Sheeran rejects use of his song for anti-abortion cause

Ed Sheeran (left) said his song, Small Bump, is about a friend who had a miscarriage.
Ed Sheeran (above) said his song, Small Bump, is about a friend who had a miscarriage.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Pro-life campaigners in Ireland have hit a bump. Pop singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran does not approve of them using his song, Small Bump, to advocate their cause.

The Grammy Award winner has posted on Instagram, saying he had been informed that the song was being used to promote an antiabortion initiative.

"I feel like it's important to let you know I have not given approval for this use and it does not reflect what the song is about," he wrote.

Small Bump, which is from his 2011 debut album +, was reportedly played by pro-life activists campaigning in Dublin's city centre, The Guardian reported.

The country is days away from voting in a referendum on Friday to repeal the Irish constitution's Eighth Amendment, which is considered one of the most severe abortion bans in the developed world.

If a majority vote to repeal, lawmakers could introduce legislation allowing abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The window of time would also be extended in the event of fetal abnormalities or if the mother's health is in danger.

According to a recent poll by the Irish Times, 58 per cent of respondents are in favour of removing the amendment.

Small Bump's emotional music video opens with bleak shots of a hospital, including a ticking wall clock and an empty bed.

Then, the camera slowly advances down a hallway towards a waiting area where a despondent Sheeran sits hunched over.

"You're just a small bump unborn, in four months you're brought to life," he sings.

"You might be left with my hair, but you'll have your mother's eyes/ I'll hold your body in my hands, be as gentle as I can/But for now you're a scan of my unmade plans."

The song concludes with two gut-wrenching lines: "'Cause you were just a small bump unborn for four months then torn from life/Maybe you were needed up there but we're still unaware as why."

When Small Bump was first released, activists, such as The Pro Life Campaign, an Irish organisation, praised the song for its "beautiful life-affirming lyrics".

However, in 2011, Sheeran told Interview Magazine that the song was about a friend who had experienced a miscarriage. The lyrics, he said, were "from the perspective of actually being the parent".

This is not the first time a song has been used against an artist's wishes or misinterpreted as part of a campaign.

More than 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen objected to former United States president Ronald Reagan's use of his 1984 classic, Born In The U.S.A, as the anthem for his re-election campaign.

Despite the patriotic title, the song is actually meant to be a critique of the country and its treatment of war veterans, rather than a celebration of being an American.

"I think people got a need to feel good about the country they live in," Springsteen told Rolling Stone in 1984. "But what's happening, I think, is that that need - which is a good thing - is getting manipulated and exploited."

Since then, countless musicians have spoken out against the politicisation of their songs, especially on the campaign trail.

In 2016, on his show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the comedian highlighted artists' frustrations with politicians who use their songs without asking and taking them out of context.

When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump emerged at the Republican National Convention to Queen's We Are The Champions, the band were quick to voice their disapproval, tweeting: "An unauthorised use at the Republican Convention against our wishes."

In the case of Sheeran's song being hijacked by an anti-abortion campaign, fans who know the song's true meaning were outraged that it had been misperceived and associated with abortion.

On Twitter, one user wrote: "Do your research. I can't believe that pro-life are using his song without his permission... and it's not even about that."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2018, with the headline 'Sheeran rejects use of his song for anti-abortion cause'. Print Edition | Subscribe