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It’s 2015. I’m studying for my National 5 English exam in my bedroom at home. I’ve got my glittery gel pen in hand, my funky notebook on my desk, and, most importantly, Shawn Mendes playing in my ears. At this point he was a relatively new artist on the scene, just emerging from Vine, and was being dubbed the ‘next Justin Bieber’. Flashforward to October 2020, and he has released a trailer for his first Netflix documentary, Shawn Mendes: In Wonder, in support of his upcoming album, Wonder.


Netflix has been on the celebrity documentary game recently, with Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana released in January, and BLACKPINK’s Light Up the Sky just this October, which are both objectively good documentaries about the pressure of being a woman and, in BLACKPINK’s case, K-Pop superstars, in the music industry. I was pretty interested to see where Shawn was going to take his film. He’s been increasingly vocal about encouraging his young fans to get involved in political issues, leading me to believe the plot would centre around his activism and some dramatic revelations about his personal life. However, he didn’t really take his film anywhere. It was actually pretty lacklustre.


My main issue with the film was its complete disregard of any narrative. The film goes as so: Shawn has a sore throat, he ran through a field (inspired by Theresa May), he then stares at Camila Cowbelles for 20 minutes, he later complains about his stage being too small, and finally he has another scratchy throat and has to cancel his show. None of these ‘key’ moments link together, it’s literally just him walking between rooms and complaining about his life for 90 minutes. There’s no revelation or exciting finale that drives the plot. At no point was I curious as to how something was going to conclude, because it was simply a selection of 15-minute scenes with no linking parts.


I hate to say it, but Shawn Mendes has no personality. At no point in this film did I find myself amused at anything he said; the man is as dry as a wrap without some garlic sauce. Any scenes that attempted to pull at my heartstrings came across as conceited, and, well, boring. The whole segment of him showing his childhood room and his family was supposed to be personal and raw, but what about showing off your fancy bedroom and staring at your old high school is open and honest? He came across as extremely bland, just a guy with a pretty face and a guitar who can screech down a microphone relatively well. I found this pretty sad, and it led me to consider a larger issue surrounding the industry: women have to work so hard to develop a whole persona for the public, and Shawn gets to the top by having a nice face.


Now, I’m sure that being a massive popstar isn’t easy. I can’t imagine the amount of pressure and stress that must come with it, and this is where my positives of the film come in. I thought the clips from his live performances were pretty good, he has a good stage presence and genuinely seems to enjoy what he does. His dedication to performing, making sure that he puts on a good show every night, was impressive in comparison to other performers who couldn’t give a rats-ass about the audience at their shows. I also enjoyed (as much as you could) the scenes where he’s showing his vulnerability. We rarely get to see male artists show any sort of humanity, so it was nice to see him be honest about his emotions and get them tears flowing. However, much of these positives were counteracted by a never-ending negative experience that made me roll my eyes back into my head. For example, I personally enjoyed the segment when he moaned about being famous, even mentioning that, as a child, he didn’t want to be famous, as if the fans streaming this film and buying his albums aren’t paying for his phone bill.


Maybe the issue is that I’m not 15 anymore and I don’t look at things with rose-tinted glasses. I don’t see people, or films, without flaws now. I enjoy noting where issues lie, it’s just in this case that these issues were pretty obvious. I don’t mean to completely disregard Shawn, he seems like a relatively nice guy and has some gems in his discography. It’s just a shame that his documentary was relatively dull and presented him as a lifeless clone of everything that’s wrong with the music industry.


Lucy Clarkson

Aberdeen '21

Poltitics & Sociology student
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