Here’s the deal: Like Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes is from Canada. Unlike Bieber, Mendes is tall (6’1″), good looking, very well spoken, and a pretty competent guitar player. He’s got a great pop voice that falls more on the Ed Sheeran side than on “American Idol.”
Shawn Mendes writes catchy songs, lots of them, and he’s genuine in his disposition. Last night he made his first ever premiere live on stage at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square in front about 1,000 screaming girls and their parents. Shawn took the bare stage with just his guitar, no band, no dancers, just him. He wore a flannel shirt and jeans.
The room was once a grand movie theater where I watched “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Indiana Jones” and “Superman” on a 70 mm screen in the 1970s. On Saturday night it was seething with young girls standing packed like proverbial sardines from the lip of the stage to the back of the room. They often swayed in waves before Mendes came out, chanting his songs.
But get this: Mendes does not have an album out yet. The girls found him on Vine, not even YouTube. He posted six-second snippets of himself singing. The teen world exploded like Krypton just before Superman was shipped out in swaddling clothes. Shawn’s parents are not musical, and had no idea what was happening when fame beckoned. Now he’s signed to Island Records and its guru, David Massey. He’s getting packets of schoolwork from his undoubtedly furious instructors.
His songs are simple and melodic, with hooks. Everyone can sing along, and they do. There’s no yodeling or rap. There’s no Auto Tune or fakery. His voice has already changed, so unlike Bieber he doesn’t sound like Ann Murray. He has a nice full adult throat. He does need a mentor, like John Mayer, or James Taylor’s son Ben Taylor. That would help. He says his influences are Ed Sheeran and Justin Timberlake. But they’re not. They’re really Neil Young and James Taylor. He just has to hear their records.
Well, the girls keep screaming. But Shawn remains at the mic, and calms them down by talking to them. He was so afraid before going on, Massey says. he nearly became ill. You couldn’t see it on stage.
Mendes’ biggest break comes next summer. He will open for ubiquitous man eater Taylor Swift. Let’s hope he can keep his balance. But something tells me by June there will tabloid stories galore. Please god, no.