A year ago, Pickering, Ontario native Shawn Mendes was just an average teenager with an interest in music. Then, last August, he posted a six-second clip of himself singing Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” on the video-snippet-sharing service Vine. By the next day, he was an Internet star, thanks to the 10,000-plus followers he amassed overnight.
Now, he has nearly 3 million followers and has embarked on a more traditional musical career path, signing with Universal Music Group subsidiary Island Records. In late June he released his first single, “Life of the Party,” a piano-driven power ballad with an unexpectedly mature vibe that immediately went to the top of the iTunes singles chart.
Just after “Life of the Party” was released EW got on the phone with him to talk about Vine, YouTube, stage fright, and his sudden rise to fame.
EW: Tell me a little about how you got started making music in the first place.
SHAWN MENDES: So a few years ago I gained an interest in singing and music, and it was sort of really random. We had this little thing at our school called glee, which was a small club where we sang songs for our school, and I auditioned, and that’s basically what got me into singing in general. A couple of my friends encouraged me to put up YouTube videos so I did, but it never got anywhere too crazy. It wasn’t until last August when I put up a six-second cover of me singing “As Long As You Love Me” onto Vine, and this little Vine went viral overnight—like, 10,000 likes overnight. I woke up in the morning and looked on my Vine and I had 10,000 followers. It was just an explosion. I was overwhelmed and didn’t even really know what was going on. All I could was post another one, and it was the same deal, and from there on it was a snowball effect.
I saw something where you said that you were inspired to put your covers on YouTube after seeing other people posting covers there. What was it about seeing those videos inspired you to make your own?
I was super obsessed with cover videos. When I was like 10 I would come home from school and watch them from 4 o’clock until 8 o’clock every night. I was so intrigued that people took these super popular songs and did them their own way. It really showed me the creativity, how every person sang it their own way and even how they would film and record it. I thought, “I want to do that someday.”
You were recently part of a tour of people who are famous from the Internet. What was that experience like?
So this tour was called Magcon, which stands for “meet and greet,” and it was like me and nine other guys all from Vine. There were crowds of 1,500 to 2,000 people to meet us wherever we went, and we’d go through and say hi and sign autographs, and I’d obviously perform on stage. It was a really cool, intimate thing with us and our fans on Vine. Ever since the beginning of that, things have been blowing up for all of us.
What was it like to go from playing to your fans via the Internet to actually getting on stage?
When I had these numbers, I could see “300,000,” but you don’t know how many people that is until you see a thousand people in front of you, and that looks like so many people. Just the fact that a thousand people in front of me were ready to hear me sing was one of the best feelings I can think of.
Did you get any stage fright?
I did a little bit. I still do. But I get overtaken, I start singing, and then I forget that I’m singing live, and the stage fright goes away.
What’s it like having the number one song on iTunes?
Just, like, such an overwhelming feeling. It went up at like 11:45 and in four hours it hit number one. I looked up there and saw “Rude” by Magic! and “Problem” by Ariana, and seeing my song up there with all these super famous songs that everyone knows is a feeling I can’t describe.