Shawn Mendes: I think we just forget how easy mindfulness is and the practice of it is because there’s so many books and meditations and things you can do to kind of calm your body and calm your soul. But like one of the original, legendary things to do to calm down is go for a walk.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time To Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos and songs that have influenced their lives. Shawn Mendes exploded onto the pop music scene at age 15, after a video of him singing and playing guitar went viral on social media. Now 22, he’s had multiple platinum albums and toured the globe. On this walk, he shares how a slower pace has led to personal and creative breakthroughs.
[SOUND OF WALKING AND BIKES]
Shawn Mendes: Wow, this is L.A. Everyone has electric bikes and crazy devices on this mountain. If I was in Canada, it would be the old school bike.
So, right now, we’re walking up a pretty wide path in Griffith Park. It’s gorgeous. The sun is getting ready to set, and it has a really nice glow in the air right now.
We’re heading up to the top, where there’s a beautiful view of kind of all of Griffith Park. So we’re going to be there in a little bit.
Before my newest album, I got straight off tour and I went into the studio. And I basically had a full-on panic attack, meltdown because I was in this state of mind where, if I didn’t beat the music or beat the records that I made in the past, then I was a failure.
My fear was being driven by the fact of, “If I can’t make a great album, if I can’t make great art, then who am I?” Because I’m defined by that. That is who I am, is the music.
And I was on the phone with my mom. I was on FaceTime with her, and I was like, “I don’t know what’s going on with me. I can’t sing. My neck is all tight. I don’t — Maybe I am not ready. Maybe I don’t have another album inside of me,” all of these crazy, self-doubting, internal thoughts, and uh, realized that there was something deeper happening.
And so I was like, “Okay, I got to take a month off and reevaluate. And during that month off, I was doing a lot of meditation, a lot of reading, and I came across this Elizabeth Gilbert talk. And I’m going to probably butcher it, how she said it, which is so poetic and gorgeous. But at some point in the talk, she says that back in ancient Rome, if a painter was great, people would say, in the town, that that painter had a genius living in its walls. Basically, what that meant was if the painter was to succeed, he couldn’t take all the glory to himself, and if he was to fail, he wouldn’t take all of the failure to himself because the genius was in the wall. She talks about how the best thing you can do to yourself and do for yourself as a creative person is surrender to the fact that creativity is magical, and it comes from air. It’s something we create out of nowhere. And if you want it to be true and you want it to feel authentic to you, you have to accept the fact that sometimes you walk into the studio or you walk into whatever your creative process is, and nothing comes. And maybe that just means the genius in the walls didn’t show up that day.
And I remember when I heard that I got chills because it was this moment of taking the pressure off of myself and being able to go into the studio and be okay if I got there and I didn’t have any ideas or I didn’t know what to write about. And I was able to just kind of sit there and be honest with myself and the writers around me who I was scared to be vulnerable with, which was like, “Guys, I’m burnt today, and I don’t really know what I want to talk about, but let’s just hang.” And a lot of the time, what ended up happening when I opened up that door to vulnerability, I got ideas, and the music started pouring in quicker and faster and better than before.
And I think accepting and surrendering to the process allowed me to eventually find a real, true piece of me and true art.
And to this day, it’s probably the number one thing that I work on and the hardest thing for me, is to constantly be surrendering and letting go because having control feels like the thing that we’re all addicted to, is being in control of our destiny, but we don’t always have control, and letting go can be a beautiful process as well.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that there’s so much pressure on every single person, whether it’s from your society, your family, or more than anything else, probably yourself, and I know this sounds very cheesy, but it’s not necessarily about nailing it. It’s about doing it in the first place and kind of accepting that because you can only become great at something if you mess up a bunch of times. And you got to be courageous to mess up. You kinda have to take a leap and be able to fall on your face in front of people and to fall on your face in front of yourself, which is actually the hardest part, is to watch yourself mess up. And when you can watch yourself mess up and then stand up and pat yourself on the shoulders and dust yourself off and say, “You know, I’m going to be all right. It’s going to be cool. I still got you. I’m still here for you,” is when something really great happens. And that self-trust and self-belief. And that’s when you can start making real leaps forward I think in life, in every aspect of your life.
[SOUND OF PEOPLE LAUGHING]
We’ve got laughers. How’s it going? Hi.
I think… It’s hard because I only know my own internal experiences, so that’s where I’m coming from. But there’s something that is called a signal-to-noise ratio.” There’s something that is called a signal-to-noise ratio. And this was something that I learned that changed my life not only as a performer but as a son and as a boyfriend and as a friend. And it’s like, when there’s so much input happening in your life, especially nowadays where we’re constantly on our phones and that is making that noise in our heads get louder and louder. And the more noise you have, the less able you are to connect to that signal, that reason you do something and that reason you love someone and that reason you write or that reason you do anything in life.
And so I kinda, especially over the last few weeks, have had a pretty crazy schedule, and just been starting my days going for a walk, clearing my mind. I leave my phone at home, and I go, and I clear my brain. Sometimes I get a little woo-woo, and I touch the plants.
And uh, for me, going on a walk every morning is not only a type of meditation practice for me, but it’s more of a, “I got to literally walk around for 25 minutes to let all of the noise fall out of my ears so that I can remember that, when I walk back into those doors and I see whoever it is that I love, I love you, and all the noise isn’t there. I can just love you.” And when I go for a walk before I walk on stage to perform, I let all the noise pour out of my ears, get on that stage, and I go, “Oh, yeah, this isn’t about my ego. This isn’t about being the greatest singer and the greatest performer. This is about playing guitar and singing because I loved it when I was 15 and I still love it now at 22. So I’m just going to go up there because it’s fun, not for praise.”
I mean, growing up, when I was probably like 14 years old, Justin Bieber was my superstar. It was like I could never be as good as him. But that self-doubt can either turn into fear, or it can turn into, “I want to prove myself as being better,” both wrong and both hurtful for you and whoever’s around you.
But I found myself in a position where, I’m about to perform with Justin Bieber at the AMAs.
I really want to prove that I deserve to be there. Why do I want to prove that I deserve to be there so bad, you know? And I realize it was this fear and this self-doubt, and then I realized that fear and self-doubt was coming from the fact that my head was super noisy. And I lost my signal, and I lost my purpose. I went for a walk, and I asked myself, “Okay. Well, why do you sing? Why do you make music?”
And there’s a lot of different answers, and daily it kind of changes, but the main one is that, well, it makes me happy, and it makes people happy, and it spreads this message of love. And then I asked myself, “Well, does that have anything to do with Justin Bieber?” And I’m like, “Well, no, it’s just everybody.” And I’m like, “Well, does you sounding better than him or does you sounding worse than him change the fact that singing spreads love?” I said, “Well, no.” And I was like, “Okay, my ego’s involved here.” And that only came from being able to let that noise reduce in my mind.
And I think everybody kinda has to give themselves a little bit more credit because 50 years ago, there was not this much input. And so I think people don’t, maybe don’t think about that enough. We just wake up, and when we’re not feeling calm and confident, we want to whip ourselves for it. But it’s not fair because we didn’t set ourselves up for that calm and confident state, anyway.
So that signal-to-noise ratio is very, very important.
[SOUNDS OF BIRDS AND BIKES]
Back when I was a young boy, um, I remember, every morning, being in this extreme rush to go to the gym and to get myself from the gym to the arena or whatever I was doing that day. And one day, we walk into a coffee shop, and I’m like, “I’ll get the usual. Can I get an espresso to go?” And we’re there, and I look over my shoulder, and I see my tour manager, Cez, sitting there at the table with coffee in a mug with his leg crossed. And I’m like, “What’s he doing? We got to go.” And I was like, “Hey, you want to sit here?” And he’s like, “Yeah. I’ll meet you back at the venue if you want.” And I’m like, “Well, why?” And he’s like, “Well, because I want to sit here and enjoy my coffee.” And I’m like, “Okay, well, maybe I want to sit here and enjoy my coffee.”
And I sat down with my to-go cup until finally I got my for-here cup, my mug. This moment of sitting down and enjoying my coffee became a metaphor for every moment of my life. And it was something that always sticks with me because it feels like we’re always trying to get somewhere. And if we’re always trying to get somewhere, then all of a sudden, our life is going to pass us by, and we’re going to realize we’re still not there but all this time is behind us.
You know, I think the one thing that I’m absolutely privileged for is time. And time is something that not everybody has, and I’m very lucky to be able to afford a couple hours every morning to myself to have a routine. And that routine is super, super important to me because it becomes these rituals of self-love and self-trust. And these rituals become the foundation to being able to have a consistently confident and happy and strong and passionate life. There’s no magic trick. I have no morning ritual magic trick to being happy. But what works really well for me is getting up early. So I give myself time to like open my eyes, lay in bed, and not check my phone.
I have no idea how many streams my song has. I have no idea how many likes my Instagram photo had. I have no idea how many people have texted me. It’s great. It’s just me, and I’m right there. And I’m able to be present and kind of just focus on waking up.
[SOUND OF BIKERS]
We’ve got bikers. We’ve got bikers.
So, for me, as somebody who’s traveled the world since I was 15 and staying in hotels since I was 15, over COVID, I was, for the first time, for three months, doing laundry and making food. And I know it doesn’t sound like the most fun thing you could possibly be doing, but for me, I remembered and realized how special it was to be able to be in the same house every day, to be able to smell the laundry being cleaned, and to be able to use the same pots and pans every day.
And I want to be especially sensitive to the fact that, like, a lot of people are working two jobs a day and nonstop and have three kids to take care of and don’t necessarily have time to sit in the laundry room and be like, “Mm, doesn’t this smell good?” But it’s really amazing just to try to keep that in mind, of the fact that something as simple as the smell of fresh laundry is a beautiful moment.
And I think I didn’t realize that I was on this train that was nonstop, and it was completely moving forward. And in my world, it feels like you’re always chasing the next exciting, and you’re never okay with the mundane. And then, going into the beginning of the COVID lockdown, I learned that there’s real beauty in the mundane, and that was something I remembered I hadn’t experienced since I was probably 15 or 14 years old. And so my goal since being in COVID and kind of finding some time to be still during the lockdown has been to just look around and be as present as possible.
As I’m saying that, we’re finding an opening in the path, and the sunset’s there. There’s a massive cliff opening. And you can see L.A., and it looks gorgeous. I can see to the ocean.
It’s not always this beautiful of a view, but I guess it’s just the way you look at it. It’s like giving yourself that time to see it.
When I first started writing songs, I immediately started writing with writers. And I had confidence with them because I knew that I could rely on them. And after writing about 10 or 15 songs, I went back home to my hometown after being in New York for a long time. I was in my bedroom, and I was just kind of feeling the pressure of everything, and I was feeling like, “Damn, this is a lot.”
And I was feeling like, “This is a little too much at the moment.” And I wanted to write this song about how I was feeling, but felt too insecure to say it from the perspective of “I feel,” “I’m going through this.” So I wrote it about a girl and how she was going through it. It was always this safety net of… If anyone was to be like, “What’s the song about?” I’d be like, “Oh, it’s about a friend of mine.” Then, so finally, when the song actually ended up coming out to the fans, the fans were all immediately like, “This is about you.” [LAUGHS]
And from that moment on, it became probably one of the most important songs to me and my fans, on a personal level. I’m not expecting to hear it on the radio every other day.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
But when you go to my concert, no matter how many fans are there, and I pull out “A Little Too Much,” they will know the words because it’s a special song.
[MUSIC - “A LITTLE TOO MUCH” BY SHAWN MENDES]
“Señorita” was a real kind of moment of magic in a bottle. And Camila [Cabello] and I were both in L.A. and we went into the studio and ended up finishing the song together. And three days later, it went into dance rehearsals that were the first time I had to learn how to do some salsa stuff, which was completely terrifying with the girl that I was madly in love with, but she didn’t know.
And when I was in L.A. about to go to my first dance rehearsal with Camila, I was already basically self-talking myself to be a warrior of confidence around her because of how much I liked her. We’re at the dance rehearsals, and I’m like, doing my best to dance, horribly, and have to catch her in this one part, and I go to catch her, and my hand slips, and I fully let her fall out of my hands and smash her head on the floor of the dance studio.
And in that moment, I was like, “That’s it.” I’ve ruined my chances with her. Everything’s… My whole life’s over.” But obviously…
[MUSIC FADES IN]
…My whole life wasn’t over. It was fine, but I’ll never forget the moment I dropped her on her head. Now I refuse to do salsa classes with her. Then, four days later, ended up filming the music video, and that was the birth of “Señorita.”
[MUSIC - “SEÑORITA” BY SHAWN MENDES AND CAMILA CABELLO]
So “Wonder” is the mama of my album, and I love this song so much because I think, as I was writing it, it was really kind of a lesson of: “Can I say how I feel, or am I afraid of what people are going to think?”
And I think “Wonder,” for me, was this real flow of consciousness and expressing my fears and expressing my worries about the world. And it’s I think will be one of my favorite songs to date because no matter how many times I listen to it, i always reminds me of, “Oh, yeah, you got to be you. You got to just be free and let yourself be free.” And I realized the more I talk about my truth, the more people resonate with that truth and the more people really feel affected by it.
[MUSIC - “WONDER” BY SHAWN MENDES]
I’m out of breath because walking and talking isn’t easy no matter what they say, especially if it’s uphill. But it’s gorgeous, and I think, even for myself, forgetting that 20 minutes or 30 minutes of walking always clears my mind and always makes me feel a little bit calmer.
Thank you so much for taking the time to walk with me.