GRAPHIC BY ELSIE MCKENDRY
With lush arrangements on the violin, piano and drums, Shawn Mendes’ 2020 album, Wonder, branches away from his usual route of music. While his high falsettos and smooth tenor continue to amaze fans, Mendes fails to create a successful variety of songs in his new style of pop.
The 22-year-old pop artist made his debut in 2013 on a social networking app called Vine. Mendes amassed millions of views and followers with his singing, and in 2014 he released his first self-titled EP. His career skyrocketed with the releases of his albums, Handwritten in 2015, Illuminate in 2016 and his self-titled third studio album in 2018.
The album Wonder was released on Dec. 4, 2020 alongside the songs “Wonder,” (October 2020) and “Monster” (November 2020) as promotional singles. Both songs also featured pop singer Justin Beiber. The album contains tracks with influences that range from soft ballads to R&B to classical orchestral melodies, giving the listener a variety of different beats within the same pop music genre.
“Wonder” is the first track in the album and delves deeply into a variety of issues, including toxic masculinity, expressing one’s true self and the pressure not to disappoint one’s friends and family. With a breathy beginning followed by a steady drum beat and high falsettos, “Wonder” is certainly my favorite track on this album.
A highlight was when Mendes sings, “I wonder if I’m being real / Do I speak my truth or do I filter how I feel? / I wonder, wouldn’t it be nice / To live inside a world that isn’t black and white?” His smooth, deep voice creates a steady tempo that gives the listener a teaser for the melodious chorus. Wonder is a power-ball touched with the hint of angelic sound.
Most of Mendes’ songs, including “Teach Me How to Love,” “Dream” and “Always Been You,” are inspired by his girlfriend, pop singer Camila Cabello. While the sentiment behind his lyrics is endearing, the topic of love is used excessively, taking away from the main theme: his personal growth.
“Always Been You” is a song that feels thrown together. With two completely different beats, Mendes was unable to successfully transition from the soft melodic beginning to the ear blasting drums in the chorus. To be frank, his added vocals to the chorus ruined the power of the drums because his voice was competing with the drum’s beat just to be heard.
With many of his songs about falling in love with Cabello, the songs often have the same meaning, and feel as though they could be written much more diversely. I would have liked to hear more on his struggles with fame, anxiety and toxic masculinity.
A lowlight of Wonder was the fifth track, “Song For No One.” Mendes’ vocals did not match with the gentle strum of the guitar, and his lyrics felt rushed and unfinished. The slow beat at the beginning and the fast and simple lyrics did not compliment each other, and as a result, felt unfinished and unprofessional. “Song For No One,” continues to go from a minor progression string swell to a massive ‘60s fill, and opens up into a major progression with horns, string and harp parts. With such overwhelming harps and horns, the song would have been better if he had continued with the soft melodic guitar throughout.
Mendes ends his album with the extremely unsatisfying “Can’t Imagine.” His breathy pauses in between lyrics ruin the rhythm of the guitar, and his voice, which fluctuates in pitch frequently, makes the song unenjoyable to listen to.
Although most of the songs on Mendes’ 2020 album were unenjoyable, he continued to surprise with his different vocal techniques and song styles. At the age of 22, his ability to grow and improve his new style of pop offers valid reason to continue to support and listen to his music.