Shawn Mendes has been in the music scene for quite some time now: he started off making Youtube videos at 13, then gained mad success for his six second covers on Vine (RIP, my soul still hurts). Now, at the mere age of 19, Mendes has released his third studio album which, at the very least, is deserving of a Grammy for Best Pop Album of the Year.
Mendes chose to self-title the album, stating on Twitter that he wanted to “stamp this moment in time” in his life because he has never felt so true to himself. The 14 tracks are a contemplation of love in its rawest form- highlighting its beauty, agony, and vitality- all while blending together all sorts of musical genres and influences, showcasing Mendes’ artistic ability and reviving the meaning of what it is to be a true musician.
Track 1, “In My Blood,” was the first song to be released for the album in March. Mendes himself said that this is the most personal song, painting the well-known feelings of loneliness and helplessness with lyrics like “Laying on the bathroom floor, feeling nothing / Overwhelmed and insecure, give me something.”
The verses of the track stay true to his roots with beautiful acoustic melodies, while the chorus channels a clear rock influence, with a roaring electric guitar that gives the song an almost anthem-like feel. The track tugs on your heartstrings as you listen to Mendes feel like he wants to give up, but ultimately overcomes his anxiety.
“Nervous” was co-written by notorious singer-songwriter Julia Michaels, which I’m pretty sure automatically qualifies it for some award. This track hones in on Mendes’ self-consciousness as he talks about crushing on a girl. The song highlights Mendes’ harmonies in the chorus as he echoes the lyrics over a walking bass line “Talk a little too much (I talk a little too much, yeah) around you / Get a little self-conscious (I get a little self-conscious) when I think about you / Get a little excited (I get a little excited) / Baby when I think about you.”
“Lost in Japan” was released alongside “In My Blood,” but takes listeners on the other side of the globe… literally. The track starts off with a stunning piano introduction, transforming then into a piano/ drum/ guitar medley, with claps to tie it all together. Here, Mendes considers flying to Japan to meet with a girl because he can’t get her out of his head, stating “Do you got plans tonight? / I was hoping I could get lost in your paradise / The only thing I’m thinking about is you and I.”
The song is perfect and I’m not just saying that because I tend to be bias for any piece of music involving a real piano. Mendes’ vocal maturity is brilliantly showcased on this track, making it clear he has successfully shifted from the cute-faced teenage boy he once was into a full-grown artist (not to say he isn’t still cute-face though).
“Where Were You in the Morning?” continues to showcase Mendes’ maturity as he lays out the story of how he woke in the morning to find that the girl he spent the night with had left him, without any warning. This track’s guitar and vocals is more soulful R&B, displaying his desire to shift from standard pop.
Once again, I am in awe of how smooth and effortless his voice is on this single. The song, like most of the others, doesn’t have crazy high-notes, or anything vocally challenging for that matter. Instead, his voice stays in the same angelic range, proving that one doesn’t have to be loud or pompous to be a successful singer. That very reason is what makes “Shawn Mendes” timeless, compared to the trying-too-hard albums of the 21st century that get boring halfway through.
Julia Michaels returns once again on the album, this time in a duet with Mendes for “Like to Be You.” The track, produced by John Mayer, depicts the helplessness of the couple as they apologize to one another, trying to mend whatever’s left of their relationship. The shakiness in their voices amidst the quick strums on the acoustic guitar successfully pushes their vulnerability to the forefront of the song.
Though the verses are rather mellow, the bridge of the song cuts to a short, unexpected electric guitar solo (a clear Mayer influence), right before Michaels’ raspy, yet soothing voice blends effortlessly with Mendes as they sing “I get worried, I might lose you a little / Every time we, every time we argue and get caught up in the moment.”
“Fallin’ All in You” sounds like the epitome of an Ed Sheeran song, which is no surprise since Sheeran co-wrote the track. The song is heavy in acoustic guitar and full of cadences Sheeran is notorious for. This single has more of a slow-blues feel and includes sweet lyrics like “Be mine, be my dear,” which again, is clear Sheeran influence. I can already imagine girls swooning in the crowd when Mendes performs this live.
I am not a fan of millennial lingo, but let me just say that “Particular Taste” is a BOP! Unlike many of the other songs in the album, this one is very upbeat and has an almost hip-hop feel. The lyrics in the verses are broken up into syllables, making it sound like Mendes is skipping through the words, as opposed to singing them. The presence of claps and a riveting electric guitar are there throughout the song as he transitions into the pre-chorus singing “She’ll take your name and number / Then she’ll hit erase, and walk away.”
Track 8, “Why,” is a musical gem of a song. I don’t know when Shawn Mendes decided to channel his inner Daniel Caesar, but I am all for it! This song is the most obvious example of R&B soul influence on the album and has a stunning bluesy guitar solo playing over a gorgeous melody on the piano towards the end. On this track, Mendes tells the story of how him and a girl both suppress their feelings for one another. His vocal delivery on the chorus as he sings “Why do we put each other through hell? / Why can’t we just get over ourselves?” can only be described as airy and breathtaking.
“Because I Had You” paints the all too familiar picture of trying to move on after an unsuccessful relationship and how that becomes virtually impossible due to unresolved feelings. Mendes pours out his heart as he sings “I think it’s time I finally found somebody new / And tell myself that she’s the one to get me through.” This song is also played on a guitar and includes light “Ooh-ooh”s in the background, which further enhance Mendes’ grief on the track.
Track 10 is titled “Queen” which made me think it was going to be a mediocre pop song praising a girl who is worthy of being given the title of a queen… boy, was I wrong. The song, played predominantly on an electric guitar and includes a roaring bass line, talks about a girl who Mendes believes is undeserving of being queen because she thinks she’s “too cool” and she makes “beautiful look ugly.”
“Youth,” featuring Khalid, has a social influence that no other modern song has ever successful addressed. The two teens express their heartache over a raw acoustic rhythm, in response to all the reckless gun violence that has affected so many innocent, young lives. The track challenges those who attempt to take our generation’s “youth away” and pays homage to all those who find beauty in pain and celebrate the youth’s ability to join together in trying times (for a full review of this single, click here).
“Mutual” shows an unexpected sassy side from the singer, who for the most part, seems like someone who is incapable of being anything but nice. He expresses his frustration towards his significant other, who can’t seem to decide if she’s fully invested in their relationship. The verses are slow, but Mendes’ voice, combined with the deep bass line is seductive. The song’s tempo is consistent throughout, until the bridge where Mendes picks up speed right before shouting “What do you want from me? / Baby oh, I need to know.”
I’m going to have to revert back to millennial lingo again for track 13 because “Perfectly Wrong” hit me like a truck. Here, Mendes sounds like he’s fighting back tears as he sings “There’s no use / We were made to break / I know the truth / And it’s much too late.” Though his torment is palpable, you can’t help but love this track for its simplicity and its ability to create beautiful, sorrowful melodies through the use of guitar, piano, and violin.
For some reason, the final song on most albums fall short compared to the other tracks. “When You’re Ready,” however, is a stunning acoustic finish to this musical masterpiece of an album. In it, Mendes promises to wait for a girl for as long as it takes. There’s pain in his voice as he sings “Even ten years from now / If you haven’t found somebody / I promise I’ll be around.” However, the track’s blissful acoustics, accompanied by a light drumming and enchanted background vocals, makes the song feel like a glimmer of hope and leaves listeners feeling like the pain he felt in previous tracks is slowly fading.
The album in its entirety does something rare for modern music: it includes music created by actual instruments! Synths and electronic, inorganic sounds have virtually taken over every song on the charts and it’s so refreshing to hear Mendes explore his musicality by incorporating all sorts of percussion and string instruments- all while never constricting himself to a single genre. The self-titled release embraces the beauty of actual instrumentation and highlights Mendes’ successful attempt at creating a new genre of music. It’s not surprising that the album charted #1 on iTunes in over 80 countries upon its debut and earned the #1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
Mendes’ ability to channel his deepest, truest emotions and put them into words is praiseworthy. His brilliant lyrics, combined with his musical talent and vocal ability makes it hard to believe that he is only 19. “Shawn Mendes” takes listeners on an emotional journey – it will make you laugh, cry, smile and at times, make you want to throw your phone across the room because the relatability of the words will make your heart sting. I hesitantly give the album an A+, wishing so badly a grade higher than that existed.
Mendes will be performing the new songs at various festivals over the summer, as he prepares for his massive self-titled world tour, set take off in March 2019 in Amsterdam.
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