Release Date: December 4th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- 24 Hours
- Teach Me How To Love
- Call My Friends
- Song For No One
- Monster (feat. Justin Bieber)
- Always Been You
- Piece Of You
- Look Up At The Stars
- Can’t Imagine
2020 has been the year where we all have become more introspective. More reserved, more attune to our own emotions and feelings and more connected to each other than ever before, through social media, Zoom and the like. Granted, it’s all mostly because of COVID-19, but nevertheless, I reckon the year of 2020 where we all needed to slow down… was very much needed. We were all running around at a million miles per minute, and we weren’t taking the time to be still, to sit and ruminate in our own issues and our own messy emotions, and then to also pour out our heart and soul to our loved ones which on the whole we generally rarely do. Boy, 2020 was a challenge, yet I reckon for some of us it was refreshing and revitalising. Not that I’m downplaying the pandemic- not by any means- but I firmly believe that had the pandemic not occurred, there would’ve bene some other way we all would’ve slowed down last year.
So in and amongst the quiet, 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 Mendes’ Wonder. A pop star through and through that shot to stardom in 2015 through Vine and creating 6 second covers of Justin Bieber songs, the writer and singer of smash hits like “In My Blood” and “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” releases his most reflective and lyrically mature album to date. While I myself was introduced to Shawn properly and methodically this year in preparation for my blog post about him; I’ll let my blog speak for itself if you want to know about Shawn and his history and how he came to music. there’s always Wikipedia though as well. For now though, here are my thoughts on Wonder; and then you can read my blog and let me know if Shawn’s music strikes a chord with you or not.
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.
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. The soothing synth driven 1 minute intro reminds us all that Shawn is a man of many talents and wears ‘many different faces’ for different audiences- his fans, his family, his close friends etc; and he also alludes to the fact that on this album, it’s 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.
The rest of the album packs an emotional punch, as Shawn presses into his relationship with Camila Cabello (who will be blogged about in the future!), and delivers us heartfelt and poignant songs with meaty lyrics to reflect upon. The dance/club track “Higher” has Shawn reflecting on his quick rise to fame and his stratospheric popularity- which he relays that he is content with being this ‘high’, while at the same time being grateful for everything that has brough him to this point; while the emotional “24 Hours” alludes to marriage and is essentially his version of a written wedding vow to Camila- it’s such a personal song and no doubt this track would bring tears to your eyes. While “Teach Me How To Love” is a sensual track about Shawn wanting to go further with Camila in physical intimacy but also admitting to not being experienced, and wanting her to teach him. It seems a bit explicit on first listen, however the track for me is a barometer of Shawn’s immense and undying love for Camila, and should also be a catalyst for us all to reach a level of comfortableness and honesty like that in our relationships- admitting faults and not worried about how the other person would react.
“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.
“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 every day 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?
“305”, another song about Camila, speaks about the ups and downs of their relationship being compared to a rollercoaster; while Shawn professes that Camila is the one for him in “Always Been You”, a pulsating, epically energetic anthem with a vibrant orchestral moment in the spine-tingling chorus. “Piece Of You”, musically comprising of 60’s drum beats and dance club elements, lyrically speaks about Shawn feeling jealous when his significant other (presumably Camila) walks into the room, because everyone else wants a ‘piece’ of her; and this song is a reminder that’s it’s ok to feel jealous and possessive to an extent, when it’s regarding someone you love very dearly. “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 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’s 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!
3 songs to listen to: Call My Friends, Monster, Look Up At The Stars
RIYL: Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Camilla Cabello, Khalid, Little Mix, Tori Kelly