By Sam Wong
The self-identified pop-princess is back, and this time I have a spritely young artist for you Crushers(1), picked freshly from the Vine (literally).
Enter Shawn Mendes, a young singer/songwriter hailing from the land of maple syrup and mounties. Thanks to his 6-second-song-covers on Vine, Shawn scored a record deal this year, and I‘m lucky enough to say that I’ve seen this lad perform on three different occasions, in three vastly different venues and audiences.
My introduction to Shawn Mendes happened on a whim in late July, when I was blessed(2) enough to attend an acoustic session and advanced playback of young Mendes’ debut EP. Knowing that he was a 15/16 y.o. Canadian dude who gained notoriety through social media (sound familiar?), I was honestly expecting to write him off, but what I got was a humble young gentleman with an old soul, and a genuine talent. In a room full of record-execs and boring old ladies like myself, Shawn shook everyone’s hand both “hello” and “good-bye.” What manners! As the business-heads mingling in this Chelsea black-box studio all celebrated Shawn’s unprecedented debut at no. 1 on iTunes with his first-ever single, Shawn bashfully perched himself on a stool to play “Life of the Party,” barely acknowledging his own success. His performance was just so special: Shawn in his element, eyes-shut, losing himself in the gentle strum of his acoustic guitar and the innocent, yet all-knowing smile of his lyrics and melody. It was just introspective enough to hint at a younger Shawn recording covers on his iPhone, yet inviting enough to leave the room wanting more. When will I ever again witness the very start of a young artist’s career? This was the beginning, and I was there! It was magical.
The second time I saw Shawn, I was in the midst of a total fan-con full of “Harmonizers,” “Vampettes,” “Mahomies,” and a healthy gathering of Shawn’s own loyal followers (I don’t know what his fans are called yet, but I’m hearing rumblings of “Shawnees,” though I think “Menders” has a nice ring to it). He was the first opener for three other performers, and was tasked the high responsibility of hyping up the crowd: not easy! I immediately noticed the added confidence in his performance. His set was so simple, so elegant. With just himself and his guitar, Shawn commanded the IZOD Center looking like a literal teen-angel(3) under a halo of lights, and wrapped us all in a warm blanket of bright, clear vocals, and a brilliant ability to keep tempo while engaging the audience in call and response. Shawn really showed his chops in “Show You,” with his easy-breezy Jason Mraz-y belting, syncopated strumming, and a bit of an Ed Sheeran type singing-rap-flow, plus I always enjoy a good whistle-track (probably because I can’t whistle). Interestingly enough, the first was the only really upbeat song he played, and the rest of the set had a more dramatic, melancholy tone, which is quite unusual (and admirable) for a young pop artist to introduce himself to the world with pangs of quarreling lovers. I guess the point is, this dude has got soul.
The third time I saw Shawn Mendes, I sat above a tennis court in Flushing with hundreds of families celebrating the U.S. open, sun just past high noon. Other music acts (including my boys The Vamps!) took the stage on a sky-blue, hyperactively decorated platform nudged in the corner of the stadium, but Shawn took the mic right on the tennis court, the modest spirit(4) he is. It was apparent that his “Menders” had followed him from New Jersey to Queens, and he once again became the poised leader of a crowd who so badly wanted to sway in unison to “Life of the Party,” their tennis-branded thundersticks waving in the air (because you can’t give children lighters). After watching a close-up re-broadcast of the performance, I definitely saw the connection between Shawn and the crowd, how he looked people in the face, and shared his music with open eyes. He’s a man of few words, Shawn Mendes, but his face is full of gratitude, and you can tell he is all about the music. If your daughter and her middle-school friends are devotees of this young chap, they could certainly do a lot worse.
Following Shawn’s performances from black-box theater to a stadium crowd of thousands has been unreal, humanizing, and so enlightening. Rooting for you, Shawn!
(1) Crushers = Crushing Vinyl followers, readers, subscribers or “stans”…so basically if you’re reading this, you are a “CRUSHER.” Congrats, and welcome to the fandom.
(2) It’s so funny how quickly Rachel’s vernacular can invade one’s brain.
(3) Grease is the word.
(4) There goes Rachel again.