Like Justin Bieber before him, Canadian heartthrob Shawn Mendes rose to fame through social media – amassing millions of followers on now-defunct video app Vine, getting scouted by a major label manager and going on to make history as the youngest artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200.
But by now it’s clear that the 19-year-old Ontario native is not another industry cookie-cutter riding the Bieber, or, in today’s climate, Sheeran train to “tweens’ money”. His latest album Illuminate doesn’t just do well in numbers but also with critics who often jeer at pop music that dares come with boyband good looks. Plus, Mendes has proven to us first-hand he’s one outstanding showman.
Wrapping up Illuminate World Tour in Southeast Asia, Mendes delivered his first performance in Bangkok Monday night (Dec 11) at the Impact Arena with skills and charisma that shone brighter than the hefty-budget stage production and the emblematic luminous globe that hung above the crowd.
Once the night had officially begun with the searing “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”, there really was nothing that held Mendes back. The 18-song setlist was well-paced, moving like clockwork between big hits (“Mercy”, “Stitches”), lively acoustics (“I Don’t Even Know Your Name”, “Never Be Alone”), and John Mayer-inspired declarations (“Ruin”, “Lights On”), each sung with as powerful, earnest and tireless vocals as the next.
While Mendes’s job was to please the young and mostly female Mendes Army, his musical homage to predecessors sure was a nice surprise to parents and non-targetted thrill-seekers. Although his own music takes cue from the likes of Mayer, Plain White T’s and Ed Sheeran, he also touches base with the classic via The Jackson Five’s “Want You Back” in a “Aftertaste”/“Kid In Love” mashup, and gave the his show-ending anthem “Treat You Better” a stirring intro with “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon.
Right before his concert, Mendes met up with Thai media for a brief group interview. Here’s what the pop star had to say about his third album, dream collaborator and what he misses the most while touring the world.
How are you feeling? How’s Bangkok treating you so far?
I’m feeling great! Really good. I’ve met so many fans everywhere in the city. It’s been good.
How has the tour been?
It’s very different, because I’m so far from home. But they’ve actually been some of my favourite shows of all time.
You’ve spawned hits and are touring the world. When did you realise that, wow, I’m becoming a pretty big name in the music world?
I think it’s when I’m flying out across the world to Thailand and putting on a show there is when I started realising that (laughs). It’s so cool. I’m literally across the entire world from my home and playing a big arena here.
Your success comes from purely your talent and dedication but is there anything in the past that you think is still “holding you back” from moving forward? If you could go back in time, what would you change, if any?
I wouldn’t change a single thing because I don’t know where I would be, and I like where I am right now. I’m growing and learning as I go.
Does being famous and successful in the music industry at such a young age, affect you in any way? The good, the bad?
I wouldn’t know the difference, because this is my life and, if anything, it’s been great for me because I’ve met so many inspiring and incredible people who’ve made me want to just do more and more in my life.
2017 has been such a milestone year for you. What can we expect from you next? Any new sound you would like to explore? Or acting projects?
Yeah, I’d love to do some more acting in the future. That’s definitely a big plan of mine. I’m working on a third album right now and I’m exploring and testing out different sounds and trying to figure out where the music goes next.
Speaking of the third album, how has the process been?
It’s been good! I have a ton of songs. I’ve written about 20 songs and I’m not planning on slowing down so I’m going to be back in LA in January to finish the album.
Do you find yourself approaching things differently in the studio now, with all the travelling and new experiences and meeting new people?
Of course. A lot of my song ideas and concepts are coming from a real life experiences, which is really nice because that’s what I always wanted them to be from. And the process is different every time. You may just be on a plane and some sort of idea comes to you or you’re in a studio doing it. It’s never the same thing.
We’ve heard about your strange encounter with Drake. Tell us about that.
I was embellishing but we were basically at The Weeknd’s concert and I wanted to say hi to Drake who was also in the audience, but the security didn’t know who I was and thought I was up to something so they “stopped” me from saying hi (laughs).
If you could bring anyone on tour, dead or alive, who would it be?
It’s a very big list of people. Alicia Keys would be on of them. I always have been a huge fan of hers. She’d be amazing to collaborate with.
Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
It’s a hard question to answer. I hope to continue to make music that stays relevant and that people can enjoy for the next ten years. I want to come back to Asia and be playing stadiums one day.
How is social media important for you as a young artist today?
I don’t think I’d have a career without social media. That’s how it all started and it inspires me to keep going.
What are some of strange encounters with the fans?
I’m sure you can let your imagination run wild on this (laughs). It’s pretty all over the place. Honestly, I think a lot of the time when you see fans going crazy, it’s because they think that they were never going to see us again. When I came to the airport, it was kind of crazy at first but then once they realised that we were just going hang and take photos, everyone calmed down.
Are you used to the screaming and the fanfare now? Or are you still absorbing it?
It’s still a lot but you get a little more used to it.
Is it true that you sent out a message asking fans to submit tattoo designs.
Yes, this one here is all a fan’s design. It’s a symbol from my album Illuminate. And I recently tweeted out another one because they’re great. I don’t know where it would be yet.
The fans can now literally be a part of you.
What is the first Thai word that you would like to learn or already have?
I’ve learned a few but I keep forgetting. How do you say “I love you”? Phom lak khun?
What do you miss the most being away from home?
Just my family and friends.
What about your favourite food?
I’m okay with food. Plus, I’ve tried Thai food and it’s all I’ve been eating since I got here. I went out and had amazing pad thai and curry last night. It’s my favourite curry I’ve ever had. The peanut sauce (satay) was really good, too.