Have you ever listened to a song, an artist, maybe an entire discography, and have been totally amazed, flabbergasted, lost for words, full of pride and admiration, for the artist- even from the get-go? Have you ever listened to a song and been grateful that you are alive in this very moment while this particular artist is alive, to breathe the same air as them? On second thought…wow, that sounded creepy and hero-worship like, don’t you think? No, but seriously, have you heard a song by an artist, and have concluded from the outset that ‘this person gets it, he/she knows what the point of music is, and that that’s what music is all about!’? Have you ever heard a song and immediately concluded that this artist is ahead of their time and is bound to be an instant fan favourite and a future star? Perhaps it was an artist who was very young and they were writing music as accomplished and as resonating as veterans of 30 or 40 years. Or perhaps they were talked about as being a has-been, a fading star that has recently recaptured their spark and has also ‘made it’ with the younger crowd. Whatever the case, I am sure there has been one artist that has clicked with you, that has made you want to dive deeper into music as a whole and has challenged you with questions about life, love, death and everything else in between. For me there have been several- influential artists whom both Jon and I have written about, that have stood and are going to stand the test of time, and have indeed written about and sung about meaty issues and often taboo topics. Artists that have looked at a blank canvas and have declared “Yes, I will sing about this, this, and this, even if it doesn’t win me any awards”. Artists that have used a proverbial blank piece of paper and a proverbial paint brush and just painted for themselves, and not for others. Artists who aren’t afraid to shake the status quo, artists who in my mind are fearless. So for these artists, you can read about them in our blog series, and yes, I intend to briefly touch upon another artist right here and now- but let me first speak about the concept of walking fearlessly and what that mindset does for you.
See in my mind (and this is only my opinion guys!), fear is what I reckon keeps us all from even taking the first step of achieving our dreams. See we all have dreams on our heart. Placed by God, placed by ourselves, whatever the case may be- that is what fuels our actions in the day and what keeps us up and night wondering about the future. Dreams are the catalyst for us to actively do something with our lives which may be at a standstill, and to make a difference and a positive change for the world in which we live in or the world at large. Dreams also can have the power for us to do superhuman stuff, otherworldly stuff, as we rely on Jesus, our friends, our family to get us to that place of contentment, satisfaction, happiness, and the chance to realise that whatever dream is on our hearts is what we’re put on this planet to do. But lo and behold, Satan comes like a thief in the night, and it is fear that holds us back. Fear that we’re not good enough. Fear that we’ll never measure up. Fear that we’ll fail. Fear that we’ve wasted our life and we’ll continue to do so. Fear that we heard God wrong. Fear that God said it wrong. Fear that God is not there to catch us when we fail. Fear that our parents or loved ones won’t love us anymore when we fail. Fear of stepping out into a new venture with limited knowledge, which can seem like foolishness to some. Fear of stepping into the unknown and being laughed at and ridiculed. And fear of actually succeeding and hence changing our sedentary and comfortable lifestyle right now. Fear of hard work. Fear of being famous. Fear of losing our identity and being caught up in the world if we do succeed… there’s lots of things that will spook us if we indeed trust the lies of the enemy. Many, many years ago and many, many blogs ago, my brother Jon wrote about a fictional person called Justin Case- someone who fear grabbed a hold of, and someone who was paralysed with indecision. And as I quote this story (which I think was paraphrased from a now defunct website, or perhaps from a Christian book that I read back in the day that I can’t remember!); let us remember that God has called us out of mediocrity and into greatness- and the first step we should take is a step away from fear.
Justin, living in Australia wanted to go on a holiday. He booked a holiday for June over the phone for Christchurch New Zealand, but also booked via the internet for Wellington just in case his credit card details weren’t written down word for word by the clerk on the other end of the phone. He then packed his suitcase full of woolly jumpers and jackets as he heard that the weather was cold, snowing and windy but also packed his trunks and swimmers just in case he wanted to swim in the Cook Strait, if the weather was up to it. He installed burglar alarms the month before leaving, just in case the 40 he already had were faulty and he had to buy some more. He also enlisted his friend to take care of the place for him, and bought a black Doberman to guard his house as well, just in case his friend was unreliable. He then packed his laptop as well his i-Pad just in case he wanted to use one more over the other. He also paid for Foxtel in his hotel rooms in New Zealand just in case he wanted to watch the England vs Australia Ashes series on TV. He disconnected his SIM card from his international mobile phone as he didn’t want people to disturb him, but also bought another phone with international roaming just in case he changed his mind. And finally, perturbed by the possibility of another Cyclone Larry, or another Bali Bombing that could occur in NZ, he decided to cancel the much-anticipated holiday, just in case.
Oh how we all are a bit like Justin Case, don’t you think? We are unsure about which entertainment streaming platform to subscribe to (Disney +, Netflix, Amazon, HBO Max etc) and then we subscribe to all of them. We want to try out for sports on our school team- but we are unsure about what we like and so we try nothing. We want to sell our house, but nostalgia and memories make us reverse our decision. And like Justin we would want to go on a holiday, but our insecurities stifle us. Are we a slave to fear and the things other people say about us? Are we a slave to the opinions of the world other than God’s and our own? Sure the voices and the opinions of everyone else around us matter- in the sense that they’re our friends and our family and we ought to respect their viewpoints as they might and most likely will have great wisdom that can be imparted to us and that we can learn from. Yet we are the only ones living our own life. Not that that gives us a license to go crazy and act out and be irresponsible… but the choices we make which do have ramifications for where we end up in this life and the next? They’re our choices. We own them. If we stumble and fall, we will grow from it. But if we never try on the basis of what he said and what she said and what the government says and what the media says and what our parents say? Well then we’ll be like Justin Case, forever swayed by the wind and the waves and never having a firm opinion of our own. Something solid we can hold onto.
Sure we can have our faith in God built on the rock instead of the sand. Sure we can listen to our friends and family and their words of wisdom while also exercising discernment and implementing ideas based on evidence as well as our own intuition. But if we listen to that voice inside us saying ‘you’re not worth it, you’re not good enough, you’ll never amount to anything’… then you’ll never get anywhere. These days because of COVID-19 we literally cannot go anywhere except for staying indoors and in the surrounding areas at a safe and socially acceptable distance. But generally speaking now, even before COVID, people were unsure and people were shut ins and people hid because it was comfortable. Because it was their idea of ‘safe’. Now I don’t know if people buried their dreams- but I had the feeling that people were settling. Yet these past few years I have noticed something, and it’s partly from my blog and me being more exposed to the mainstream media. And it is this- that maybe the world isn’t as shut-in as I was led to believe and like I thought. Maybe the fear crippling some of us isn’t translated onto all of us. Maybe some of us do not know fear as a term in the English language and are stepping out in faith regardless if we fall. And maybe some of us are willing to inspire an entire generation of doubters and sceptics and non-believers in goodness and the human spirit. Maybe some of us are willing to step outside of our comfort zones, while still feeling afraid, and are willing to change the landscape of whatever field we believe God is calling us to. And it’s all for the sake of being called to and having a sense of duty and responsibility and because it is the right thing to do. I know many of us are fearful, and are crippled with doubt and hurt and are suffering beyond imagination. But there are people out there giving us hope and inspiration, and these people are worth celebrating. These people make the rest of us want to get up out of bed in the morning. And if music artists and actors and philanthropists and preachers and youtubers and instagrammers can all, despite their feelings of inadequacy, rise above and inspire a generation to live for God and to be as true and as authentic as they can be… well then the world won’t be as a scary place, don’t you reckon? While COVID-19 seems to be the new normal, some of us are wanting to use that excuse to not do anything. But what if we looked to God for Him to tell us who we are, and whose we are? Why can’t we leave this world a better place than we found it by stepping out in faith? Jesus has conquered the grave and we do have victory, and thus we can be fearless in whatever we undertake. And this brings me to this new-ish artist that I will be delving into today. and though I’ve had a pretty long intro, let me tell you that it is necessary. Because Canadian Shawn Mendes has taken the world by storm… and he’s not your average pop artist.
I don’t know the faith of Shawn at all. According to Wikipedia (which is trustworthy in one sense but not at the same time, because anyone can edit any article!), he was raised as a Christian so perhaps there’s where the innate ideals come from… but let me say that his sense of fearlessness and the atmosphere of his music and the way he carries himself; the way he just goes for his music and his themes with no hesitation- it really reminds me of David when you think about it. Not that Shawn is preaching Jesus or that he is a king or anything like that… but let me quickly tell you all the story of David. See David was a shepherd with many brothers. From the top of my head I think he had 9 siblings (7 brothers and 2 sisters), but what matters was that he was the youngest. He wasn’t thought of by his brothers and no one thought he’s be the one to replace Saul as king. When Samuel has informed by God that the future king would be chosen from one of Jesse’s sons, Samuel had presumed it would be one of the elder brothers. After all, they were highly built and looked kingly on the outside. They were bulky and buff and probably could’ve killed a giant with less effort than David actually did. However God looks at the heart and at your motivations. Now David’s brothers must’ve been conceited or egotistical or narcissistic- which was why David was chosen; but David was tending sheep when Samuel the prophet obeyed God’s promise and prophecy and chose David to be king after Saul abused the power God gave him (1 Samuel 16). He was doing manual labour. He didn’t come from royalty, and he certainly had no credentials. Thus began the life of a decorated, well respected, much loved, yet controversial king that was after God’s heart at all times. The presumed writer of Psalms; David slayed Goliath the giant, yet he also had a man called Uriah killed because he lusted after Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. David wasn’t perfect, but he shepherded (no pun intended) a generation of people who were hungry after God and redefined what it means to be a follower of God.
Now has Shawn done the same to music as David has done to the Christian faith (or the Jewish faith at the time as Jesus hadn’t come as a baby yet!)? Some would say ‘no’, that he’s just another pop star, just another number churned out by the system, just another teeny bopper that the teenage girls fawn over, and just another Justin Bieber… you know the guy who sang “Baby, Baby” when he was 14 or 15 years old and probably had no idea what he was singing about at the time? Sure when you start out young in the industry (like Bieber, and other artists like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers), there’s more chance that you could fall into the trappings of the world, and be more susceptible to selling out. After all, as a kid, you don’t know better, right? You’re told that you’re great and successful and that people love you… but only if you are skinny, write songs about having fun, sing about superficial things, and later on sing about sex, drugs and living it up. You’re told that you’ll receive lots of money and won’t have to work another day in your life, but only if you compromise your faith, take the Lord’s name in vain and swear on a song or two. For teenagers who don’t fully have their mind made up about the world and their values and morals (about whether they stick with the ones they have grown up with or change them!), corporates and label people swarm in, and make a million bucks shaping young kids’ minds into what they want them to think and believe. I know, it’s a cynical way to view the music industry… but some element is true I think. And thus with Shawn being thrusted into the spotlight when he himself was just a kid (having release his first song in 2014 when he was 15!), you’d be forgiven to think that he was just another product of the 21st century, moulded into someone who could please the masses and cater to the lowest common denominator. Which is basically what pop is in its basest form and what critics would say pop music is. And though for a while Shawn did think about people’s views and did in fact cater to the basic way of making pop music; of late I’ve found him to be very vulnerable and honest and writing songs in a deeper and more profound way. As Shawn continues to shed the image of being a poster boy for current pop music and being the guy who doesn’t say much lyrically; we are met with an artist who is growing into one of the most confronting songwriters currently. He is indeed a pop artist. But Shawn is much more than that. Maybe one listen to his discography won’t change your mind. But many listens of his discography will.
I started playing music in front of an audience of the world at 15 years old. I was on the road for seven years straight and I had a lot of success, a lot of big songs, a lot of reasons for people to praise me and to think I was great, and a lot of reasons for me to think I was great. [but] that’s where it gets stressful. All of that praise and all that success was turning into a big monster that was eating my self-confidence because, if anybody said they didn’t like my music, all of a sudden I felt I was worth nothing. And that’s what happens when you connect who you are with what you do.
Having played ice hockey and soccer when he was younger, and also joining his high school glee club, and practising acting as well; Shawn really garnered the notice of executives and people high up in the music corporate ladder when he started posting covers of Justin Bieber music on Vine. You know that social media video hosting service that could upload 6 second videos to share with the world? Shawn blew up because of Vine and the rest, you could say, is history. He was offered a deal for Island Records in 2013, released his first single in 2014, and then just skyrocketed from there. And he was still a teenager, still a kid. In April 2014, Shawn won Ryan Seacrest’s “Best Cover Song” contest with “Say Something” by A Great Big World, while in 2015, Shawn became the youngest artist to debut at number one since the release of Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0, with the debut album Handwritten. “In My Blood” in 2018 topped the Billboard Adult Pop Songs chart, making Mendes the first and only artist to have four number one singles in the chart before turning 20 years old (the songs in question being In My Blood, There’s Nothing Holding Me Back, Treat You Better, Stitches). And while these stratospheric facts alone warrant a place in my list for Shawn- I’ve found of late that he’s actually a good songwriter and that he’s naturally good at pop, but can in fact record other types of music. Musically versatile, Shawn reminds us what it looks like to walk in fearlessness. All the while he is being open and honest with fans, and as transparent as he wants to be; and this also reminds us that Shawn isn’t afraid to make mistakes. Nor should we be.
Now for us to see how Shawn has evolved as a songwriter, musician, singer, entertainer, performer, and as a story-teller; we first need to go back to the first album Handwritten when Shawn was 15. Sure, some songs are cringy, but they still provide us with some relevant truths that we can hold onto. Take for example the debut single “Life Of The Party”. A decidedly pop song but still acoustic and reflective in nature musically as well. With Shawn eloquently relaying that the act of being fearless and just living life with freedom and never second guessing yourself is a life that we all can and should live. Living with no regrets, with no hesitation, and putting your best foot forward; Shawn reminds us that being the life of the party could sound egotistical, however knowing what you want and going for it, and being confident… well that’s more than admirable, don’t you reckon? “Stitches”, arguably the biggest song of Shawn’s to date, delves deep into feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy immediately after a break up, as Shawn recounts that ‘…now that I’m without your kisses, I’ll be needing stitches…’, reminding us about just how much we need people and we need real love in our lives; while Shawn also reminds us that even if the relationship was unhealthy, we would long for it as opposed to no relationship… simply because it was a known quantity. Singing about real feelings and real issues is something different that pop stars don’t usually do, and Shawn reminds us from the outset of his career that he’s different in a good way compared to many pop stars, both then and now!
“I Know What You Did Last Summer”, a stirring and confronting duet with Camila Cabello, has Shawn and Camila trading blows vocally and singing about a broken relationship where the woman cheated on the man and now the man can’t forgive her or trust her anymore. With the title of the song alluding to the horror movie, the topic is in fact a horror topic for some people going through separation and marital issues, as Shawn shines a spotlight onto one of the prevalent reasons why marriages and relationship break up- cheating and extramarital affairs. It’s a topic that wont’ ever go away, and if this song can hopefully create more of a dialogue and healthy discussion between families and children about how to prevent such an occurrence from happening- then that’s a great thing, don’t you reckon? Songs on Shawn’s first album though still remind us that he’s a teenager having fun, as “Something Big” a pure pop song that’s fit for the dancing in the club, speaks about ‘something big’ that’s happening… whatever that is; while “Strings” has Shawn attempting to rap, and outlining that he wants to seriously date someone when the time comes, and have all the strings attached. “This Is What It Takes” brings the topics back to seriousness, as Shawn delves with loving someone with depression and really hoping and praying that everything will be ok; and “Never Be Alone”, the album title’s inspiration, speaks about two people as friends or in a relationship who are going away, with one person telling the other to ‘…take a piece of my heart and make it all your own, so when we are apart, you’ll never be alone, you’ll never be alone…’. With Shawn delivering the perfect mix of serious and playful in this debut, we are met with a pop album but a pop album with substance.
You’ve heard about the sophomore slump, right? Well never fear, because Shawn Mendes doesn’t have one. Illuminate, from 2016, is the second album, and boy does it impress right out of the gate! Anthemic pop tune “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” speaks about a vibrant and no-holds-barred relationship that sizzles with energy and urgency, as the persona and their significant other speak about basking in and experiencing the moment, with Shawn proclaiming that there’s nothing holding him back from the love he has for this person; while the haunting and confronting “Mercy”, delivered in a powerful and heavenly music video, speaks about the depth of love Shawn has for his significant other (Camila at the time?), so much so that he’s begging to ask her for mercy on his soul, so that she won’t break his heart. “Treat You Better”, a highlight on Illuminate, and a smash hit, has Shawn speaking to his love interest, saying that the person she’s with currently isn’t good for her, and that he can treat her better; reminding us all to treat women with dignity and respect, and not like they’re objects. While the emotional and haunting “Three Empty Words” speaks about the disintegration of a long-standing relationship, and that the words ‘I love you’ don’t mean anything anymore- a sad, sad song, but a necessary one so that we can strive to not be end up like this in the future: feeling numb and feeling nothing. The slower paced “Ruin” delves into unrequited love, and not wanting to ruin the other person’s happiness; while Shawn dives into probably the deepest song he’s ever done, with “Hold On” speaking about his own emotions and feelings of hopelessness and doubt. With Shawn encouraging us in the chorus, that ‘…I don’t know what you’re going through, but there’s so much life ahead of you, and it won’t slow down, no matter what you do, so you just gotta hold on, all we can do is hold on, yeah…’, we’re met with a track of encouragement and inspiration, as Shawn reveals that being besides friends and family, and leaning on each other is the perfect way to get through life and all if its ups and downs.
One of the first songs ever I heard from Shawn was “In My Blood” on the radio. A reflective introspective piano based ballad that almost plays like a worship song; Shawn is frank and earnest, and ardently relays that he needs help and needs assistance in his anxiety and mental health issues. With this track almost sounding like an emotional prayer to God; Shawn expresses and asks ‘…help me, it’s like the walls are caving in, sometimes I feel like giving up, no medicine is strong enough, someone help me, I’m crawling in my skin, sometimes I feel like giving up, but I just can’t; it isn’t in my blood…’. It’s a song that is as vulnerable and as honest as any out there, and really has to be heard and seen (the music video) to be experienced… so let’s just leave it at that. “Fallin’ All In You”, co-written with Ed Sheeran, is an acoustic guitar driven ballad about two people inadvertently falling in love, with the act of unexpectedly falling head over heals being beautiful and magical; while “Nervous”, co-written with Julia Michaels, vividly describes the feeling of being nervous and self-conscious when you are around your crush. With Shawn deep in his feelings of Camila Cabello around the time of recording this album, songs about love and the beginning stages of a relationship are natural, as we are reminded that the process of falling in love is beautiful and messy and something we wouldn’t trade anything for.
“Lost In Japan”, about a crazy idea of visiting your significant other on the other side of the world, is another track about the deep feelings of love and adoration towards your significant other; whereas Shawn and Khalid deliver a gut-punching political and racially sensitive anthem “Youth”, where the topic of discrimination because of race is delved into. It’s a track that needs to be heard and needs to be acted upon, as we remember that we need to do our own part to make everyone feel safe and welcome, not just those who look like and act like us, and those who agree with us as well. “If I Can’t Have You”, a powerful, engaging and moving pop song, is directed at Shawn’s burgeoning feelings for Camila, and that ‘…I can’t write one song that’s not about you, can’t drink without thinking about you, is it too late to tell you that everything means nothing if I can’t have you?…’, one of the moments where they weren’t together yet- whereas the culmination of Camila and Shawn’s relationship was when the two sung in “Senorita”, an out-and-out pop song which basically confirms their relationship and delves into the ups and downs of a relationship in the spotlight. With Shawn’s third album being about love in all of its forms, we are met with a boy becoming a man and dealing with more adult things- it’s this progression of songs that are more complex that have no resolution that is admirable here, and that makes us want to delve more into songs like these about real life.
I know I really feel like I created an album that feels like freedom. I felt very free just making it. I felt like this is music that I love to listen to, this is music I want to hear, this is music I want to make and it’s gorgeous for that reason.
The album is like a reflection of my life at the moment, or, rather, over the last six to seven months. I had a big moment of anxiety and fear, and I felt like I wasn’t able to make music at the top of the year. And I think that was all coming from a place of fear, of people not liking the music I made, or fear of maybe not being able to make music better than I made in the past… and it was kind of choking me as a songwriter.
So I gave myself a month to kind of think about, figure out what was at the bottom of that. And I just went in with the thing of like, hey, this is it. I showed up, I’m here to make music, I’m here to make art, and if it happens in the best way, it does, and if it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t…. And ironically, when I freed myself from that expectation, I think I started making my favorite art that I’ve ever made in my life.
As babies, we fall and learn — that is how we don’t do something again and that is how we grow, and I think as adults — I don’t know who decided that we are not allowed to keep learning or to fall… We got to be OK with being messy and falling, and if somebody falls, don’t push them down, don’t put your foot on top of them, help them up and teach them. I think that’s the way that culture can really be there for each other and I think it is a beautiful thing for that reason.
In and amongst the quiet of COVID-19 this year, I’ve expanded by genre palate in terms of my own personal enjoyment of music- and allowing God to speak through whatever type of music He wants to. And this has allowed me to review ‘mainstream’ albums with much more freedom and less apprehension; and as you can see from our reviews page, it’s clear that God is moving in ways that we can’t imagine, and through people we wouldn’t expect. Not that that wasn’t happening prior to 2020- it’s just that I’m more aware of it now. And one such album that has grabbed my attention is Shawn’s latest album Wonder. Standing at 14 tracks long and clocking in at only 40 minutes, Shawn’s music is short, sharp and to the point. It’s a pop album, but there are some heavy and hard-hitting lyrics in here as well. Wonder is somewhat like ‘thinking man’s pop’- and if you’re tired by all of the mindless nothingness that you hear on the radio these days (and I’m not naming names as you each all have your least favourite artist which may or may not be different to mine!); then I’d encourage you to listen to Wonder and Shawn’s discography.
As Shawn is a man of many talents and wears ‘many different faces’ for different audiences- his fans, his family, his close friends etc; he also alludes in this album to the fact that this is the realest that he’s being. Well, no song is more real that the soaring and pulsating first single and title track. Anthemic and orchestral in nature, Shawn eloquently relays the many questions he has in his mind and the fact that he worries and wonders about a lot of things, such as from the outset Shawn declares that ‘…I wonder if I’m being real, do I speak my truth or do I filter how I feel? I wonder, wouldn’t it be nice to live inside a world that isn’t black and white? I wonder what it’s like to be my friends, hope that they don’t think I’ll forget about them, I wonder, I wonder…’. This song oozes out vulnerability, authenticity, and honesty, as Shawn dares to ask the tough questions, and dares to go deep, unafraid about ruffling the status quo. Usually on pop albums there’s barely anything worth highlighting in terms of lyrical substance, and most tracks generally speaking are about sex, drugs and living it up. but as Shawn speaks about the very notion of being open and how much is too much to reveal (similar in theme to Kelsea Ballerini’s “overshare”); we are met with a singer/songwriter way beyond his years, and a singer who could break away from the pop world and into the singer/songwriter world and still be popular and respected.
“Call My Friends”, a mid tempo ballad/EDM tune speaks about exactly that- the notion of rekindling dormant friendships and staying in touch with people you care about- as Shawn recounts that because of COVID-19 and also because of the nomadic life of a touring musician, his social life has dwindled but it’s something that he would like to rectify. And it’s a song that should be another catalyst for us to try to catch up with those we haven’t seen in a long time (whether it’s phone, face to face or through Zoom). The airy and dreamy reflective track “Dream” goes a step further to catching up with friends, as Shawn speaks about being apart from Camila (because of work) and resorting to dreaming about her on the nights when she isn’t with him- and it’s a reminder to cherish the times we have with the people we love because we don’t know how long they will last. It’s also a reminder to hold onto someone who we can dream about and who we love to spend time with, as these people are rare and are like a needle in a haystack. “Song For No One”, as depressing as the sounds, is actually a refreshing track, as Shawn channels his inner John Mayer, and speaks about chasing after the ones you love and grabbing onto every moment, as the song is about Shawn’s pursuit of Camila before they were together. A track that details the notion that we all need to step out unafraid and take a risk- this song is a must listen if you’re at a crossroads in life and long to do something completely from left field, and are unsure if it’s the right step or not.
So, Justin and I haven’t been close for a long time. When I was nine, Justin was my Michael Jackson. He was everything. He was what everyone talked about, the singer who everyone wanted to sing and dance like. He completely inspired me to start singing. Justin and I have never really had a relationship together, and I had this song called “Monster” that I wrote a long time ago. It’s about how society wants to put celebrities up on a pedestal, but as much as they want to do that, they want to celebrate the fall. It was a time when I was really afraid of my industry and afraid of my craft and afraid of everything. I didn’t have control. Everyone else had control over me. I think it just ended up becoming a metaphor for a bigger thing; that we all put pressure on each other as humans to be great, to be perfect. I called Justin and said, “I have this song and it means a lot to me. If it means something seriously to you and you want to put something very real on it, please be a part of this with me.” And he did. Since then, we have become closer than ever. Sometimes I think that music comes along for a bigger reason, which, for me in this case is to create a song to inspire people, but to also create a friendship that was never there before.
“Monster”, one of the album’s highlights, is a laid-back duet with Justin Bieber, and speaks about the perils of the music industry and the danger of hero worship, and the public and fans elevating a young artist so early in life, and placing unhealthy expectations on them, and then shunning them when they fall for whatever reason. As Justin and Shawn complement their vocals quite brilliant, and earnestly ask the hard questions to the music executives and the label of ‘…what if I, what if I trip? What if I, what if I fall? Then am I the monster? Just let me know, and what if I, what if I sin? And what if I, what if I break? Yeah, then am I the monster? Yeah, just let me know, yeah…’, we are reminded that musicians are people and that we can’t vicariously live through people as if we know them. We only know a portion of what they allow us to see, and sometimes the monster we see in them is our own creation. Sometimes when life being lived through someone gets too scary, it’s better to take a step back into reality, and interacting with real people. I know this analysis sounds harsh as it sounds like this track is a take down of the music industry in general. But while there are some good points, let me say that this song is a reminder to not believe everything you see on TV or the media. Just because someone has a smile on their face doesn’t mean they are happy. And if they are or aren’t… shouldn’t mean much to you. Is it going to help you in your everyday life? Will Shawn or Justin travel via plane to give you the answers on your next test? I think not, and that’s something to ponder over, isn’t it?
“Look up At The Stars”, the penultimate track on the album, speaks about Shawn’s relationship with his fans, and reminds us all that he longs to connect and to provide hope and inspiration for others, even during this time where we are all physically distant; while Wonder ends with the 2 and a half minute acoustic guitar driven almost lullaby-like song “Can’t Imagine”. As Shawn relays how he can’t imagine spending life without Camila, and that ‘…without you, all the birds would stop their songs, without you, all things right would feel so wrong, without you, I’d always be alone, without you, I don’t know where to go…’, we are challenged to find that special someone- the one that makes life all the more brighter, satisfying and worth living. And when we do, as evident from many songs from Wonder, let us hold onto them and never let them go!
There are so many instances during making an album when you want to drop an idea because it’s stupid or it’s not sounding great. And it does! It sounds stupid and doesn’t sound great for some weeks. But then it comes out on the other end and ends up being everything you wanted it to be. And you need a support system. And I had support from her [Camila], which was different from any support I’ve ever felt before.
To have to be someone you’re not, to the whole world, is horrible. And I know how difficult it is to be authentic. [But] I can speak to you clearly because I’m not dancing around my real self. I’m just being me with you. And that’s beauty. And that’s success.
I went into listening to Wonder thinking I would be listening to pop album- something akin to what Shawn has done in the past, and similar to what One Direction and Justin Bieber have recorded previously. What eventuated though was a musical experience that transcended my wildest imaginations, and a story telling ability that is beautiful in every way. Is Shawn the next John Mayer? He could be, and I hope the his more mature and evolved music and story telling is still on display for subsequent albums. Right now though, let us sit back and enjoy this near-flawless masterpiece. Let Shawn Mendes heal your soul and remind you to catch up with your friends. Let Shawn Mendes remind you to fight for what you believe in and to fight for the ones you love. And let Wonder draw you all in closer as we all become connected as ever before. But let us not place celebrities on pedestals. But more than ever, let us look up and wonder. Because the God of the universe if smiling down over all of us. If Wonder teaches us that, then this album has done it’s job!
I’ve mentioned time and time again that the measure of a person, whether that person stands the test of time in influence and popularity, or whether they fall by the wayside, is determined by how they handle themselves off the stage and their private life. sort of like who you really are is when you’re by yourself, when no one is looking- that sort of thing. Well I’ve had the pleasure to read many interviews with Shawn and watch a couple of in depth ones (one with Zane Lowe and the other with Zach Sang), and let me tell you- Shawn Mendes is the real deal. He comes across as earnest, eager to learn more about the world around him, and extremely humble. The fearlessness that I mentioned that he had in him when he was a teenager- is still there. It’s just fearlessness in a different way. Fearlessness in respect to not really caring which songs are singles or not. But instead- Shawn is caring about whether a life is changed. With Shawn contributing on songs like “Lover” (Taylor Swift), “Believe” (from the Descendants), a cover of the iconic Queen song “Under Pressure” with Teddy Geiger, as well as “Ballin Flossin” with Chance The Rapper; he has proven that he can cover a smorgasboard of musical genres, all the while still staying grounded and anchored to his friends and family.
I’ve mentioned before that fear is the very thing that holds us back. Yet for Shawn, I do not think that fear is in his vocabulary. As he embarked on a musical genre bending experiment, a televised concert with Zac Brown Band singing pop and country songs, we are reminded about the power of music (any genre) and how it can unite us all to actively want to do something positive about the world we live in. Shawn also debuted a documentary Netflix movie about the process of him making his latest album and the stories behind some of the songs. Shawn has also worked with DoSomething.org as well as Pencils of Promise. He also launched his own foundation a little while ago… and he’s not slowing down any time soon. According to Wikipedia, Shawn has had a LOT of nominations and award wins, while he was also inducted onto Canada’s Walk Of Fame. He has wowed us all with up close and personal tours; and even John Mayer (yep the guy whom I thought he sounded a bit like musically!) wrote a piece about Shawn in a Time article a couple of years ago. And as we end this blog with another story about Justin Case (the story of fear and indecisiveness which we can totally break away from!), followed by John Mayer’s affirmation and somewhat prophetic words of encouragement over Shawn; again followed by Shawn’s thoughts about the music industry in general… let us marvel at a once in a generation star in the making. Sure Shawn is big with 4 albums already- and he’s not even 25 yet! But I believe the best is yet to come for this thought-provoking and inspiring artist. And now with nothing much more needing to be said… let’s spin our Spotify playlists pronto! There’s no better time to start listening to Shawn Mendes than now!
Once upon a time, there was a man named Justin Case. He was 36 and lived in a 3500 sq ft. home with his wife and 2 children. He had a first and a second, and a 2 car garage. He fit 1 car and it’s $450 payment inside the garage and the other sat in the driveway with it’s $450 payment, to make room for more stuff in the garage.
He wanted to live more simply, but Justin Case, he couldn’t. He worked hard and thought he deserved nice things and lots of things. Justin Case, he bought extras of everything. He was always worried that he didn’t have enough.
Justin Case, he rarely gave to charities, even if really cared about their cause, because he might need the money some day. Justin Case, the poor guy, he couldn’t give up his credit cards. He might need them for emergencies, points or a rental car. Cash would never be enough.
And then his friend came along, Justin Time. He told him his story of simplicity, and that with all that he sold and gave away, he still had enough. He didn’t even have to tell him how happy he was, but he did. Justin Case, he didn’t notice.
Shawn Mendes is a pop star born both of and for Generation Z. He doesn’t see genre as a barrier, and he regards all of music as an open playing field, which it very much is for someone with his talent. His enthusiasm is boundless and infectious, probably because of the fact that he gets better by the day. He’s like Neo in The Matrix, downloading skills in one sitting. “I know falsetto harmonies.”
He’s reverential, but he’s not deferential: when I invited him to share the stage with me in Toronto last year, I unconsciously expected I’d be the one calling the shots during rehearsal. But Shawn isn’t passive. He got in there. He was determined, he pitched ideas, and they were good ones. He knows his right to stand on that stage is every bit as real as mine is, and I love that about him. Because he’s right.
Shawn has a good head on his shoulders, but he also has excellent shoulders; his physique falls somewhere between fitness model and party trick, yet the more undeniable a heartthrob he becomes, the more he insists on staying grounded. He knows that music is good shelter from its own associated nonsense, and his devotion to his craft is exactly why people twice his age are welcoming him into their lives and playlists.
The scary thing about becoming a professional musician early in life is that in many cases, young artists stop taking music in once they’re paid to put it out. But the fine art of Shawn Mendes is that you’re watching him discover music in real time. His songs are often his interpretation of music he’s fallen in love with, sometimes while he’s still on his honeymoon with it. Shawn has a very strong, clear, wide-eyed view of the world, and I can’t wait to see what he hears next.
When you have been given the wave, you have to ride it. If you asked 15-year-old Shawn what it is to be majorly successful, he would have said to have a couple of big songs and play shows in front of lots of people. Well I’ve had more than a couple of big songs and it is amazing, but happiness definitely isn’t spawned from that. Happiness is spawned from human connection and falling in love and being there for your sister’s birthday and having close friends, not just playing shows in front of 50,000 people. Happiness doesn’t lie at the end of a crazy long train ride.
I asked myself: why is it so valuable to me to be such a successful musician? Is success just something that feeds my ego or is it really great? And I found it was something that was feeding my ego, and I just wasn’t going to feed that any more. The more success you have, the more fearful you are of losing it, so you become desperate.
It’s literally my biggest fear to wake up tomorrow and find that nobody cares. This seems to be at the heart of my anxiety. Now what would happen to me if everyone forgot about me tomorrow? Well, I’d say: ‘Do I still have parents and a sister who loves me? Do I still have my girlfriend and this puppy behind me?’ The answer is, I’d be fine. I have health and wealth and support and safety. I would be absolutely fine.
Does Shawn Mendes make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”, “In My Blood”, “Treat You Better”, “If I Can’t Have You”, “Stitches”, “Senorita”, “Monster” and “Wonder”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!