The Internet has brought us some incredible talent over the past couple of years in respect to the music industry. Justin Bieber (minus his childish antics and increasingly annoying ego), Tori Kelly and her raw, natural talent, and this 18 year old Canadian singer who started out on Vine, Shawn Mendes. That’s right, 18. He doesn’t seem 18, especially not with the maturing sound of his music, nor does he look 18. And of course, being 18, people are determined to put him in the box of teen pop singers that write and sing brainless, catchy ear worms with no lyrical or melodic depth to them whatsoever. And, like most people that end up fitting that category, that’s exactly what Shawn doesn’t want.
I will say this: I’m always intrigued by an artist when I’m pleasantly surprised that they are different than my expectations. I had watched some of his Vines and thought that he had a pretty decent sounding voice. The realistic side to that, though, is that as you travel through the app, so do a lot of other people out there, though to the degree of production they go through before posting the videos, we’ll never know (many of those people singing directly into mics in their vines are lip synching quite clearly, and to tracks that they’ve edited and produced to sound as good as they do…I guess you can’t always have ‘natural’ talent). But when I heard he got signed to Island Records, I was skeptical that just because he had a good voice that it would translate into a lasting career. And like I said, I was pleasantly surprised.
Shawn has a voice that isn’t very much one genre, and he’s shown that as he’s transitioned into album #2, Illuminate, out Sept.23rd. If you don’t know any of his music, his big hit is “Stitches”, a catchy, guitar-driven pop tune. But, if you listen to “Ruin” or “Three Empty Words” from his sophomore album, you’ll be surprised to hear a John Mayer-esuqe sound vocally and musically from him. I was surprised, completely taken off guard! I think he really has a good voice, and his first record, Handwritten, had some hidden gems on it that didn’t see the light of the day when it came to radio play because “Stitches” was a pretty big hit in it’s own right (“Aftertaste” and “I Don’t Even Know Your Name” are two of the better tracks). And after hearing that first record, you might have just thought that he was going to start to blend in with the other faces of young artists today that appeal to a young demographic, with their songs played on Top 40 stations so much that you begin to roll your eyes at it every time it comes on due it’s lack of creativity. But Shawn wanted something different.
I read his Billboard interview briefly, and he talked about wanting to go more the way of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran than that of Justin Bieber, meaning he wants to be respected for his music and the rest of his life not be the focus of his fame and notoriety. That, in today’s social media frenzied industry, is pretty damn near impossible. I mean, you’ve seen how everyone lost their damn minds when Justin Bieber deleted his Instagram. Never mind that we’re on our way to possibly electing Donald Trump as president, we’re all worried we won’t see another half naked picture of Justin Bieber posing in some weird way with an incoherent caption that not even Steven Hawking could figure out. I know, I know, I digress. However, this is one Canadian I’m more than happy to have around.
The good thing about Shawn’s change in sound is that he did it on his own terms without some weird gimmicky media attention grabber to tell us that he was doing something completely different (a la Miley Cyrus, though for the record, we all wouldn’t give the whole Hannah Montana thing a rest until she made us). He just put the music out and said, “Go for it, this is what I got, buy it if you like it, don’t if you don’t”. As a fan of pop music, more musicians in the genre could afford to go into their albums with that mindset, because the amount of pandering to the general public, specifically in the pop genre, is egregious. Shawn also doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not. He’s adopted a sound like John Mayer, but he doesn’t pretend to be a guitar wiz like him, or act like a total douchebag like him either. He’s just Shawn Mendes, an 18 year old kid from Canada who sings and does it pretty well. And, on the spectrum of ‘singer’ and ‘artist’ that I’ve discussed before, he definitely falls under artist because he does at least write some of his own songs, though to what extent I don’t know.
Basically, the bottom line is that Shawn Mendes is breaking the mold. He’s 18, but has refused the teen pop icon spotlight in his own way without doing anything outlandish, he’s making every headline about him focused on the music and kept his personal life out of it, and he’s changed his sound to something that he wants and he’s making music with himself in mind. And he’s got actual talent, something not a lot of these teen idols young kids worship today, have. He can really sing live and unleash a really solid tenor voice, that even has some grit to it at times. His slight growls during “Mercy” and “Ruin” and his melismas in the latter are are so natural, I, as a fellow musician, am envious. He’s playing Madison Square Garden for the premiere of his second album at 18, whereas when I was 18 (I’m only 20, but I can say that now, however old it may make me feel), I was trying to figure out how to apply for a college that wouldn’t put me in such huge debt that I could never get out.
He’s worth a listen without a doubt, and I am actually quite happy to say that I was wrong with my initial thoughts about him. I’m very much a fan of his music and of him and I think he really will have a lasting career in this industry, as long as he keeps his level head about him. I’m excited to hear his new album too!