Shawn Mendes is the red-hot poster boy of pop. His videos have been viewed 6bn times and he has more than 42m followers on Instagram. But don’t worry if you haven’t heard of him… just ask a teenager
Shawn Mendes is standing in his underpants in a suite on the fifth floor of a London hotel as a 200-strong crowd of screaming teenage girls gathers outside. “Everyone who doesn’t need to be in the room, leave the room,” he says politely but firmly, in a soft Canadian drawl. Pop’s current poster boy should be used to causing a stir. His #MyCalvins campaign (following in the footsteps of Justin Bieber in 2016) broke the internet earlier this year, inching the 20-year-old teen phenomenon – three US chart-topping albums, 30m monthly listeners on Spotify, more than 6bn video views – closer to tabloid supremacy and global domination.
At the Brit Awards that night, Mendes will cringe as presenter Jack Whitehall ribs him about “suspicious packages”, so it’s curious to hear him describe the Calvin Klein opportunity – and the subsequent results pored over by his 42m Instagram followers – as “a goal of mine at the top of 2018. As much as it’s a stepping stone for me to play a stadium, it’s a huge moment for me to step in front of a camera and take my shirt off. I don’t see one being less meaningful than the other.”
The air is thick with earnestness as we sit down for lunch in the hotel restaurant. I blurt out a question about whether he had to wear extra padding. “No,” he says, eyebrow raised. “They’re really good underwear.” Did they send you some free ones? “Yeah, I have boxes of them at home.” He lifts up the bottom edge of his T-shirt and pulls at the waistband of his underwear before quickly pulling his shirt back down. You’re not wearing them today are you? “Not right now,” he says sheepishly. “I should be.”