Shawn Mendes would rather take a drive to the beach than go out to the club. However, he’s a Leo, and he’s not exactly shy. He’s a tender-voiced, albeit outspoken, peach-fuzzed cat of 18 who rocketed to fame after posting to the Vine social media platform short looping videos of himself singing. Three years, and almost half a billion plays later, I’m listening to his new record, Illuminate—every song of which seems to either be about love or the loss of love or heartbreak or how he can get that person back or why he just can’t do it anymore.
“Love is probably the strongest emotion that you can feel.” Mendes tells me, “It’s very natural—and I wouldn’t want to say easy—but natural and comfortable to write about, and there’s so many different forms of it, millions of layers, you could write forever about it.”
An 18 year-old telling me this makes me sweat—I’m quite a stretch older than Mendes and I can’t seem to keep a relationship going for longer than a month—I dread the notion of writing about it forever. “The second you start trying to write about things that other people want to hear,” Mendes advises, “it’s not as honest as it should be”
Mendes, tell me more, dude, I need it… and yes, we are calling each other dude and man, and it feels good. “My family, growing up, all my cousins, all of us, we all spoke about how we were feeling, it wasn’t a hide your emotions type family,” he says sniffling from the Canadian cold (where he is at the moment, at home in the suburbs of Pickering, Ontario, about 20 miles east of Toronto). “If you have good intentions and your heart is in the right place then you’re gonna be okay,” he counsels, “I’m trying to stay as real as I possibly can.”
And what about this new album is Mendes trying to illuminate? His coming of age? His impending adulthood? (Which I foresee being filled with Grammies and houses at the top of Holmby Hills and retreats in Palm Springs—probably more on the level of Gstaad—and lots of champagne and girls and boys and first class tickets and the best seats in the finest restaurants and swimming pools and an entourage of Chows, presuming he likes dogs…)
But how? He’s 18. When I was 18 I was eating lots of bagels with cream cheese, smoking joints with my dad and calling it quits. Compare and despair. Quit it! But for Mr. Mendes, will there be ups and downs? Will the wave of life not always be a sweet, opalescent, purple Hawaiian swell that drags on for a mile, so meditative, so rich?
“Having people watch you and judge you on everything you do—it makes it a lot harder. It’s definitely made me grow up faster than I would have,“ he says. “I feel like, what? 23 sometimes in an 18 year-old body.”
All right, we get it. He’s very cool. He’s underrated. He’s going to morph into a fine cat, the likes of John Mayer, who is one of his idols. He’s got the world by the balls. He’s off to Australia soon to commence a world tour. Goddammit Shawn, is there anything you do that isn’t kosher? Let us in. We want to be in. I try and sideswipe him, get him to talk, but I think I might be too on the nose, ‘Did you do anything mischievous as a kid?’ I ask. “Umm,” he says, ”I don’t know. My friends and I would long board around, skateboard around, regular teenager guy things to do.”
“But, Shawn, you didn’t light mailboxes on fire?” I ask, reaching.
“Is that what people do?” he asks me. I envision him tilting his head in contemplation.
“Augustus you have five minutes.” His person on the line says.
“Thank you,” I say, “And Shawn, I don’t know! I really don’t know what people do.”
“Well, no, I’ve never lit a mailbox on fire, but,” and there it came, the humility from the horses mouth, ironically proving that Mendes is perfect, because he can be introspective; he can be honest and live with the fact that he is fallible. “Okay, I can’t say I’ve been perfect, but I’ve been okay.”
Being a pop star can get labyrinthine. But, really, no bullshit, Mendes feels like a good ol’ boy, a regular guy. He’s at the point in life where he’s realizing that love is a truly illuminating factor, and that state, if let in, can surely bring about otherworldly auspices.
See our film of Shawn Mendes here.
Written by Augustus Britton
Photographed by Brad Elterman
Film directed by Tyler Kindred
Stylist: Sean Knight
Groomer: Anna Bernabe for Exclusive Artists Management using Shu Uemura Art of Hair and Giorgio Armani Beauty
Producer: Richie Davis
Location: The Evil Rock N Roll Cat
Shawn Mendes was featured in 2016 in Flaunt: A Few Favorites from a Fabulous Year