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Shawn Mendes 101: how a Canadian teen became Taylor Swift's opening act

Holly Gordon

Having millions of people following you must be stressful. Not literally, of course — though I’m sure Shawn Mendes’s fans would gladly march themselves down the street behind the star they love so dearly. But Mendes — a 16-year-old singer from Pickering, Ont. — has three million Twitter followers, 1.5 million Facebook likes, 3.9 million Vine followers and 2.9 million Instagram followers. It sounds like a lot for someone in Grade 11.

And yet, the Vine star-turned-signed artist appears to take it all in stride. On Wednesday, he was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, performing his new single, "Stitches," in front of a clearly adoring crowd. He smiled nearly the entire time. That same night, he made an appearance on Conan. What kicked it all off: last week, his first full-length, Handwritten, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 — the youngest artist to do so in five years since (you guessed it) Justin Bieber. He even did it without a radio hit.

It’s a long way from home for someone who started posting cover songs on Vine two years ago. His straight-from-the-heart acoustic renditions and overall accessibility to fans has made him a modern-day heartthrob. And this year, Mendes has branched out to arguably bigger platforms: earlier this month he did a Snapchat and blog takeover of VH1's Big Morning Buzz Live, and in March he did a Tumblr takeover for MTV. Mendes exists where all of his fans’ parents do not.

But how did a high-school student from Pickering end up being the only Canadian act opening for Taylor Swift on her upcoming North American tour? Let’s have a look.

Shawn Mendes: a not-so-Handwritten timeline

2011/2012: Mendes joins his school’s glee club and also starts a YouTube channel, uploading the first versions of his covers. His first YouTube upload was "Grenade" by Bruno Mars.

Throughout 2013: Mendes starts to focus on Vine, posting six-second snippets of his talents via cover songs of Avril Lavigne, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber and plenty more.

Aug. 25, 2013: Mendes thanks his Vine fans for hitting 80,000 followers.

Fall 2013: Mendes posts a mini cover of Bieber’s "As Long as You Love Me," which is oft-credited for his Vine rise to fame. Overnight, it collects 10,000 likes.


Oct. 30, 2013: Mendes hits 500,000 Vine followers. Today, he has 3.9 million.

November 2013: Mendes joins the Dallas, Texas, edition of Magcon ("mag" is short for "meet and greet"), a tour for social media celebrities.

April 7, 2014: Mendes wins Ryan’s competition for the best cover out of 35 other YouTubers, all competing with their own versions of A Great Big World’s "Say Something."

June 2014: Mendes signs a deal with Island Records, a Universal Music Group subsidiary.

June 26, 2014: The video for "Life of the Party," Mendes’s first official single, is released. Today, it has more than 17 million YouTube views. The single debuts at number 24 onBillboard’s Hot 100 chart.

June 28, 2014: The Shawn Mendes EP is released on iTunes. Mendes starts a #ShawnToNumber1 campaign upon its debut, while hosting a 30-minute livestream where he performs the four new songs. Within 37 minutes of being released, the EP is number one on the iTunes Top Albums chart.

July 2014: Mendes sets out on his first full tour, with Austin Mahone.

Nov. 7, 2014: The video for Mendes's second single, "Something Big," is released. Today, it has more than 14 million YouTube views.

April 14, 2015: Mendes’s first full-length, Handwritten, debuts at number one on theBillboard 200 chart, making him the youngest artist to do so in five years since Bieber’s My World 2.0.

May 2015: Mendes begins his opening tour with Taylor Swift.

Aug. 8, 2015: Mendes turns 17.

Find me on Twitter: @hollygowritely