By Leah Greenblatt
December 02, 2020 at 12:48 PM EST
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Credit: Courtesy of Shawn Mendes

If pop idol-dom had a platonic ideal, it might look a lot like Shawn Mendes: dreamy, dimpled, dulcet- voiced. He’s like a sweeter Justin Bieber, minus the pesky personal issues and neck tattoos; Ed Sheeran’s strummy sincerity repoured into 74 inches of clean Canadian marble.

Over the past half-dozen years, the Toronto-bred singer has also steadily, almost stealthily, managed to amass a truly startling set of numbers — more than 20 million albums and 175 million singles sold; some 50 billion song streams, with over 8 billion music-video views on YouTube alone. In 2018, Time magazine named him to its 100 Most Influential People list alongside astrophysicists, tech moguls, and Kim Jong Un; his concerts, when those were a thing that still existed beyond a Zoom lens, briskly sold out stadiums.

And yet it can also be easy to feel like we hardly know Mendes at all: In a world of constant unmitigated access, his greatest scandals to date have been a handful of racially insensitive tweets unearthed from his early teen years (he promptly apologized) and a particular way of kissing girlfriend Camila Cabello that some fans dubbed “like fish.” (Kids! just let them do as the guppies do.)

Accordingly, even though Wonder is his fourth studio album, it often feels like the sound of an artist still discovering himself in real time — the pleasant but vaguely unplaceable style of previous hits like “Treat You Better” and “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” now gilded with swirling psychedelic pomp (on the expansive title track), ring-my-bell disco (“Teach Me How to Love”), and slinky R&B (“Piece of You”).

“Call My Friends” blooms from its pensive piano intro into a kind of candied glam-rock stomper, a YOLO ode to wasted youth. Gossamer confection “Dream” yields to the plucked strings and spacious ’60s soul of “Song for No One.” At 22, Mendes is freer, maybe, to express his fondness for sexual tension and cocktails and reflect on the vagaries of early fame. Yet even those allusions tend toward the unfailingly polite. (You can take the boy out of Canada, etcetera.)

“You put me on a pedestal and tell me I'm the best/Raise me up into the sky until I'm short of breath,” he coos on “Monster” — a duet, no less, with his fellow Ottowan and traveler in Gen-Z existentialism Bieber —  “But what if I, what if I trip/What if I, what if I fall?” He very well may one day, and even get a good record out of it. But for now the world, and all that wonder, are still his to lose. Grade: B+

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