By Mira Sripada (‘24)
Shawn Mendes is a singer and songwriter from Pickering, Canada. At the age of 22, Mendes has released four studio albums: Handwritten (2016), Illuminate (2016), Shawn Mendes (2019) and Wonder (2020). On top of this, his collaborations with other successful artists such as Camila Cabello and Justin Bieber have garnered him even more recognition. With over 60 million followers on Instagram and a countless number of accolades, Mendes has become an influential male pop artist comparable to musicians like Ed Sheeran and Charlie Puth.
Wonder begins with the song “Intro”, which invites listeners to “get lost in wonderland”. A lullaby-sounding piano soaks the track in hopeful anticipation for the rest of the album. While other songs veer away from this gentle mood, “Dream” contains the soft and light components that vastly contrast other soaring and sweeping tunes. “Dream” showcases Mendes’ strikingly soft and sweet voice which provides his audience with a heartfelt message: “When I’m apart from / I just close my eyes and . . . dream about you”. A cheerful and peppy drumbeat adds the exact motivation for the singer’s delicate vocals to progress towards the end of a song which is excessively but also unapologetically romantic.
“Wonder”, the title track on the album is cinematic, loud, triumphant and expresses the messy and entangled confusions that come with growing up. A pulsing beat throughout the track immerses listeners in a never ending upbeat race while Mendes contemplates ideas of masculinity clear when he says, “when I cry into my hands / I’m conditioned to feel like it makes me less of a man” and society’s labels like when he exclaims “ . . . wouldn’t it be nice / To live inside a world that isn’t black and white?”. All of these thoughts, though, are brushed aside as Mendes rides a wave of positivity and strength screaming the words, “I wonder what it’s like to be loved by you”. While heavy topics are quickly moved on from, Mendes may be trying to communicate the all-consuming nature of young love: its powers can make life’s problems feel subdued. “Higher”, the third track on the album, has a similar cheerful and fast-paced sensation. A bass guitar, high-pitched vocals and strong downbeat paint the scene as the singer suggests the unbeatable feeling of being with the one he loves.
While Wonder seems like an album chalk full of trivial, mainstream and digestible ideas fit for radio music, Mendes makes an honorable attempt at interweaving weighty topics. “Monster” , which features Justin Bieber, tackles celebrity culture and the precarious nature of it. Since celebrities are under abject scrutiny, it can often result in anxiety and poor choices for the celebrity. While this is a fair issue, when executed by both singers, the result are empty lyrics, displayed when Mendes sings, “ . . . what if I fall? / Then am I the monster?”. While this analogy makes sense, it is not thoroughly developed making it just an analogy. “Call My Friends” details ideas of loneliness and mental health. Mendes sings, “I should call my friends and go get high /
I need a vacation from my mind” which is not only extremely vague but also impersonal. The issue is not unique to him leaving his audience searching for a purpose for the song and connection to the artist.
When the artist focuses on danceable and lively tunes not binded by an arbitrary and vague social issue, he succeeds. The track “Teach Me How to Love” embodies this idea well. This track infuses elements of groovy jazz and exclamatory vocals to beg the attention of his partner and in doing so, the track is catchy, fun and easy to fall in love with: “Put my hands around you
Ooh, teach me how to / Touch you, tease, caress you and please you”. Later, in the song “305”, a rush of energy and passion is complemented by Mendes’ whispery and velvety vocals giving the illusion of lovely mayhem or planned pandemonium. This thrill is exciting and genuinely fun to listen to.
WHAT SONGS SHOULD I ADD TO MY PLAYLIST?!?
- “Teach Me How to Love”
Shawn Mendes is a talented musician who has continued to produce hit songs since the beginning of his career. If searching for tracks that illicit happiness, thrill, passion and excitement, Wonder delivers. However, when this body of work pretends to be something it’s not – a weighty and lyrically complex narrative – that is when listeners feel an emotionless detachment from the songs to the singer. Wonder plays with the delicacy of exhilaration and the excitement in the little and lovely moments, an element of life often overlooked or completely ignored.