It seems every generation of tween girls has a male musician or boy band whom they are compelled to idolize. It could be argued that it's a healthy part of growing up, and a less dangerous crush to fantasize about than the boys sitting next to these girls in math class are. My girlfriends and I had the Jonas Brothers—Nick was my favorite—and we taped posters from our favorite magazines on our bedroom walls accordingly. They sang pop and pop rock songs, of course, about high school days and having good, clean fun with their friends. For a few years, they were wholesome, wore purity rings, followed the rules of Hollywood Records, had great hair, and made all of our little-girl-hearts sing. And I'm sure the boys loved them too, but they typically didn't admit it, so I'll let them play it cool and won't reveal their secrets now. Now, I'm kind of old and no longer looking for a teenage boy to write fan fiction about. But I think I found one anyway, opening up for Taylor Swift on The 1989 World Tour.
Shawn Mendes is a seventeen-year-old kid from Canada who was discovered through the videos he posted on Vine. He's becoming the next generation heartthrob, and I'm happy about that. I heard my eleven-year-old cousin listening to him when I visited her house last month and it was comforting to know that he's around for her to obsess over. Mendes is easily marketable—he's attractive, young, and innocent—but he doesn't seem to have been pumped out of the marketing machine. He's writing his own music and he's playing guitar. When he opened for Swift this summer, he had no band, but nothing was lacking from his set—in fact, his solo acoustic strumming added to his Ed Sheeran-influenced charm. He wrote almost all of the tracks on his debut album Handwritten and his subject matter is diverse. His stories are told in unique and clever metaphors, although the content may be simple and elementary. But again, he's barely seventeen. Plus, he has an indisputably strong voice, unlike many Hollywood Records babies.
I believe Mendes is a genuine musician trying to write and arrange his work in a way that appeals to a large but niche demographic without selling out or compromising quality. He's worth watching, too—I would bet that he could transition seamlessly to an adult audience in a few years, without any Bieber-esque crises along the way. I'm not listening to Mendes' album every day or even every month, but when I hear "Stitches" or "Something Big" on the radio, I'm happy to sing along for the girls who called in to request it, and for the twelve-year-old girl I used to be.