Shawn Mendes is learning the hard way that journalists aren’t your friends.
The 20-year-old Canadian singer is seemingly unhappy with the way he came across in a recent Rolling Stone profile. Written by Patrick Doyle, the story follows the young heartthrob around Portugal as he opens up about everything from his anxieties, his sexual orientation and his frequent use of marijuana.
The piece paints Mendes as hyper self-aware, perhaps to his detriment, as he readily admits to wrestling the urge to buy into his celebrity status.
“I had this thought: ‘I have to get paparazzied with someone. Who am I gonna get? I’m not relevant,'” he told Doyle before immediately snapping out of it. “I was like, ‘Ugh, you fucking idiot. Why did you think that?”
Doyle touches on the content that sustains all fangirls (his hair, his love life) but what seems to be making the most headlines however, are Mendes’s comments surrounding his sexuality.
For years, Mendes’s sexual orientation has been the subject of online debate, which as he describes has been this “massive thing” plaguing him.
“In the back of my heart, I feel like I need to go be seen with someone — like a girl — in public, to prove to people that I’m not gay,” Mendes said. “Even though in my heart I know that it’s not a bad thing. There’s still a piece of me that thinks that. And I hate that side of me.”
Mendes admitted to reading online comments about his mannerisms, and trying to stop himself from crossing his legs or doing anything that can fuel the rumours that he’s gay.
“I thought, ‘You fucking guys are so lucky I’m not actually gay and terrified of coming out,'” he told Doyle about a 2017 video he made denying he was gay. “That’s something that kills people. That’s how sensitive it is. Do you like the songs? Do you like me? Who cares if I’m gay?”
Mendes tweeted a photo of his Rolling Stone cover but didn’t include a link to the article. Instead, he distanced himself from the subject matter, saying he wished the “positive” side of him would have been told.
If the article and Mendes’s subsequent backpedaling from it, prove anything, it’s that there’s immense pressure put on the rising star to navigate his career and serve as an example of modern masculinity despite being barely out of his teens.
Unlike Harry Styles, who leans into the ambiguity surrounding his sexual orientation, Mendes proves that he’s not immune to strains of toxic masculinity. Although knowing and believing that there’s nothing wrong about identifying as anything other than heterosexual, Mendes seemingly takes the rumours as an affront to masculinity and his gender performance. What Doyle presents, but doesn’t necessarily spell out for readers, is the struggle Mendes faces to be all things to all people; masculine enough, sensitive enough all while existing within a marketing machine that relies on labels and stereotypes.
It’s refreshing to see the struggle in print, from someone who seemingly has it all. It shows that no one is immune to the rigidity of masculinity, and that perhaps the younger generation of men aren’t as liberated as we think they are.
Professionally, Mendes relies on his emotional side to connect with his millions of fans musically and lyrically. He has to write the hits, get the girl, live up to the persona of a “rockstar” while somehow not spiralling into chaos like some of his Canadian counterparts (see: Bieber, Justin).
While most of his peers are experimenting and finding themselves in college, the expectation regarding Mendes is that any personal growth or meaning-making will be done out of the limelight, and not while being profiled by the most iconic sources of music journalism.
Years from now, fans might look at this as the interview where Mendes’s relationship with the press changes: He might follow in the footsteps of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift and limit his access to exclusive interviews, or he could take a page from the John Mayer playbook and keep talking.
There could also be another path, one that Mendes carves for himself as he grows and evolves into whatever kind of artist and man he wants to be.
Now we just have to wait and see who that person becomes and what interview skills he learns along the way.