So much of last month's Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden was about massiveness -- Justin Bieber and his elaborate dance productions, Taylor Swift and her huge stage set, One Direction and all the screaming that accompanies them.
And then there was Ed Sheeran.
The 21-year-old singer-songwriter from England stood alone onstage. Armed only with his guitars, a microphone and his simple, acoustic songs, he managed to hold the capacity crowd's attention and elicit screams nearly as loud as his pals in One Direction.
"That was really a surprising thing," Sheeran says, calling from a tour stop in Belfast. "I never expected to have the reaction that I got. It was a really, really cool thing."
For many, a standing ovation from a Madison Square Garden crowd after the performance of your song that was just nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy would be the crowning achievement of a career.
Sheeran, though, says he's just getting started.
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He says he actually chose the Grammy-nominated ballad "The A Team" as his first American single because he saw it as a challenge. "It's a song without any kind of percussive element about quite a dark subject," Sheeran says of the song about a promising student who falls on hard times after getting addicted to drugs.
"When we first went to radio with it in December of 2011, not everybody got it... I wasn't expecting it to be received in a very strong way, but, to me, it was a very important thing for it to be the first single."
He believed that if he could break onto American radio with a song that difficult, then the following singles from his debut album "+" (Atlantic) would have an easier road. Thing is, "The A Team" has been such a success, still in the Top 20 nearly six months after arriving on the pop charts, that he's only now getting around to releasing a second single -- the more upbeat "Lego House."
Depending on how things go with "The A Team" at the Grammys, Sheeran could actually find himself with three songs he has written on the charts at the same time, including One Direction's current single "Little Things."
In many ways, "Little Things" getting scooped up by the British boy band is even more surprising to Sheeran than his own American success. "I was never planning to record that song," Sheeran says. "Some songs are just not meant to be sung by you. It's amazing to see what that song's done now. It had done nothing for me for three years. It just sat in my laptop."
Sheeran may find himself with another hit later in the year through his collaboration with Swift, "Everything Has Changed."
"I actually sat with her and wrote the song," Sheeran says, adding how, in today's music industry, most stars of Swift's stature simply have songwriters send their ideas. "There's so much to learn from someone with that level of fame, someone that talented, with that much drive. But she still has so much humility."
OPENING FOR SWIFT
Swift was equally charmed by Sheeran. "I think Ed is fast becoming the most in-demand songwriter in the world... writing for One Direction has pretty much made him in demand from everybody," Swift recently told England's Daily Star. "He's a talented performer, too, but in 20 years we could be looking back at him as one of the all-time great songwriters."
Swift enjoyed working with Sheeran so much that she picked him to open for her upcoming "Red" tour of arenas and stadiums, including the July 13 show at MetLife Stadium.
Yes, Sheeran plans to do that tour with only his guitars, just as he plans to play Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday all alone. "It's not necessarily a new thing -- one man with an acoustic guitar," says Sheeran, pointing out that one of his biggest influences, Damien Rice, toured in the same way. "It's been around. It's just now it's more associated with an older or alternative artist, not the pop world. I've been lucky enough to become part of that world."
LIKES THE USA
Now that Sheeran has joined the American pop world, he plans to stay. "There's just so much for me to achieve with this album in America," he says. "I feel things are just starting to open up to me."
He says one of his career goals, along with his album going triple platinum, is to return to Madison Square Garden as a headliner.
"My dad came from the boxing world," Sheeran says. "He has always said that the day you've made it is the day you headline Madison Square Garden. I can't wait to do that. The amount of energy is incredible -- to be alone without anyone else there. You feed off that energy."
WHO Ed Sheeran
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Wednesday, Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave., Manhattan
INFO $35-$55; 800-745- 3000, ticketmaster.com
The new Bristish invasion
Ed Sheeran's success with "The A Team" in America has led to an increased interest in other British singer-songwriters. Here's a guide to some that hope to follow Sheeran across the pond:
ALBUM "Jake Bugg" (Mercury)
SOUNDS LIKE A mix of Johnny Cash and Oasis, bringing together American country and folk with Britpop
DON'T MISS "Two Fingers," an upbeat retro-rocker sing-along
ALBUM "Every Kingdom" (Republic)
DON'T MISS "Only Love," a sweet acoustic love song with a bit of a swagger
ALBUM "Wishbone" (ATO)
SOUNDS LIKE A mix of latter-day Dylan and Ryan Adams recklessness
DON'T MISS "In Your Way," a powerfully simple folk-rocker with a bit of country ache