Shawn Mendes is constantly trumpeted as the next Justin Bieber, but that doesn’t mean the actual Justin Bieber knows who Mendes is. Cue the tumbleweed “Who’s Shawn Mendes?” moment that echoed across the Internet yesterday.
Let’s back up. As part of promo for his new smash hit, “What Do You Mean?”, the Biebs recently guested on New York radio station 95.5’s “Ralphie Tonight” show. At one point during their chat, the pop prince was asked if he’d ever looked at where Mendes’ career is now and imagined himself doing it over again, but knowing what he knows now.
Bieber’s response was the definition of confusion, amplified by his rolling a plastic bottle top around his mouth as he looked at people off-camera and asked the now-infamous query, “Who’s Shawn Mendes?”
Honestly? Looking at the video, Bieber seems genuinely perplexed when Mendes was first mentioned. In fact, his facial expression showed absolutely no recognition of the name.
Take a look at the clip below.
Seconds later, host Ralphie Aversa proceeded to clue Justin in on Mendes. “Oh!” Aversa began, “He’s on Island. He’s from southern Ontario. He’s [17-years-old.] He’s got a song called ‘Stitches’ that’s, like, doing OK at pop radio.”
To which, Bieber replied, “Nice. Nice. Good for him.” Then, after Aversa explained that Mendes was also from Southern Ontario like the Biebs, the 21-year-old added, “No, I don’t know him. But I will check him out, for sure.”
The only thing Aversa missed out in his recap was Shawn’s Handwritten album debut atop the Billboard 200 Album chart in April, and his humble beginnings as a Vine star.
Subsequently taken under the wing of Taylor Swift as a tour opener, Shawn is doing good. “Stitches” is currently No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and he has a lot of fans in a burgeoning career. But he’s not yet a household name in terms of profile or sales.
Handwritten by @ShawnMendes earns the largest 2nd-week percentage drop for #1-debuting albums in the SoundScan era (89%) – from 106k to 12k.
— Chart News (@chartnews) April 29, 2015
As such, it is believable that Bieber was telling the truth when he said he didn’t know who Mendes is, although it’s likely he does now. Just because they’re both Canadian doesn’t necessarily mean Shawn would be on Justin’s radar, any more than if they were both American. In addition, Bieber’s eventful life may not leave room for keeping up with every new artist on the block.
However, the Internet, which thrives on fandoms’ childish appetite for entertaining feuds — imagined or real — is now running with this story because it wants to. Numerous media outlets went with headlines either stating or insinuating that Bieber threw shade at Mendes.
The U.K.’s Digital Spy spoke to Mendes on Tuesday and asked the teen if he thought Bieber had seen his cover of “As Long As You Love Me” — Bieber’s 2012 hit single. Mendes replied: “Yeah, I’m sure he has. He probably knows of me,” jokingly adding: “Maybe he just hates me!”
It’s worth noting Mendes’ cover was not released as a single. He went on to say of Bieber, “I think I’m very different to him.”
Shawn explained, “I play acoustic shows all the time and he’s more of a pop star, but being compared to him is great. He’s super-talented so it doesn’t bug me.”
At this point, it is clear the press narrative sees what it wants to see in Bieber. Even though the singer hasn’t been in significant legal trouble for months, and spent most of 2015 apologizing and opening up emotionally in interviews and videos, the news cycle heightened those slim pickings with sensationalist, exaggerated headlines — and, at times — even fabrication.
Hence, Bieber’s three-sentences expression of frustration to a cameraman during his Today Show spot is hyped up into a Mel Gibson-cum-Christian Bale “hissy fit” or “tantrum.” E! News regurgitated a childhood video of the singer not understanding a New Zealand TV host’s pronunciation of “German” and slammed him as “dumb.” Fast forward to media outlets now assuming Bieber’s bewilderment over Mendes was all an act.
— E! Online (@eonline) August 26, 2015
The irony? During the rest of the radio interview, Bieber real talked about being taken advantage of as a boy in the music industry machine and his ongoing efforts to mature and communicate in an “authentic,” “honest” way in both his personal and public life, such as was recently seen in his emotional MTV VMAs moment.
Think it doesn’t take guts for a guy to break down and cry in front of millions? Go ahead and try it.
Factor in the misgendering, mocking, and cyber-bullying that the singer has endured since the start of his career and the teen-like acting out of 2013-14 looks a lot less surprising.
So, is anyone actually listening to Justin Bieber? A guy who previously admitted fame nearly “destroyed” him and is now trying to sustain his career comeback and move positively beyond his two-year crisis. In interview after interview he has spoken about that journey, but what typically gets reported are sound bites related to romance or (as with this latest), speculative blow-ups.
Bottom line? There’s something determinedly mean-spirited about a press narrative that routinely values negative messaging over substantive reporting on Bieber. That extends to anyone who can watch a video that evidently shows no signs of obvious shade and boldly escalate it to hate, even in seeming jest.
[Images via Getty Images]