Like many great stories, my Shawn Mendes Experience™ began with a dream. Sometime in mid-June, I had an extremely vivid dream that I was dating international pop sensation Shawn Mendes. For the most part, I don’t remember the actual events or narrative of the dream, but the feelings I had for the popstar were residual. 

For the next month, I talked at length about Shawn Mendes­—how I wanted to see him in concert when he came to Toronto and how incredibly in love I was with him. It was, for the most part, a joke. My friends and I laughed about the impossibility of #Shawnbecca and lamented the loss of a truly iconic celebrity couple. My boyfriend, not knowing how absolutely unhinged I was, joked that I was going to leave him for the singer. My co-workers, after seeing that I left my Facebook logged in at work, liked all of Shawn Mendes’s pictures as a joke. My life had become one long set-up where the punchline was me dating Shawn Mendes. 

However, somewhere deep inside the many layers of irony and self-deprecation was a real fear. I was scared of liking popular music. Not just popular music itself, but the connotations that it carried. As a young woman, anything that is perceived as being “popular” or “girly” is seen as inherently frivolous and stupid. Liking a pretty-boy popstar from Pickering was potentially a huge hit to the cool-girl exterior I had built for myself. The joke was able to continue on for so long because it concealed the fact that I was a fan. When I listened to his music, I was able to justify it. “Oh, this? No, I’m just building my brand as a fake Shawn Mendes fan. I don’t actually listen to this dumb shit.” 

Then came Thursday, August 10, the night that Shawn Mendes’s Illuminate World Tour swept into Toronto. At the height of my “fake” fan phase, I had reached out to the newspaper’s music editor, Chantel, and asked if we could get press passes to the concert. After nearly a month without much development, I received a frantic message from Chantel at 3 P.M. If I wanted to, I could go to the Shawn Mendes concert that night at 8 P.M. I was suddenly conflicted. I had talked for at least a month about going to the Shawn Mendes concert, but it was all a joke. At the same time, I had begun to genuinely enjoy his music. I almost said no to the ticket when I realized that I was being ridiculous. Why was I so scared of being seen at a Shawn Mendes concert? My fear of seeming “basic” momentarily outweighed the joy I knew that I would derive from the concert.

So, I told Chantel that yes, I would be able to cover the show, and that night I went to the Shawn Mendes Illuminate World Tour. And goddammit, I had the time of my life. 

Though I knew that he was a big star, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that audience. Not only was this the first show I had ever gone to at the Air Canada Centre, but it was also the first concert I had ever gone to alone. Immediately after the show started, I could feel the energy in the ACC reach a near-explosive level. The atmosphere was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and I was living for it. The moment that “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”—the opening number of the set—began, my cool-girl shell cracked. There I was, in all my girly, popular music-loving glory, happily swaying along with kids half my age. In that moment, there really was nothing holding me back. 

The show itself, fangirl moments aside, was great. Despite the huge venue, the production was relatively scaled back. There weren’t explosions or huge props or set pieces, which I’ve come to expect from most concerts. Instead, the simplistic projections and gorgeous lighting served as the perfect background, and somehow made the ACC feel much more intimate than it is. 

The lack of huge production pieces also served to make Mendes’s talent the main attraction. He didn’t need all the grandeur that the ACC could provide in order to fill the venue. Mendes’s vocals were absolutely on point and he never hesitated to show off that he could, in fact, sing. He belts along with his fantastic band in some of the more upbeat and rowdy numbers, showcasing that he’s got the confidence to carry an arena tour. He was also able to bring it down in his acoustic numbers (of which there were many) to remind us of his genuine musical abilities that will hopefully translate into a long-lasting career for the young singer. 

I went to the Shawn Mendes concert and genuinely enjoyed it. The music was great, the atmosphere was intoxicating and Mendes was even dreamier in person. At the end of the night, the older man who I sat beside (another journalist, I believe) gave Mendes a standing ovation. He had started the night like me—a little confused as to how we ended up there, but willing to go along with it. As the night continued, the actual quality of the show and the great music cracked even the steeliest of audience members. I’m no longer scared to admit that I’m a Shawn Mendes fan. Though it does infuriate the part of me that wants to be “cool” and “hip” and “edgy,” I think that this experience has taught me that I should unabashedly and unapologetically love what I love, other people’s perceptions be damned. As Mendes sings in his hit song “Life of The Party,” “we don’t care what them people say.”

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