In the keening new Netflix documentary In Wonder, the Canadian popstar Shawn Mendes cries not once but twice in front of the cameras. With his vocal chords swollen, the decision was made to call off a concert in Sao Paolo, Brazil, minutes before the crowd was set to enter the stadium. He feels like he’s let everybody down. He can’t stop sobbing.
Mendes is a charismatic emoter and tall glass of water who’s made a career out of showing his sensitive side (and his biceps – why not?). An admission of vulnerability is one thing, though, but performative fragility is another. His tears in the documentary may be genuine, but the scenes feel emotionally manipulative.
In Wonder, which premieres on Nov. 23, is not so much a film as it is a companion piece to Mendes’s new album, Wonder, set to drop Dec. 4. It’s also an advertisement for Mendes’s brand. His feet might be on stage at a sold-out Rogers Centre in Toronto, but his heart, we are shown, is in a suburban soccer field a few dozen kilometres away in his hometown of Pickering. He’s loyal to his old high school friends and misses his family. And what Tiger Beat won’t tell you, but In Wonder will, is that Mendes smokes doobies.
He also suffers from anxiety and is very okay about his melancholia being made public, whether by song or this new documentary.
When it comes to Mendes’s genuine musical talent, we see clips of him on stage and in the studio. He knows his way around a guitar, and his vibrato-laden vocals aren’t annoying at all to his fans. As for his much-publicized relationship with fellow popstar Camila Cabello, it’s completely legitimate. You should see the way she kisses him on the cheek.
The documentary is adorable and unambitious. Mendes, a fetching superstar at 22, is only one of those things. He admits to his sister that once told a friend that he didn’t want to be famous. “I’ve obviously changed my mind,” he says, the day before the Rogers show.
The pursuit of fame and how it is handled when achieved is a thread through the film. It’s something that gets talked about a lot more than it used to. Speaking with Mendes for a cover story on the young crooner in VMAN magazine this week, Elton John warned him of the hazards of pop idoldom.
“I think it’s a dangerous situation,” the 73-year-old rock star said. “I’ve seen it happen to so many people, where they become trapped by their own persona and start to believe they are invincible. We’re just human beings who play music and entertain people.”
John mentioned “pedestals,” a word that pops up in Mendes’s brooding new single, Monster. “You put me on a pedestal and tell me I’m the best / raise me up into the sky until I’m short of breath,” Mendes sings, completely at home in melodrama. “Fill me up with confidence, I say what’s in my chest / Spill my words and tear me down until there’s nothing left ...”
The song features Justin Bieber, who as a teen idol was a raging, pouting, egg-throwing, limo-driver-slapping, monkey-abandoning jerk. He’s been remorseful (ad nauseum) ever since.
The two singers, bottom lips trembling, join on the chorus: “What if I, what if I trip? What if I, what if I fall? Then am I the monster?”
Maybe. Bieber was. And so was Rocket Man John, way more so.
In the documentary, Mendes’s worst misstep is mixing up Cologne with Copenhagen on his 104-city tour. I mean, who among us?
He also says that performing feels like a dream to him. “I don’t know if that ever is going to feel normal to me,” he says, speaking about the limelight and the surrealism of fan worship. “I don’t know if it’s supposed to feel normal.”
It isn’t, and I think he knows that. He’s going to be fine.
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