Sheeran onstage this year, guess what: James Blunt will be there, too, so congratulations, you’re beautiful.
Turns out Sheeran invited his pal on the U.S. stretch of his tour, because why not? This makes even more sense when you learn that Ed wrote a few songs for Blunt’s upcoming (and fifth) studio album. (Also because James was in attendance when Princess Beatrice sliced Ed with a sword in November. OK!)
Which brings us to a very important question: Is James Blunt cool now? And if he is, where have we been? Is it our fault that we didn’t know? How did we miss this? What’s going on?
Let’s go back to 2004. Thirteen years ago, the Englishman released “You’re Beautiful,” the song we heard everywhere and even this morning when it was played in the lobby of the fast-food restaurant some of us were blessed enough to visit. The track defined that year. And it also defined 2005. And 2006 through 2008, respectively (when it was still on every mix CD that ever was). But from there, Blunt’s North American profile sort of dwindled. While his follow-ups, All the Lost Souls (2007), Some Kind of Trouble (2010), and Moon Landing (2013), were relatively successful in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, they failed to find the traction of their mid-noughties’ predecessor over here. Add to this a 2014 advice column that was criticized as sexist (which he later claimed was purely satirical), and the consensus seems simple: not cool.
But nothing in show business is that simple. While Blunt was roundly mocked for his poshness and possible casual misogyny, he pushed back with a self-aware strategy that saw him apologizing for “You’re Beautiful” — which was really rather thoughtful of him, if not necessarily cool.
And now he’s back! After three years of relative quiet on the Blunt front, he has just released a new single and announced an album, The Afterlove, coming this March. If either of these counts as cool, it’s in direct coalition with the promotional assist he’s gotten from the very popular and cool Ed Sheeran.
The “best mates” narrative that Sheeran and Blunt are trying out is an interesting variation on Taylor Swift and her squad. Where Swifty is surrounded by the carefully chosen crème de la crème of pop-culture queens, Sheeran and Blunt seem to be going for something more informal, whether they’re holding hands on the red carpet or witnessing Princess Beatrice brandish a sword. Hanging out with your friends in a goofy, unrehearsed way is cool, is it not?
This helps explain James’s choice to announce the release of his new album via a video of him in the bath, making jokes about his 12-inch. Or the fact that he prepped us for new album news with the simple tweet, “If you thought 2016 was bad — I’m releasing an album in 2017.” Like, this means he’s got a sense of humor, yes? And that makes him cool, right?
The thing is, the window for Blunt to be cool by traditional standards has closed. In 2004, when we first heard “You’re Beautiful,” we were still living in a pre–social media world. As his star rose in the U.K., we North Americans had but one, Twitter-less association with him — that song we hated. Then a lot of time passed. And now, as he reaches our fair shores later this year, James Blunt is essentially the Cady Heron to our North Shore High School: He’s a new guy who can be whoever he wants (and the limit doesn’t exist).
This means that, provided he doesn’t use the stage to explain to us why his satirical advice column was the funniest thing in the world (#woof), Blunt can use his new profile to prove himself to be an artist who exists outside the realm of That One Song — and just maybe, he can give us reason to look at him as more than Sheeran’s buddy whose music played in our waiting rooms for over a decade.
So, no, James Blunt isn’t cool per se. But he can be more: an artist who’s changed and grown and learned to think before speaking. He can be Sheeran’s pal who’s earned the privilege of playing in front of thousands across North America. And, honestly, that’s actually cooler.