Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits”
Ed Sheeran entered the musical world with raw talent, a guitar, and beautiful, heartfelt lyrics about the hurt, pain, and joy of lived experiences. So what is he doing appearing as a vampire in the video for “Bad Habits” when vampires, famously, are not alive?
The opening shots of the video take us through a grungy city and inside a salon, where a black-nailed and pink-suited Sheeran bares a set of fangs as he begins to croon: “Every time you come around, you know I can’t say no / Every time the sun goes down, I let you take control.” The video is dark and feels like it should belong in the world of graphic novels or comic books. Sheeran’s pink suit-clad vampire is Joker-like, dancing through streets filled with scared citizens and assembling a crew of undead cronies. Unlike the Joker, though, Sheeran is not brought down by a cape-wearing, justice-seeking superhero. Instead, he is redeemed by the light.
Sin is a familiar concept for many of us, dating back to Sunday-school stories about Adam and Eve and the eating of the forbidden fruit. Genesis 3:8 says, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” When we have sinned, we often try to hide from God. We feel ashamed at what we’ve done and the decisions we’ve made. My therapist recently explained to me the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is recognizing or perceiving that we have done something wrong, whereas shame is feeling that we are entirely wrong. Shame cuts much deeper, equating our mistakes or actions with our entire selves. When we feel shame, we often use phrases like “I’m unworthy of . . .” and “I don’t deserve . . . .” As Sheeran sings, “I was lookin’ for a way out, now I can’t escape.” We often feel trapped in the shame of our sins.
The “Bad Habits” music video cleverly uses Sheeran’s seven vampire cronies to demonstrate the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. In a blog for our sister ministry, Groundwork, Christopher Hunt writes, “The Seven Deadly Sins are in fact seven deadly attitudes.” These attitudes influence our actions, just as the seven vampires try to influence Sheeran throughout the video. We see Sheeran and crew take flight, fangs bared, as the crowd scatters in terror. He sings, “Every pure intention ends when the good times start / Fallin’ over everything to reach the first-time spark.”
The “Bad Habits” music video cleverly uses Sheeran’s seven vampire cronies to demonstrate the Seven Deadly Sins.
Interestingly, though, there is then a twist—a light, a hope for good. Sheeran gets stuck in a sea of yellow smiley-face balloons and spots a young vampire, alone and afraid. He gives her a (fangless) balloon, consoling her. In this moment, we see the possibility of redemption. “I only know how to go too far,” sings Sheeran. But the good news for us, as Christians? We can’t go too far for God. In an essay titled “On sinning no more . . .,” the late author and theologian Rachel Held Evans wrote, “I go, but I do not sin no more.” It’s impossible for us to lead perfect, sinless lives. We are fallen people, subject to original sin. But we also have a God who so loves us that he sacrificed his own son for our very redemption. We have a God who brought our shame to the cross. In her memoir Searching for Sunday, Evans wrote, “When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.”
In the “Bad Habits” video, vampire Sheeran catches his non-vampiric self being launched from a car crash, watching him deflate to the ground. He sings, “My bad habits lead to late nights, endin’ alone.” With God, we are never alone. John 1:4-5 tells us, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” At the end of the video, the sun begins to rise. We see the vampire cronies take cover from the sunlight, ducking under cars and into darkened buildings. But Sheeran stays in the light, letting it wash over him. His vampiric self fades away, the glittered eye makeup and the fangs disappearing with the darkness. He is redeemed by the light, just as we are redeemed by God. The poetic ending to this video reminds me of Ephesians 5: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” We are woken from the darkness, risen from the dead, and given new life through the light of Christ.
Sheeran repeats the refrain “My bad habits lead to you” throughout “Bad Habits;” in fact, he ends the song with those lyrics. While we can’t be sure of the exact “you” being referenced, I like to think of it this way. Another skill my therapist taught me was to reframe the repetitive, negative phrases in my mind. Instead of feeling shame or placing blame in my bad habits, I think of them as leading me to God. I understand Sheeran when he sings, “Swearing this will be the last, but it probably won't.” I need God, his mercies, his grace, his forgiveness. With God, each sunrise, each new day, is an opportunity to start afresh, thanks to the love of our Redeemer.