Illuminate me?

Shawn Mendes - Illuminate (Deluxe Edition) (2016)

Romantic relationships are one of the most complex, multifaceted and significant relationships that we have with each other. There is infatuation, attraction, attachment, love, lust, sex and many other aspects whirled in the mix. This should provide ample ground for art of any form to cover, a lot of stuff to share, express and muse about. It is complicated enough that two people, who have varying experiences in how they grew up, background, personality, intelligence, interests, priorities and goals come together to form some sort of whole or unit. Relationships vary in shapes and sizes, from what is accepted, expected or invested. The configurations of romantic relationships are fathomless, bottomless and can go on forever.

This is why in my view, writing music about love has to be one of the most exciting things anyone can embark on. It deals with a central feature in our culture and nature. No wonder it is disappointing when the majority of pop music that comes out focuses on a small, overdone, one aspect of love or relationships. An album like Illuminate by Shawn Mendes is one example of this.

Illuminate by Shawn Mendes, has nice acoustic, mellow and bluesy sound to it. A sound that sets it apart, that matured sound. However, the structure of the music, the ploys, the vocals and various other elements are utilized in ways that are fairly formulaic and predictable. Therefore coming across as an uninspired hotchpotch of techniques and styles; when an opportunity arises to deviate and invent something refreshing with that sound it is quickly squandered. Making for an album that is too safe and comfortable.

Shawn Mendes explores the intense, passionate side of love here, attraction, sex, and infatuation. A side that has been explored a million times in music and therefore requires some imagination and creativity – a fresh take – to avoid sounding like everybody else. Instead Shawn Mendes strums away commonplace sentiments that echo the likes of you-are-all-I-want, my-world-revolves-around-you and you-are-so-very-special, in a very common way as possible. Clichés over clichés, stuff you have heard a million times already. It is the laziest and most unimaginative way of writing about something that is already overdone, not adding a new perspective or anything of new value. No twists, tricks and trips. At the very least this type of music, and the overwhelming presence of it in our media, as opposed to music with a different perspective on the same subject, leads to a gross presentation of love and relationships that comes nothing close to the reality, if not merely monotonous and bordering on plagiarism.

I’m not saying artists shouldn’t sing about desperate intense love and passion. After all, crushes, intense passion and love are one of the most celebrated things in human experience, and that is beautiful. It should continue to be celebrated. But when artists do so they should put an effort into making something of new value. Like in anything, if you are entering a crowded market make your product truly standout.

However, on another level, the Shawn Mendes machine might just be a machine that understands its audience. Adolescents, and to them love and relationships are still a new experience, they are fun, exciting and billowing with pheromones. In a way his audience hasn’t developed the types of relationships as complicated and burdened as those by young adults and so on. So the lyrics are simple, literal, unoriginal and show little effort, because it is music for simple young people.

Either way, I’m not impressed. I expect better. Don’t care how old your audience is. Lorde is a perfect example of this, she has an audience which is fairly similar and she makes music which is actually better. Your audience isn’t an excuse for making music of this quality, although it might be a motivation to do so. In the end, if you have listened to music quite a bit, this album sounds like something you have already heard, just packaged differently. And it is because of this that this album evokes intense nostalgia; the nostalgia is what makes it enjoyable and likeable. Despite all I have said, there were moments in this album that I felt shone and were actually great, but they were just too a few to change my overall judgment.

Below is an example of a song about desperate love and desire done in a not so cliché way as possible. An example of what I mean by bring “new value”.

If you have a song or album you would like me to review let me know in the comments. Enjoy.

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