Shawn Mendes: How a Toronto Teen Became the Superstar Next Door
Before Shawn Mendes makes it onto the stage at Radio City Music Hall for his sold-out, early March performance, the 17-year-old has already performed in the ballroom twice. His afternoon began with a private show for his “Shawn Access” crowd – a group of superfans who shelled out extra money to meet him and see his more intimate early-afternoon set. He followed that with a lengthy soundcheck, running through the new graphics and takes on his old and new songs with a full band.
For a brief moment, however, the venue is empty.
Crossing through the ballroom with his team, Mendes makes his way from a backstage hallway where he’s signed guitars for the Shawn Access fans and prepares himself for his next activity of the day: a ticket giveaway. He takes a pause before exiting the venue, and when he finally does make it through the doors on West 51st Street, the mild rumble of waiting girls turns into a city-filling roar as soon as they notice their idol who spends a few minutes hugging and greeting the luckiest of the young women with passes to the show. As he re-enters the building and the doors shut behind him, the roar continues to leak through the walls. He makes his way to the backstage hallway, but not without a quick selfie in front of the empty room for MTV – taken without missing a beat.
Attention to detail is Mendes’ specialty as an adolescent who grew up and became a superstar in the social media era. Through Vine, YouTube and Twitter, he built the type of massive, grassroots fandom over many months that can take most artists several years to obtain. It’s what made his rise to Number One, with his debut album Handwritten and single “Stitches,” so apparently seamless.
“I was always [online],” Mendes says while safely tucked backstage after the mayhem he caused outside. Muffled screams can still be heard from his dressing room. “I was one of those kids who was just always on the Internet, always on YouTube, so it was easy for me to do it. It’s not work. It’s just fun.”
An easy knowledge of the web made it less difficult for Mendes to realize what works: content. “I was consistent with these six-second videos of me singing on YouTube, on Twitter, on Instagram,” he explains. “[I was] posting pictures all the time. I kinda didn’t know what I was doing, but I was doing something.”
“I would wait for him to post six-second vines every day,” 15-year-old Ronja Brox says. The Norwegian teenager remembers seeing a Vine of Mendes covering an Ed Sheeran song with his black Fender guitar on her Twitter timeline in October 2013. She became interested, watched more of his videos and, by December of that year, she had ditched her Justin Bieber fan account to dedicate one to Mendes. In March 2014, she launched @ShawnMendesNews, a Twitter with over 50,000 followers that she spends “24/7” updating with videos, voting links, photos, articles and general news on her idol. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before him. He’s quite special.”
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