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This week during the Global Citizens Festival in South Africa, the two pop stars staged a rendition of their duet “Perfect.” Beyoncé donned a glorious pink frock, and Ed Sheeran wore the T-shirt combo every high school boy bought from Target at some point in the 2000s.
Twitter quickly to pointed out the double standard of how men and women should look on stage, and, by extension, how that pressure determines what people wear in everyday life. While Beyoncé’s performance involved six outfit changes, Sheeran was allowed to walk on stage like … that.
Ed Sheeran is a 27 year old man the fact we’ve enabled him to feel it’s ok to dress like this at all, let alone next to Beyoncé really boils my piss pic.twitter.com/Q6XqgTFuvQ— shon faye. (@shonfaye) December 4, 2018
This photo is v v v v representative of what we expect from men and women at the top of their game, isn't it? https://t.co/cfeLw8n1aI— Daniel (@sillyolddaniel) December 4, 2018
I get this.— Fat in Public (@garlicmeg) December 4, 2018
Even tho I appreciate good musicians in normal clothes the double standard is ridiculous... what is expected of female vs male artists. https://t.co/xLEcNXVuX7
The larger narrative on gender norms evaporated, though, as people realized that anyone standing next to the Beyoncé will likely pale in comparison—regardless of what they’re wearing. “That’s just what white people always look like standing next to Beyoncé,” one user wrote.
Ed Sheeran is actually wearing a 3-piece custom tuxedo. That’s just what white people always look like standing next to Beyoncé. pic.twitter.com/YO2nyuNOSw— Solomon Georgio (@solomongeorgio) December 4, 2018
Let’s be honest. I could wear a tux and would look like shit next to Bey if she was wearing a burlap sack. Lol https://t.co/CgMspSsrCf— Drewcifuer (@Drewcifuer26) December 4, 2018
Meanwhile, the image took on a life of its own and became—of course—a meme. One Twitter user “fixed” the image, editing it so that Sheeran looked one iota as fabulous as Queen Bey.
Some related the image to other popular memes from this year, like the hot duck in Central Park and “me on Twitter vs. me on Instagram.”
beyonce is me on instagram and ed sheeran is me on twitter pic.twitter.com/XH1diYZPis— Jill Gutowitz (@jillboard) December 4, 2018
“Beyoncé is the Central Park Glamor Duck and Ed Sheeran is a, well, any other duck.”https://t.co/H7aJlEsIKc— R. Eric Thomas (@oureric) December 4, 2018
Every guy who has a podcast and his girlfriend pic.twitter.com/8YOaCdznCf— Rachel Sennott (@Rachel_Sennott) December 4, 2018
Of course, the jokes only temporarily alleviate the pain of Sheeran’s ultimate sin: committing a fashion crime next to Beyoncé herself.
Alyse Stanley is a video game and culture reporter based in Virginia with words at Polygon and USGamer. When she’s not writing about memes, she edits Unwinnable’s monthly magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @pithyalyse.