Shawn Mendes was definitely in the right place at the right time.
The 16-year-old singer-songwriter from Toronto landed his major-label deal with Island Records on the strength of his work on Vine, where his six-second videos of song snippets won him a huge following.
However, Mendes' debut, "Handwritten" (Island), goes well beyond what you'd expect from your average teen sensation. He tackles a wide range of styles and topics and handles them all well.
The radio hits speak for themselves. On the sweeping ballad "Life of the Party," Mendes hits the bull's-eye for his target demographic -- combining platonic sweetness, parent-approved cool and actual artistic chops. On "Something Big," Mendes strikes that same target again with an upbeat, chantable anthem that will sound great in the stadiums he plays this summer opening for Taylor Swift.
Mendes is sure to follow that success with the charming "Kid in Love," which gives him a bit more of an Ed Sheeran groove and some acoustic-folk swagger, while staying age appropriate, as he declares, "Maybe I'm just a kid in love, oh baby. If this what it's like falling in love, then I don't ever want to grow up."
Like "Something Big," Mendes co-wrote "Kid in Love" with Valley Stream native Ido Zmishlany and Oceanside native Scott Harris, with Zmishlany producing both songs, as well as "Life of the Party," which Zmishlany and Harris wrote.
Mendes connects best, though, on the inspirational "A Little Too Much," which he wrote himself. It's a similar story to Sheeran's "The A Team," but from an even younger perspective. Mendes tries to unify his audience, with a chorus of "You don't have to be afraid because we're all the same and we know sometimes it all gets a little too much." Zmishlany's production gives Mendes' tender vocals the chance to soar, with the support of well-placed piano chords, without cluttering up the earnest sentiment.
"Handwritten" establishes Mendes as a young star in his own league -- cool enough for the kids and artistically worthwhile enough for their parents.
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Way more than a teen sensation.