Shawn Mendes Releases Lovesick Self-Titled Album

Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes created a buzz in 2013, posting cover songs on the video-sharing app “Vine.” He rode the wave and catapulted to stardom, becoming one of five artists under eighteen to debut at number one, on both his 2015 introduction, “Handwritten,” and his follow up the subsequent year, “Illuminate.” Mendes was a major presence at this year’s Billboard Awards, performing twice to frenzied enthusiasm. He just released his third effort, the simply-titled, “Shawn Mendes.” Mendes’ songs are about teenage romance the thrill, anxiety and drama. Mendes isn’t technically still a teenager, but that’s hardly relevant. The Khalid-featuring song, “Youth,” performed at the Billboard Awards, features the lines, “As long as I wake up today / You can’t take my youth away,” and the whole album seems like this idea realized.

Mendes croons about yielding to passion, with standard, trite lyrics like, “Let’s get lost tonight,” from “Lost in Japan.” There’s also something of a typical gender role reversal that runs through many songs. He sings about falling for girls, being thrown for a loop, and still being happy to wait around for their hypothetical return — how very sweet. In “Where Were You in the Morning?” he whimpers, “How could you make me believe / That there was something in between you and me?” In “Particular Taste,” he explains, “Ohhh, she’ll take your name and number / Then she’ll hit erase and walk away.” In “When You’re Ready,” he declares, “Even ten years from now / If you haven’t found somebody / I promise, I’ll be around.”  

Fans have speculated that one love interest is none other than Camila Cabello, with whom Mendes collaborated on the duet, “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” In “Why,” Mendes sings, “When people ask about us, now, we just brush it off,” likely a reference to the two stars’ evasion of the subject on the” Late Late Show with James Corden.” Mendes further fuels this conjecture, remarking later, “When I hear you sing… Can’t help but think every song’s about me.” If celebrity gossip doesn’t interest you, Mendes probably won’t either — although you shouldn’t be too hasty to dismiss. Consider the song “Queen,” in which Mendes notes, “I see the way you’re lookin’ through me now,” It’s not too different from The Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You.” Come to think of it, this  music is really no more silly, at least lyrically, than the fab four’s early output. Having already achieved superstardom and a fanatical following, Mendes could possibly undergo radical transformations in subsequent years, and ultimately go down as a musical legend. Take a tip from “Youth,” and use your imagination.

Amid all the cloying, lovesick fodder, there are some lyrical gems, notable for their deceptive simplicity and ultimate profundity. Consider “Like To Be You,” with the words, “I’m so sorry / ‘Cause in the moment / I don’t know what it’s like to be you.” The final truism expresses an inescapable condition, relevant to any imaginable matter between people. Putting it so simply and casually is quite delightful. In “Because I Had You,” Mendes reflects, “She might help me forget that loving her is something I could never do / Because I had you.” After all, love is an ambiguously defined concept, and it may well be that the only way to fall in love again is to erase one’s memories. Lyrics like these condense depth into seemingly lightweight sound candy. Another example is Mendes’ encapsulation of the love-hate dynamic in “Perfectly Wrong,” “You’re perfectly wrong for me.”

The only song that doesn’t deal specifically with relationships is the single, “In My Blood.” Mendes has described it as “the song closest to my heart,” showing him at his “most vulnerable.” The message is simple, “Sometimes I feel like giving up / But I just can’t / It isn’t in my blood,” but one of personal significance. Mendes has spoken of how he never experienced anxiety until recently, and warded it off by reminding himself that it wasn’t in his nature. Learned helplessness is a real thing, and it can be revelatory to realize that problems marketed to you weren’t your problems to begin with.

That said, Shawn Mendes has been marketed to you, very successfully; after all he is very marketable. He style has been described as a mixture of Ed Sheeran and Justin Beiber, and while this is hardly a perfect description, it should give you a sense of his phenomenally wide appeal. Mendes inhabits the space between the singer-soungwriter realm of, say, John Mayer and the pop strain of R&B typified by Justin Timberlake. On the song “Mutual,” his meter and inflections recall Adam Levine. Generally, he sings in a smooth, gliding falsetto, but often over stripped down, acoustic instrumentation. Several songs, “Like To Be You,” “Fallin’ All In You,” “Because I Had You,” and “Mutual,” all feature variations of the same rhythm. It involves palm-muted guitars and percussive upstrokes, accented by the intimate sound of clicking picks. The mellow groove simultaneously captures sensibilities of folk and, more vaguely, reggae. There’s a breezy feel and a very coffee house vibe. On the other hand, the vocals are predominately R&B. Some tracks ground this in funkier backdrops, for instance, “Nervous” and “Lost In Japan,” bringing out the latent soul quality. A conspicuous peculiarity of the album is that all the songs are built upon live instrumentation — in sharp contrast to the music of any other current pop sensation of such magnitude and comparable style. This unique production choice serves to set Mendes apart from the Beibers and such, situating him instead somewhere closer to, perhaps, Leon Bridges.

Standouts include “In My Blood,” with a an epic chorus meant for star-gazing, fist-pounding, and tear jerking. The chorus melody, at moments, recalls Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” “Like To Be You,” is a duet with singer Julia Michaels, whos breathy, emotional delivery complements Mendes’ beautifully. The aforementioned “Youth” is another successful collaboration, with Khalid’s more throaty singing merging with Medes’ in becoming harmonies. When Mendes wails about the eponymous femme fatale of “Particular Taste,” he zeroes in on the reason she is unattainable to him: “She’s got particular taste.” If you have particular taste, Shawn Mendes is not for you. Conversely, his safe, non divisive genre situationing, and his combination of trendy, millennial pop attributes, give him such a broad appeal that anyone whose taste is not particular will likely find something to enjoy.

Shawn Mendes” is available May 25 on Apple Music.