I’ll be honest: I never thought I’d attend a Shawn Mendes concert—not because I don’t enjoy pop-rock/folk-pop music. In fact, I’m an unabashed stan of one of Mendes’ protégés (and fellow Canadian), Justin Bieber, who basically set the blueprint for gaining an army of supporters by engaging with fans on social media and posting age-defying acoustic covers on the internet. While Bieber used YouTube to soar to international stardom, Mendes’ platform of choice was Vine in 2013; the singer went viral after posting a cover of Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me” on the app, and he’s continued to follow in the Biebs’ footsteps over the past few years, taking him all the way to the top of the Billboard charts.
The main thing I dislike like about Shawn Mendes’ music is that whenever I hear his songs (on the radio), they’re more often than not sandwiched by much worse, painfully mainstream songs. While his well-known releases are not quite my cup of tea, I can still appreciate the mass appeal of heart-felt singles like “Treat You Better,” and especially “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back.” So when I was invited out to see the show (and found out he was bringing pop/R&B singer Alessia Cara), I had no good reason to decline. I've seen enough clips and televised awards show performances to know that Mendes has a great voice and wields it with precision. Why not go see the next generation’s cute-white-boy-popstar kick off his North American Tour? After all, I'm basically an expert when it comes to this genre.
As I arrived to Moda Center, I caught part of Alessia Cara’s set. The packed arena was on their feet and super into her performance, allowing Cara to flex her crowd control skills. Even though Cara was jogging around the stage to get closer to the fans, she didn’t seem out of breath at all (22-year-olds, amirite?), and sang renditions of “Here,” and “Scars to Your Beautiful,” beautifully.
Even before Mendes took the stage, I was excited because I was getting a contact high from all the other concertgoers—mostly young women dragging along their deadweight boyfriends and legal guardians. As someone who’s seen Bieber at least 13 times, not only did I know what I was getting into, but I related to these young women and knew what they were feeling: like they might explode into a million pieces if their idol doesn’t come out immediately, and pre-dreading the moment when the lights flick on and the concert ends. As Mendes stormed the stage, backdropped by some floral watercolor imagery, the shrieks and screams that blasted from around the arena reminded me of a flock of birds. It was a joy to knowingly observe the mass.
After Mendes performed a few songs (including “Stitches”), the singer explains that the entire band could no longer hear themselves in their ear pieces. The band left the stage while the technical difficulties were being resolved, and Mendes seamlessly went into acoustic mode, which was NBD; it’s the stripped-down format that made him famous. “Reminds me when I used to play shows for 300 people,” Mendes said, “[but] it’s not 300 people anymore.” [SCREAMS]
Mendes apologized profusely for the technical difficulties, but the fans didn’t seem to mind; the singer continued to stand on the stage baring newly formed biceps (plus some chest hair!), and playing acoustic guitar for another 10 minutes or so. After a solid five minutes of not hearing Mendes’ voice, a fan behind me blurted out “Sing a song right now,” and a moment later her wish was granted. Mendes made his way to the smaller stage at the other end of the arena, where a giant light-up flower was floating and changing colors. Mendes sat down at a grand piano for “Never Be Alone,” a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” and a medley of his other songs.
What I learned from seeing Shawn Mendes live was that his influences go well beyond Bieber. At times his onstage presence reminded me of male stars like Elvis, Justin Timberlake, Panic! at the Disco, and John Mayer—but with the genuinely humble, bright-eyed optimism of a post-millenial. Speaking of John Mayer vibes, I also learned I have a favorite Shawn Mendes song: a soulful track from Illuminate called “Ruin.”
In the song, Mendes questions—over some exceedingly bluesy guitar—whether his feelings for a lover are mutual. Mendes sings “And I'm not tryna ruin your happiness, baby/But darling don't you know that I'm the only one?/Do I ever cross your mind?” This was also my favorite song of the night. The recorded track clocks at four minutes, and it’s definitely worth hitting the “repeat” button for.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Mendes’ genre, it’s impossible to deny that the Canadian singer sounds great live. While performing songs like “Bad Reputation,” “Like to Be You,” "If I Can't Have You," and “Treat You Better,” every once in a while he shows off his impressive range by letting out a wail that's reminiscent of Freddie Mercury. I wasn’t 100-percent sold before, but Mendes’ live show proves he’s more than just a cute and charismatic young pop singer; he’s a multi-talented star that’s probably going to shine for years to come.