It seems unreal, by anyone’s standards. How can just a snippet of music, no more than six seconds long, catapult anyone to worldwide stardom? But that’s exactly how it was for Canadian artist Shawn Mendes.
When he started uploading to Vine in 2013, Mendes was only sharing six-second snippets from popular songs of the time. He’d only been playing guitar, after teaching himself how through YouTube videos, for about a year at that point, so he stuck to covers. At first glance, there didn’t seem to be a great deal that was special about him. He had a decent voice, and Shirtless Shawn became the new heartthrob for many teenage girls subscribing to his channel, but otherwise he seemed like any other 14-year-old kid trying to express himself through music.
At least, until he became so much more.
By 2014, Mendes was the third most followed musician on Vine. He enjoyed a narrow, but steady, following, catapulted by his cover of the Bieb’s “As Long as You Love Me.” It raked in over 10,000 likes overnight, and grew from there. He started touring with Cameron Dallas, and other Vine musicians, on the Magcon Tour, and also toured as an opening performer with Austin Mahone.
Just a year later, Mendes released his first full-length album, Handwritten, and it shot straight to number one slot on the Billboard 200 chart. The album’s third single, “Stitches,” reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100, and became his first top 10 US Single. The album’s first single, “Life of the Party,” was Mendes’ first experience making a music video, and it premiered on Vevo. To top off what had already been a phenomenal year, Mendes performed as an opening act, at 12 different shows, for Taylor Swift during the North American leg of her 1989 Tour.
The shirtless boy doing six second Justin Bieber covers on the internet, who’d only been playing guitar for three years, had hit the big time.
From there, Mendes continued to write, perform, tour and expand. He started acting on the CW’s The 100, during the premiere of the show’s third season. His second album, Illuminated, was released in September 2016, and reached number one in the US, his second album to do so, supported on the strength of hit singles like, “Treat You Better,” “Mercy,” and “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back.”
His increasing popularity garnered Mendes the attention of the world, and allowed access to interviews, TV specials, and guest appearances reserved for the world’s biggest stars. He appeared as a musical guest during the 42nd season of Saturday Night Live, while 2016 also saw Mendes included on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list. He then launched into the globe spanning Illuminate World Tour in April 2017, which saw Mendes perform 60 shows in over 22 countries, with a total of 650,463 attendees by the time he finished in December 2017.
Not losing any momentum, in March 2018, Mendes released “In My Blood” and “Lost in Japan” to promote his upcoming, self-titled third album, which released in May 2018, and shattered the records set by his previous two albums. It became his third number one album, making him only the third artist under age 20 to do so, besides the Bieb and Miley Cyrus. Aside from sales and records, Shawn Mendes has been listed as a contender for Best Album of 2018 by Rolling Stone, Time, and Billboard.
With so much history, in so short a time, it’s natural to wonder why Mendes has been able to achieve the success he has. He certainly has talent, especially given his youth and inexperience compared to more established artists, but talent only gets you so far in a commercial industry. What then, makes Mendes more than Shirtless Shawn?
For one thing, Mendes comes across as a very authentic, honest person. He may be a world-renowned artist now, but the same enthusiasm and desire for pure expression that spurred a 14-year-old to post clips of himself strumming guitar remains. In an age where many music lovers are desperate for a break from manufactured, focus-group driven, over-produced (looking at you Beyonce) and generic songs, Mendes writes simple songs centered around his acoustic guitar that endears him with the same soft rock, hard pop audience that knows the difference between a talented artist and a cellophane cutout that’s propped up by a record label.
He writes songs that talk about everyday topics that appeal to that same audience, whether it’s struggling to understand relationship choices in “Treat You Better,” or doing whatever it takes to follow the ones we love in “Lost in Japan.”
Mendes also takes advantage of the multitude of platforms available to artists wanting to reach a wider audience. He started on Vine, launched his first music video with Vevo, and continues to connect with the audiences on both sites, something other artists tend to leave behind after they’ve made it big.
Even the design of his own website places his music at the forefront, with the outlets fans can use to listen to him being the first thing visitors see, followed by tour dates and finishing with videos – you could learn everything you need to know about Mendes without ever navigating away from the homepage. The site even acknowledges that Shawn Mendes is a common name, and added the ‘official’ part of the url to distinguish him in search engines, something all artists should be mindful of when selecting their own domain.
Put simply – Shawn Mendes has grown not only through his talent, but the way he connected with his audience. Mendes connected with his audience the same way he did with his own favorite artists – through the online video platforms that continue to change the way that we discover and follow emerging artists. He understands how younger audiences, who have always been the driving force in the business of music, communicate and connect, because he’s one of the them. And he’s used that fact to full advantage.
It may not work for everybody, but Mendes has proven, beyond a doubt, that for some, six seconds is more than enough.