By Scott T. Sterling
For emerging pop star Shawn Mendes, music stardom is coming six seconds at a time.
Utilizing the video app Vine, Mendes has been sharing his quick takes on songs like The Neighbourhood‘s “Sweater Weather,” Beyoncé‘s “Drunk in Love,” and Oasis‘ Brit-pop classic, “Wonderwall” since fall 2013, interspersing them with slice-of-life videos from his high school classrooms and holiday scenes at his family’s Toronto home. These few second clips helped generate a massive fan base for the teen singer, who currently commands three million followers. And after hopping over to YouTube to post full-length acoustic versions of pop hits like Lana Del Rey‘s “Summertime Sadness,” Mendes earned himself a deal with Island Records.
Wherever Mendes goes, his fans are sure to follow, which was made evidently clear after the release of his self-titled debut EP of warm, affable pop in late July. The singer called on his legion of fans to support the record and they responded in overwhelming fashion, sending the EP to the No. 1 slot on the iTunes chart mere minutes after it hit the internet. The release would go on to debut at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
“I wasn’t expecting it to hit No. 1 in like 35 minutes,” the 16-year-old marveled during a recent phone interview with Radio.com. “All I can say is that my fans just killed it. They’re a complete army. I was just blown away.”
Talking about the EP, Mendes singled out the track “Show You” as his favorite of the bunch.
“The song is about how people are always telling you that you can’t do something because you’re too young or whatever, and how you have the power to show the world that you can do whatever you want,” he explained. “It’s a pretty empowering song.”
Growing up in, what he calls, “not a musical family at all,” it was the internet that inspired his initial desire to play guitar and sing. At 10 years old, he was really obsessed with watching people perform covers on YouTube, often coming home from school around four o’clock, heading straight to the computer where he would stay until eight at night.
“I was inspired by the way people would take popular songs and make them their own. That’s what really brought me into music. I was not a good singer when I first started,” Mendes recalled of his musical beginnings. “I was really oblivious to how bad I was, which I guess helped me in the long run because I just didn’t stop. I sang for hours and hours every day. With lots and lots of practice, I eventually got better.”
“It’s insane. I’m on a real, massive tour. It’s absolutely unbelievable,” he marveled. “Like right now, I’m standing in a parking lot and there are five tour buses and it’s just really cool.”
In between those arena shows, Mendes has also been performing free outdoor solo shows for his fans, with stops at New York’s Times Square and Los Angeles’ L.A. Live entertainment complex, where over two thousand people showed up to watch him perform.
“It’s one of the most heartwarming feelings when you know there are that many people who really want to hear your music,” he said. “You get up there and can’t help but smile. There were times when I was smiling so hard I could barely spit out some of the words to my songs.”
While on the road, Mendes has been working on his debut album, with hopes that it will come out in early 2015. “We’re not super close to finishing it or anything, but we’re getting songs together for sure,” he said, adding that he’d like to debut some new music on the road. “Songwriting is extremely important. I think the stuff coming straight from me is important to give to my fans.”
“He’s a great guy. He flew me down to Los Angeles and we had dinner,” he recalled. “It was really cool. I got to talk to him, he gave me a bunch of advice. It was just really awesome. He’s one of my idols, so it was amazing that he wanted to meet me.”
As Mendes’ star continues to rise, he’ll probably get a chance to have more dinners with his idols, but he makes it clear that no matter what, his fans will always be able to stay in touch with him through Vine.
“Vine is such a part of my life,” he said. “No matter how busy I am, it’s something I will always take time out of my day to do.”