Shawn Mendes on Drinking, Kanye and Playing Governors Ball This Weekend

The pop superstar also talks about the pitfalls of social media fame and why Canada is a songwriters paradise

"I don't know if any of Jack White's fans are gonna know who I am, but the thing about festivals is it's the moment to not be a name but to be a musician and an artist," says Shawn Mendes about playing Governors Ball. Credit: Brian Ziff

"I'm still really young in terms of being a musician,” says Shawn Mendes, 19. How young is he? Mendes speaks of Justin Bieber as one of his earliest musical heroes and talks about Kings of Leon like they’re a classic-rock band. But the pop heartthrob – who broke through five years ago on the defunct social media app Vine – has released three major-label albums, scoring radio hits like “Stitches” and “Treat You Better.” His new single “In My Blood” is his rockingest song yet, and has already racked up 120 million streams on Spotify. The success means that Mendes no longer feels like just a social media star: “I was stuck as a Viner in people’s minds for a long time,” he says. “I feel like I’ve finally broken free from that.”

You’re playing at Governors Ball shortly before Jack White and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Does the thought of playing to a field of rock fans intimidate you?
Totally. I don’t know if any of Jack White’s fans are gonna know who I am, but the thing about festivals is it’s the moment to not be a name but to be a musician and an artist. I’m just gonna get onstage and do what I do because that’s all I can do. Then maybe one day I’ll be in Jack White’s position, and that’s the dream.

You just played for Queen Elizabeth II at her 92nd birthday. Did you meet her?
I didn’t. I stood next to her for about 10 minutes while she was getting ready to go onstage. But I don’t think you can speak to her unless she speaks to you. And so I didn’t. Being so close to her, you realize she’s just a regular lady.

Were you tempted to talk to her?
So badly. I wanted to just shake her hand, but it’s really against the law. [Note: No law forbids anybody from speaking to the queen, but it is customary to allow her to speak first.]

You also played for Elton John at his Grammy tribute show. Was that more pressure than meeting the Queen?
Much, much more pressure. I was nervous and my hands were shaking and my body was shaking. But like the Queen, Elton is also like the coolest guy ever. I got off stage and he called me to his dressing room just to basically say, "Hey, man. What's up? I love the new music and I'm so proud of you. It's so amazing to see how you're touring and how you're handling everything. You should be really happy with yourself." It was just a really, really kind of surreal moment.

You’re compared to Justin Bieber all the time. Is that unfair?
One thing people may not know about me is how much I look up to Bieber. I don’t think I’ve ever truly told him he was my main inspiration for what I wanted to do. I learned every one of his songs by heart. He taught me how to riff and sing. So every time someone asks me about Bieber, I always say, “That’s the biggest compliment you could give me.”

Canada has produced an abnormally large number of great songwriters, considering the tiny population. Why do you think that is?
I think because it’s winter for 10 months of the year that we’re forced to stay inside and that we get very inside our heads and very inside our emotions. We get in touch with our emotions better, and therefore we are able to put it on paper better.

Better Canadian band: Rush or the Tragically Hip?
No matter what I say, I’m gonna get backlash, but I would say the Tragically Hip. But actually, I have a very invalid opinion because I’m so young. I don’t think I’m a true enough fan to answer that.

The drinking age is 19 in Canada. How do you handle being in America when you can’t legally drink?
I drink a shit-ton when I go home, and I just don’t drink in America. I get it all out when I go home.

What’s your drink of choice?
I love rye and ginger. But I had to slow down because they don’t feel good the next morning, so I just started drinking tequila, and it’s better. I drink either Don Julio or Casamigos.

Being in America must be frustrating then.
I don't find it frustrating because I care about alcohol. I care about time with friends in bars. I'm being denied a social experience, not an alcoholic beverage. I wish I was allowed to just go in the bar and drink a pop because then I would at least be there with everyone and I wouldn't have to be in my hotel while everyone else is at the bar.

Do you think they should lower the drinking age in America to 19? 18?
I think 18 is is a fucking great idea because when you're in London everybody seems so mature at 20. But in America there's this kind of pressure that builds inside of needing to go to the bar that by the time you're 21, which is like a full adult, you just explode. I feel like a lot of crazy things kind of happen to kids when they first go out instead of if it was a few years younger. Maybe they wouldn't have been so tempted to go that crazy.

I know you’re a big Kanye West fan. What do you find most inspiring about his music?
Just his creativeness, man. His ability to not be afraid to say what he wants. I think a lot of people make music based off what is working, and he is somebody who makes the music that people base their music off. That’s inspiring.

Are you turned off by any of his recent tweets or political statements?
Obviously, there's a lot of things I disagree with what he's saying. But I don't know enough about any situation politically right now to kind of have a proper opinion. But as an artist, I'm not turned off of Kanye West. I think he is a great artist and he always will be to me and his views and opinions politically and emotionally are his to have. It's not to do with me. I mean, obviously he's said some very messed up stuff that I disagree with and everyone else, but for the most part, he's still kind of a great artist to me and it's somebody I admire as a musician.

You get a lot of online attention for your abs. Do you eat any carbs?
I eat tons of carbs. I just work out a lot, dude. I go to the gym every morning, and I’m obsessed with fitness and just staying active. But I’m not the best to talk about when it comes to diet. If there’s fries in front of me, I’m definitely not gonna say no.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen?
I saw Maroon 5 play at Rock in Rio in Brazil. Adam [Levine] sounded incredible, the whole band, everything was so amazing. Kings of Leon, though, are my favorite band live.

What's your favorite movie?
End of Watch with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. It's just so sad and it's just like a very real movie. It just feels so real. I just watch it all the time. It's so great.

What's it like to pick up a tabloid and see a photo of yourself walking down the street next to a woman and read rumors about your personal life?
It's not confusing to me. I get it. I understand when people talk about it and why people want to talk about it and I think that I'm just really honest with people. If I was dating somebody, it would be super clear and I would say it. I have nothing against hiding that stuff. It is what it is to me. It just is. Let people talk about it. But the truth is, if you wanna know if I'm dating someone, just ask me and I'll tell you truth always.

Okay. You've been photographed a lot with Hailey Baldwin. Are you dating her?
I'm not dating Hailey. We're really great friends, honestly. I met her through some friends and she's just super calm, super down to earth, and somebody who really kind of understands people and works really hard at keeping relationships with people in a really inspiring way. So, we're just great friends, honestly.

Do you ever wish you grew up before the era of social media?
No, because I would have no career [laughs].