Review Summary: Teen-pop might just have a fighting chance after all.
Teen-pop is always a tricky genre to go and analyze, with the generalization being well - being commercialized music made for teenagers and nothing more to it. Our stereotypical assumption that 'teen-pop' is horrible in every possible fashion. Unsurprisingly that stereotype has lived up to its name recently with disasters like Justin Bieber (the most obvious) and Rixton showcasing the mediocrity of the genre. If anything, we should just go upon the realization that anything classified as 'teen-pop' isn't worth our time at all. However, you may just want to hold that thought; with social media sensation Shawn Mendes delivering a debut album done well enough where teen-oriented pop music shows some promising signs of life.
Shawn Mendes delivered a surprisingly solid debut EP in his self-titled release in August; aiming towards a more stripped-down, acoustic route musically than the big production, symphonic sounds that have been prominent for male artists in the genre. He also avoided the need for songwriters and wrote everything himself, composing the music and the lyrics for the EP. These promising signs that have propel ed Mendes to the pinnacle of his genre, as well as landing a huge opportunity to open for Taylor Swift this summer, are all here in his fittingly-titled album Handwritten.
What has made Mendes go from just a trendy social media sensation to a legitimate artist in his field is the stripped-down, almost Ed Sheeran-esque musical style that has set him apart from the rest of his field. While you hear artists like Mahone or Bieber on vocally-magnified, grandiose-production tracks; the polar opposite is the case with Shawn, already setting the atmospheric tone for Handwritten with a more relaxing, rustic premise. Tracks like the acoustic version of his hit "Life Of The Party" reinforce that, collectively bringing a somber acoustic guitar and Shawn's voice together with nothing else to it. While his vocals aren't exactly polished, being the case for the entire album; it also features a vulnerable component where Mendes opens himself up to the listener, putting it all on the table.
Another huge positive that has been taken from his previous release to Handwritten is the lack of songwriters in his music. The album title lives up to its name in a literal sense; with Mendes writing every lyric, and the composition on the record. While artists have done similar attempts to only find failure (Robin Thicke's Paula an example of this), Mendes looks to have avoided that easily. It also makes the content more connecting, like with "Something Big" - one of the limited times in the album where it is more up-tempo and using more aesthetic elements. A song dedicated to his rising stardom, it also reflects to ourselves and how we can achieve the same. The edgy acoustic guitar and its empowering lyrics gives the album a resonating boost, if it hadn't already surprised enough.
What Shawn Mendes delivers in Handwritten continues to solidify his place as one of pop's up-and-coming artists. His stripped-down, acoustic-driven style is both refreshing to hear and appealing to more than just Mahone-crazed teenagers, helping make the record more accessible than a normal 'teen-pop' record would do. While his vocal ability is still rusty in some places and in need of some refinement, it also is a positive as well as it achieves in connecting with listeners. It's like he's singing directly to you, and even better - this is his real vocals, no Auto-Tune or anything like that. Combine both, and you got yourself a young Canadian who, with his wits and charm is out to delight fans and concert-goers alike in the months and years to come. Mendes might have just given his always-criticized genre a reason to breathe easier at night.