Shawn Mendes has been many things in his career: a social media star, a viral sensation, Camila Cabello’s beau, and a pop superstar. With Wonder, Mendes attempts to define himself as a genre-bending, soulful pop artist, unconcerned with the expectations of others and trusting his own artistic instincts to create an unforgettable body of work. While the album does not fully complete its desired mission, it definitely does mark a new chapter in Mendes’s progression as an artist, showing promise if his trajectory continues to go upward.
Previously released off of the album was “Wonder,” arguably one of Mendes’s best single releases and his for-sure best title track in his discography. The authentic style of lyrics teased viewers of a more self-aware, more grown up Mendes; no longer the little boy who longed for an unavailable girl to spend his nights with, now a grown man who goes against societal gender bias and reflects on his life so far, both the highs and lows.
Then came the internet-breaking collaboration with Justin Bieber in the unforgettable “Monster,” which examines the intersections of fame, youth, and being put on a pedestal by the public. Though at times, the track seems a lot more Bieber-esque in terms of production and lyrical quality, Mendes nicely complements, swooping into the second chorus with his trademark falsettos and raw vocals that turn Bieber’s more monotone voice into an afterthought.
Once the track list was released, my eyes automatically landed on the only numerically titled track, “305.” Being a Florida native, I personally claimed the track as my own, knowing it had to be about Miami and Mendes’s girlfriend Cabello, who grew up there after moving to the States from her native Cuba. I set my expectations to receive another one of Mendes’s sultry Latin-pop songs à la “Señorita.”
What I got was a happy-go-lucky ’60s doo-wop song, complete with the the finger-snapping poppy baseline. In the chorus, Mendes sings: “It’s 3:05 / I’m on a rollercoaster ride / Hoping you don’t change your mind.”
While this track is sweet and kind, further sinking in the narrative that Mendes has moved past his eras of longing for a romantic partner, it still falls flat when compared to the other tracks on the album.
“Teach Me How to Love” is the album’s vindication from the low point of “305,” though it, too, sounds out of place by being a groovy synth-inspired ’80s jam. It continues the refrained narrative of Mendes finally getting the girl, this time the two being totally entwined with each other, both metaphorically and physically. It’s a little more risque than what listeners are used to hearing from Mendes, but the production of the track is enough to make up for the blush-worthy lyrics.
The track holding the most emotional value for me is “Dream.”As listeners, we were first introduced to this song in Mendes’s Netflix documentary In Wonder. There is a scene in particular that details the car ride over to the studio on the day “Dream” was recorded, in which Mendes muses about the old-fashioned romanticism of the classic Frankie Valli track “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
After being introduced to the track’s little pieces, from the synth-chord-ridden productions to lyrical notes to background melodies, the spectacular whole that it became is all-the-more impressive; sung in the style of a forgotten voicemail or stolen lullaby, “Dream”is a definite high point of Wonder, so far up it slightly brushes the clouds. It’s a tour-de-force of Mendes’s writing ability, even dipping into the abstract. The track opens: “Hello, hello, hello / Can I get an echo? / Purple, red, and yellow / I can’t wait to get home.”
The track drips with longing. In all of its tenderness, it feels as if Mendes is cradling each member of his audience in the tight embrace of his falsetto, singing to his lover who is sleeping oceans away.
While listeners will certainly not receive the deep-dive into Mendes’s psyche that was promised to them, Wonder is another solid pop album from another solid pop artist who is fine with riding the wave of mediocrity. Wonder does not fly into the stratosphere, but rather, just barely brushes the clouds at its high points, much like Mendes himself, whose pop persona still remains guarded and a bit out-of-touch for his listeners.