With his heartthrob smile and Bruce-Springsteen-pop-chic, Canada’s nicest pop star Shawn Mendes has always played the game fairly. He’s bowed his head, played his acoustic guitar and written gooey love songs that would translate into number one hits and playlist repeaters. But for his fourth studio album Wonder, Mendes is finally breaking the rules. A 46-minute dive into the star’s biggest insecurities and fears, the album is larger than any body of work Mendes has ever made.
A great accompaniment to his Netflix documentary (In Wonder) released a few weeks ago, Wonder further shows who Shawn Mendes – The Human really is. It’s his first album where he’s happily in love with the girl he’s supposedly been pining after for years, and his dedication to Camila Cabello is undoubtedly admirable. “As long as we’re together, I can’t get much higher,” he sings on the quick-paced ‘High’; a track that sees Mendes in a moment of gratitude for his life right now. He might have lost us a little in the relatability, but the core message of life being better once the right person is in it is felt universally.
And life, it seems, really is a whole lot better than Mendes’ self-titled last album (dropped two years ago). But it’s all a little too good to be true and the star is starting to get skeptical. The floaty beach bop ‘Dream’, reminiscent of ‘60s Californian pop rock, details the struggle of being away from the one you love. Yeah, he might’ve finally won his dream girl, but Mendes certainly hates the nights where they’re each on opposite sides of the world. In a way to try and combat that issue, the sparkling piano ballad ’24 Hours’, that sounds like it’s been lifted right out of an old romantic fantasy, finds Mendes toying with the ideas of marriage and settling down. “It’s a little soon,” he sings, “but I wanna come home to you.”
The album’s most vulnerable part isn’t anything to do with his whirlwind romance though, it’s a love letter to something much stronger: his friends. In stadium-chanter ‘Call My Friends’, a larger than life synth-rock hit, the 22-year-old reflects on the decision he made to trade normalcy for fame. “I should call my friends and go get high, I need a vacation from my mind,” he admits in pure honesty. It’s a refreshing take from the megastar, one that hits harder than any confession of love. For all the success and superstardom, Mendes just wishes he could grab a drink with his mates at the pub sometimes; and we all really feel for him.
But quickly we’re back to Cabello, because it’s always been about Cabello. On the funky sexcapade ‘Teach Me How To Love’, Mendes whips up his own ‘Your Body Is A Wonderland.’ On The Beatles-esque ‘Song For No One’, he remembers a time where he and Cabello weren’t together and he’s obviously pretty depressed about it. Huge rock inspired track ‘Always Been You’ confirms that she’s always been the one, and heavy dance hit ‘Piece Of You’ deals with Mendes’ jealousy when “everyone wants a piece.” He even references Cabello’s area code of her hometown Miami in the bubbling ‘305’ and fears life without her on ‘Can’t Imagine.’
Sonically, Wonder is unlike Mendes has ever done before. A mixed bag of musical allsorts, the star grabs bits and pieces from all his musical heroes and crafts an album that really feels like his own. Inspired by ‘70s and ‘80s rock, synths, dance waves and orchestra, each track on Wonder blends effortlessly together and almost paints imagery beyond their own sounds. It’s clear that Mendes is growing and while he knows he’s come a long way; he still has a long way to go. He’s on the right path now, everything’s lining up pretty nicely; and he’s not about to let it all disappear.
Singles ‘Wonder’ and ‘Monster ft. Justin Bieber’ proved this the most, giving us early access to what the context of the album would be. They fit snug amongst the other tracks but definitely aren’t the only reasons the album is alive. It’s a rare occasion, but every other track on Wonder matches the same level of the singles. This is Mendes at his strongest and he knows it. But not only does he have Cabello to thank, he has his fans. “Look up at the stars, they’re like pieces of art floating above the ground,” he sings in the fan dedicated ‘Look Up At The Stars.’ “Before you go home, I should let you know I’m so glad that you came.” Over a perfect 2000s pop rock beat, Mendes devotes his entire heart to every single one of his fans, gushing about how lucky he is and promising he’ll never let us down. And if we weren’t missing live gigs already, we definitely are now.
As a whole body of work, Wonder is exceptional. Telling a story simultaneously of where Mendes has been and where he’s going, the album tracks the star’s growth, hopes and dreams. It’s an album artists make well into their careers; when they’ve found mental clarity and set themselves on a new path to walk down, but Mendes is only just beginning. He might’ve been in the game for a few years already, but the superstar just wants you to know he too is figuring himself out still. And he seems to just be enjoying the simple intricacy of wondering.