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Pop CultureNovember 27, 2017

Shawn Mendes: More wholesome than you ever were or will ever be


Kate Robertson reviews Shawn Mendes, the ever-so-pure former Vine star who performed at Spark Arena on Saturday.

Saturday night saw 19-year-old Shawn Mendes, a star so clean-cut Disney could only dream of stamping their brand on him, grace us with his pristine presence for the first time. It’s a gig I’ve not stopped yapping on about for the past nine months, so not even my germ-gremlin status could stop me seeing the hitmaker fill Spark Arena with his pop-rock anthems.

We find our seats just as he arrives on stage and Spark Arena is already at fever pitch. Opening with a crash-bang version of chart-topper ‘There’s Nothing Holding Me Back’, the Canadian dreamboat has us hooked on his every move from the first note.

By the second track ‘Lights On’, a bop in which he coos about wanting to love us with the energy-saving light bulbs on (chivalry is not dead!), it is clear that the shared crush we’re all harbouring is distinct from the panicked fandom of the One Direction fans I witnessed in 2010. The piercing screams are replaced by something gentler and more soothing. It’s a respectful crush, appropriate for the wholesome theme of the evening.

As someone whose own innocent days are now a distant memory (thank you university for teaching me about Marxism and ruining my faith in humanity), Mendes’ glass-half-full optimism has me wishing I was 18 again for the first time ever. I hate it, and I curse the curly haired swoon-machine for making me feel such things.

Shawn isn’t a player and he definitely isn’t out to break your heart like it’s a competitive sport. Even from the stands, you can tell he’s nothing short of a gentleman. My friend Grace says he would always text you back. When he sings of a girl who broke his heart we both vow to never let him be a consolation prize and always give him the love he deserves.

Even the chaperone dads know all the words to all the songs, gleefully swinging their arms around and getting a groove on. I’m guessing they’re probably just happy to have a night off from the Moana soundtrack. Yep, there were still the token dads sitting by the bar scrolling Facebook (what a waste of $80 – just pick your kid up outside!) but they were the vast minority, and they missed out on a damn good bonding experience with their kids.

Now, before you think love has blinded me, you can bet I got all ‘hell no’ when he dropped the first verse of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle On The Hill’ while perched over at the emotional piano stage. I’m paying $140 to see that played against my will in March thank you very much. He obviously feels the mood change and moves into another song with the smoothness of a DJ Earworm end-of-year mashup.

He’s also not much of a chatty Cathy. It’s something which would normally fill me with rage and disappointment but, with Shawn it’s fine. Whenever he speaks the sparkle disappears, the Prince Charming illusion shatters and I remember there are two sides to every break-up and he’s definitely no angel.

One of his more so-so songs Grace and I find common ground over is ‘Bad Reputation’, which feels like it’s sung directly to us. It’s the song for the 20-somethings of the room who are mostly just trying not to get drunk on weeknights and pay rent on time. “She got a bad reputation, she takes the long way home,” he sings, and we both appreciate that even the best of us have done things we shouldn’t have at 3am at Grand Central on a Tuesday. But he’s not here to judge us. Life is messy and this wise old 19-year-old knows that.

‘Never Be Alone’ seems an appropriate pre-encore end to the show, by which point dads are rocking their sleepy children, teenagers’ faces shift from elation to sadness over the pending farewell, and mums are swaying with a nostalgic contentment my own mother would reserve only for Harry Styles and the closing credits of Love Actually. The show feels complete, and just like that, he’s gone.

In a world where pre-drinking goes hand in hand with any social event, there’s something so pure about being in a room full of conscious, sober people, completely absorbed in this one person standing on stage with a guitar. It’s a rare and special thing, and as cringey and lame as it sounds, for those of us who feel we’ve traipsed in and out of gigs just like this a million times before, it’s a reminder of the fire our favourite artists once set alight inside of us, however many years ago.

As we exit the arena in a particularly orderly fashion, Grace asks whether I think Shawn will be having an after party. We pause for a second, before laughing at the thought, both agreeing that our new best friend is definitely heading home to a cup of warm milk and a good book like the wholesome young man he is.

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