Since learning to play guitar at the age of 13 in 2012, Shawn Mendes has redefined the mainstream appeal of modern teenage songwriting. The Ontario native’s albums — 2015’s Handwritten and last year’s Illuminate — both hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, while current smash “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” — his fifth top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 — echoed throughout arenas on his sold-out summer tour, which has earned more than $32 million, per Billboard Boxscore.
In honor of topping our 2017 21 Under 21 list, we interviewed Mendes about the pressures of being a young singer-songwriter, the best career advice he’s received and the status of album No. 3.
How does it feel to be a representative of your age group in the spotlight?
It really feels amazing. I can’t believe how fast things have happened and I’m just so honored that people are able to look to me as a leader.
Do you feel any pressure being on the younger end of your fellow pop artists/singer-songwriters?
If anything more so it makes me feel like I still have time to do bigger and better things. I think the world is becoming a place where younger and younger people can do great things and I just hope I can inspire other young people to do the same.
When you started songwriting, were you worried you wouldn’t be taken seriously because of your age?
Definitely, it’s hard being a young artist and being taken seriously. I still feel I have a ways to go because there’s always that stigma. But the reality is that as I’ve grown, my fans grow with me, and I think eventually it will come.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of being a teenager?
Probably just the assumption that because we’re young we don’t have the life experience to understand certain things. I think young people are able to be so in tune now with culture and the media with everything that’s at their fingertips that if it’s harnessed in the right way, a young person can if they work at it, learn faster and be as wise as anyone much older than them now.
Is there a part of the industry that you feel is more difficult when you’re a teenager? What’s something that’s easier when you’re younger?
I think the difficult part is keeping up with people who might be able to handle things better because of their experience. But so far I’ve managed and I think the advantages outweigh the negatives.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about navigating the music industry? And what advice would you give young artists who want to make it like you have?
I think the best advice I’ve gotten is either from Ed Sheeran who early on told me to just keep working and not to stop. And Taylor [Swift] on her tour telling me that when you get on stage, everyone there just wants to have a good time, and not to stress much about it, it really helped my confidence.
What has been your biggest accomplishment since your career took off?
That’s hard to say but I think this latest tour and just the growth I feel I’ve gone through this year would be it.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
Haha hard to tell but I’m making album 3 right now and I just hope it can be even better and bigger than the last one!