Shawn Mendes Hopes to Move Past Justin Bieber Comparisons with New Album: 'I've Grown Up — I'm My Own Musician'
Shawn Mendes channels John Mayer, Ed Sheeran on his mature new album Illuminate
From their Canadian roots to both breaking out via social media, Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber have a lot in common. So it’s only fair people would compare Mendes to the young pop veteran as he navigated his own rising star.
But with the release of his second album Illuminate — which topped the Billboard 200 its first week — Mendes hopes listeners will see him in a new light.
“I think he’s great. I really looked up to him. He was a huge role model growing up,” Mendes, 18, tells PEOPLE of Bieber, adding “I didn’t take offense to any of it.”
The young star’s latest LP proves to be a mature departure from his teen-pop past — which Mendes was inspired to create after “listening to a lot of Ed Sheeran,” he says.
The influence of those Top 40 mainstays is evident throughout Illuminate, from its bluesy guitar riffs to Mendes’ soulful vocals on tracks like “Ruin” and “Don’t Be a Fool.”
“I just think I’ve grown up and have my own thing,” he says. “I’m my own musician.”
Finding His Voice
Mendes’ public journey as a musician first began in 2013, when he started posting covers of popular songs on the social media app Vine. Having accumulated more than a million fans on the platform, Mendes nabbed a recording contract with Island Records in 2014 and released his first single “Life of the Party” later that year. In April 2015, his first LP Handwritten debuted at No. 1. And by the end of the year, he had two Top 20 hits — “Stitches” and the duet “I Know What You Did Last Summer” with his friend (and rumored flame) Camila Cabello of Fifth Harmony — and had scored an invite to support Taylor Swift on her smash 1989 World Tour.
Mendes says he was motivated to be even more hands-on when it came to recording Illuminate.
“The second time around, I wanted to be standing beside the producer when he puts the snare drum in, and I wanted to choose the kick-drum sound,” he says. “That’s how articulate I was about it.”
The result: an even stronger, more organic set than his respectable debut.
Mendes is confident his work will resonate with fans.
“I hope it opens up my generation’s eyes to a new style of music, to an older, bluesier kind of vibe,” he says. “The whole world is gonna see me differently.”
For more on Shawn Mendes and his new album Illuminate, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
How He’s “Still Shawn” Amid the Fame
As for the rising star’s ascent to fame, which began when he was 15? He’s taking it all in stride.
“It’s a hard time in your life!” says Mendes of growing up in the public eye while balancing a full-time career. “It was non-stop working and learning and working and crashing and burning and picking up and hitting harder than ever before.”
One thing in particular that weighs on him, though?
“I feel pressure because I feel like I have a lot of parents in my life; I have a lot of people who are scared that I’m going to do something wrong,” Mendes says. “I want to make sure I’m a good role model.”
But the singer attributes his lack of public growing pains to a tight-knit team.
“In a lot of ways, I was lucky because I was surrounded by people who were already sure of themselves; I wasn’t surrounded by confused 16-year-olds, like I was,” he says. “I’m grateful … I was very inspired by everyone I met and everyone I worked with.”
Including Swift, whom Mendes says he learned from, by example.
“The biggest thing I learned from her is there’s no amount of success that allows you to stop working hard,” he says of the “New Romantics” singer. “She works her ass off. It’s amazing.”
A-list colleagues and high-powered team aside, Mendes cites his family and friends as the main reason he’s remained grounded — or, as he puts it with a laugh, “I have my s— together.” When he’s not working or on tour, Mendes still lives at home with his parents in Pickering, a Toronto suburb.
“They don’t treat me any differently. I’m not some big man on campus; I’m still Shawn to everyone who was close to me beforehand, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that,” he says. “If that changed, I would change.”
Some things have changed, though. Mendes admits seeing friends will be more difficult when he returns, as they’ve started college — an adventure he hopes he can experience through them.
“When I go home, I’m probably gonna see my friends at university and try and live that life for a couple days and see what it’s like,” he says. “I miss my friends, so I can’t wait to catch up with them. All I want to do is hear about what they’re experiencing because it’s so new.”