Today, dressed in gray Adidas warm-up shorts, a heathered short-sleeve tee and sneakers, Mendes doesn't much resemble a rock star (or a basket case, for that matter). Instead, he looks like he's about to help an older sister move into her college dorm room. Although the singer, who has done some modeling and is blessed with clear skin, chocolate-colored hair and a broad smile that's even brighter in person, does incorporate a couple of quirky items into his outfit: a broken watch with a leather band (he just likes the way it looks) and a ring his grandfather wore to commemorate his 25th wedding anniversary (his grandmother gave it to him in 2015).
Shawn Mendes and Taylor Swift at CenturyLink Field on August 8, 2015 in Seattle.
It's easy to see how, for a guy who's already worried about becoming "less of a human being and more of a product," an old watch and a keepsake ring help him stay grounded in a life where he's Snapchat buds with John Mayer (who also gave him a John Mayer Signature Fender Stratocaster) and gets serenaded by Swift on his 18th birthday. (Swift, who brought him on her 1989 Tour as an opener, lip-synced "Treat You Better" to him on, of course, Snapchat.) Meanwhile, he sold out his September show at Madison Square Garden in less than five minutes. All of which makes the pressure of headlining his first tour and its attendant meet-and-greets, matching the blowout success of Handwritten and transitioning from tween poster boy to genuine pop star all the more intense. Especially since -- as a guitar-toting singer-songwriter, and unlike, say, Justin Bieber -- he cannot rely on the Diplos and Skrillexes of the world to summon his grown-man sound for him. "The greatest [artists] are tortured souls," says Mendes. "I'm not calling myself great. I'm tortured because I care. I'm always upset about not doing things as good as I think I could have because I care."
Three hours earlier, Mendes lounges in his dressing room, popping mint Tums, the flavor he finds most calming. Next to a cooler of water and bottles of kombucha, a steamer and humidifier puff warm breaths into the room. "I'm very extreme about [caring for my voice]," he says, tilting his head back to massage his throat. "Did people care about how a singer sounded live back in the day? I don't really feel like they did. Not everything was being filmed. Today, one huge mess-up and millions are seeing it. There's a lot more on the line nowadays. We're so cautious and scared of messing up. It adds a lot of stress to a career."
Shawn Mendes Packs the House in First Edition of His North American Tour Diaries
Mendes hasn't had much downtime to process that stress. Three years ago, he was the "most average kid ever," bored in Pickering, a suburb of Toronto. He recalls carving tree branches into wandsand writing down spells because for years he thought he was a wizard. "I'm still a little certain I'm a wizard," he says, seemingly half-serious. He played soccer and hockey, and auditioned for the Disney Channel in Toronto. His mom, who grew up in London, was a real estate agent, and his dad, who's Portuguese, owned a restaurant and bar supply company, and they supported his whims. They have always been close-knit. He plans to move to Brooklyn or Los Angeles in January and says he'll enlist his mom to design the house to feel as comfy as theirs, where he lives now, along with his younger sister.
The first CD Mendes bought with his own money was Shania Twain's Come On Over, and when he was 13, he began posting videos of himself singing and playing guitar, a 6-month-old hobby at the time, to Vine and YouTube. "Singing kind of came out of nowhere," he says. "And it was shitty. I would say I didn't start getting very good till last year. There's a lot more to success than just singing. I felt like, 'Let's do the rest and figure out the singing thing later.' "