Shawn Mendes: Don't call me 'the next Justin Bieber'
Like his song of the same name, Something Big is happening for rising Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes whose week-old album, Handwritten, is on course for a chart-topping debut.
Just don’t call him “the next Justin Bieber.”
“I’m hoping I’m the next big artist to come out of Canada,” said Mendes, 16, down the line from a Milwaukee solo tour stop in a Canadian print exclusive with Postmedia Network.
“But (Justin’s) stuff and style are totally different. When I play shows it’s just me and the guitar, so it’s kind of unique. I mean, I really look up to Ed Sheeran. I really look up to Bruno Mars, and yeah, Justin’s great too.”
Unlike Bieber’s slick pop-R&B sound and choreographed dance moves, Mendes’ Sheeran-like folk-pop emphasizes vocals and acoustic guitar.
Still their stories are similar – a good looking teenage boy from Ontario is discovered online and goes onto teen pop stardom complete with screaming teenage girls.
Mendes, who hails from the large Toronto suburb of Pickering, was discovered via his Vine clips in 2014, while Bieber got similar attention in 2007 from his YouTube postings.
“I was just having fun,” said Mendes of his Vine presence. “I had no intentions of becoming what it has become... It became something really amazing.”
Now Mendes’ debut disc, Handwritten, which came out on April 14 — two weeks ahead of schedule — has already spawned hit songs Life of the Party and Something Big and a month ago he performed at the Junos where he was up for best breakthrough artist.
“It’s been very, very quick — it’s really exciting,” said Mendes, who was signed to U.S label Island about nine months ago, released an EP last summer and has since opened for Austin Mahone. “So it’s been like a wild ride.”
These days Mendes is being schooled remotely (“I get emails with my homework and have to send it back,” he explained) with his parents blessing as his music career explodes.
“They’ve been supportive from the beginning,” said Mendes, whose father is Portuguese and mother is English. “Obviously, it’s scary as a parent to have something like this happen to your kid — but good scary.”
As for his younger sister Aaliyah, 11, who can also carry a tune, he says: “She’s great. She’s very mature for her age so she’s handling (the attention on me) like a pro.”
But is it hard to stay grounded — and avoid the pitfalls of fame that eventually knocked down Bieber — when thousands of young women are proclaiming their love for you?
“I don’t think any of us know how to handle it — we’re just doing the best we can naturally,” said Mendes. “I think it’s just remembering this is a career as a music artist. It’s not like it’s ‘you the person,’ (they’re screaming for) so don’t let it all go to your head. And I think it’s also aligning yourself with good people who will tell you to shut up if you start acting like an a--hole or whatever.”
Sheeran, who Mendes met up with in L.A. one day, also gave him some good advice: “You kind of have to hang out in your regular life, just like any other person. Like how a cop comes home from a day at work, he has to not bring that with him, otherwise it consumes you.”
Still, Mendes admits growing up in the public eye isn’t easy.
“Everybody goes through puberty and everybody goes through a stage where they change, that’s worrying a little bit, ‘cause I know I’m changing a little bit, and I don’t want people to take it in the wrong way,” said Mendes. “As long as you can say, ‘Hey, I’m just a regular person, I go through s— just like you do,’ people should understand that.”
Handwritten contains many love songs and Mendes, who is single, says the subject is what inspires him the most.
“I think love is the strongest human emotion and one of the most fun and easiest things to write about,” said Mendes, who co-wrote 10 of Handwritten’s 12 tracks. “It was always really fun to write a love song.”
Not surprisingly, Mendes was chosen by like-minded songwriter Taylor Swift as opening act on some of her shows including five Canadian stops this August and October.
“Her mom and manager came and watched a show of mine... and a few months later we got a call from her manager saying, ‘Hey we’d love you to be the opening act on the Taylor tour,’ and I freaked out.”
He’s also performed on many high profile U.S. TV talk shows like Ellen and Jimmy Kimmel to name a few but says the ‘I’ve made it’ moment hasn’t hit him yet.
“It’s been so fast, almost like a blur,” said Mendes. “You’re almost like in shock just being there. It’s hard to explain the surrealness and the feeling you get. ... I can’t believe I was on Ellen, like I look up to her so much — she’s amazing.”