"It was just about doing it for fun and posting videos,” Shawn Mendes recalls of his earliest YouTube uploads in his self-titled Artist Spotlight Story, “Shawn Mendes.” “I wasn't dreaming about stadiums, or Grammys. I was dreaming of my friends being like, 'That's very cool. I love that. You sounded great.' I just wanted to be that guy who sang and played guitar on YouTube.”
Directed by his longtime friend and YouTube creator Casey Neistat, “Shawn Mendes” looks back on the songwriter’s journey from uploading covers in his suburban-Toronto bedroom to performing on the world’s biggest stages. The film serves as an intimate glimpse into Mendes’ life in the crazy and chaotic days before, during and after the release of his self-titled third LP, traveling with the singer as he supports the album and connects with fans across the globe.
With 15.7 million fans subscribed to his official channel, the three-time Juno winner is currently one of the biggest musicians on the planet. He's racked up 2.2 billion views across YouTube in the past 12 months alone, with “Treat You Better” and “Stitches” both passing the billion-view mark — making him the youngest artist to have more than one video break nine digits. More recently, his 2018 anthem “In My Blood” charted on YouTube in over 15 countries and landed the singer three MTV VMA nominations.
As “Shawn Mendes” chronicles, in many ways Mendes' career began where it's thriving now—on YouTube. "I was 14 when I picked up a guitar," the singer, now 20, explains. "I was obsessed with watching YouTube covers of people singing and playing acoustic guitar. I went in for one lesson and I quit — he wouldn't teach me how to play the Ed Sheeran song I wanted to learn, so I just went home and I Googled "how to play 'The A Team’ by Ed Sheeran."
The future star spent that night learning the guitar part for Sheeran’s Grammy-nominated ballad. “I woke up the next day and I could play it,” he recalls. “That's when I started posting YouTube covers.” Unique renditions of songs like Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” and Ron Pope’s “A Drop In the Ocean” followed, and quickly found an audience.
Inspired by the success, Mendes soon shifted focus to originals, with tracks like “Life of the Party” — and its accompanying single-shot video — only further raising his profile. "Until I put that first video on YouTube, I didn't realize I could do that," Mendes explains. "Until I wrote that first song, I didn't realize I could write music.”
Mendes’ fan base steadily grew after “Life,” with the young singer scoring opening slots at amphitheaters before headlining his own #ShawnsFirstHeadlines tour in advance of his first full-length album. Later that year, he got his first taste of stadiums when he opened select dates on Taylor Swift’s The 1989 World Tour. His 2017 sophomore LP “Illuminate” only further showcased the songwriter’s artistic and personal growth, with songs like “Treat You Better” and “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” resonating with a wider and wider subscriber base across YouTube.
In April of this year Mendes dropped his self-titled third LP to critical acclaim. Fittingly, details of the release were first teased on Mendes’ YouTube channel, with a mysterious nine-hour livestream revealing the album’s colorful artwork in real time. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, completing his hat trick of chart-topping releases. But as his Artist Spotlight Story makes clear, the string of hits is hardly a fluke -- it is a testament to Mendes’ work ethic and tenacity.
“A lot of people will say, 'Oh, you were born with that talent,' or 'You were born with that ability.' I wasn't born like that,” Mendes explains. “I would sing until I lost my voice, and I would play guitar until my fingers were bleeding.”
Mendes’ perseverance goes hand in hand with his ability as a performer and songwriter. And as longtime followers can attest, his open nature and easygoing charm help fans form a connection that’s both authentic and rare. It’s this combination that has led to his legion of loyal followers. While the 20-year-old singer is a tenacious craftsman and gifted musician, he’s also, fundamentally, still just the guy who wanted his friends to watch him sing and play guitar on YouTube.
"I'm really lucky to be doing what I'm doing," he says. "I just want to say ‘thank you’ to [my fans], because no other words can really express how I feel.