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The story behind 'Treat you Better,' Shawn Mendes' song about domestic violence

Caroline Szwed

Each year, CBC Music in association with MusiCounts — the charity of the Juno Awards — launches a contest to engage music classes across the country with Canadian music. It’s called the Canadian Music Class Challenge. You can sign up for the 2017 Challenge now.

Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes caught the hearts of listeners worldwide with the release of his hit single “Treat You Better," from his sophomore album, Illuminate.

In 2016, the song peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and propelled Illuminate to No. 1 in the U.S. and Canada, while entering the charts at No. 3 in the U.K. — but more importantly, it had a bigger message than just its charting status.

When Mendes released the music video for “Treat You Better,” listeners realized that this song wasn't about a typical unrequited love story — the song and video were a call to action to raise awareness about domestic violence.

According to Teen Vogue, Mendes gave insight into the music video, and talked about the deeper meaning behind his song.

“This girl is in an abusive relationship with this guy and you kind of see her struggle with, ‘Do I love him?’ [and] what she goes through, kind of rebelling a bit,” Mendes said. “And on the other hand, it’s me and kind of this alternative reality where I’m stuck inside of this room, I’m kind of trapped.”

At the end of the video, the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline flashes onscreen.

Fans of the Canadian pop singer were quick to react to the video and the meaning behind it, with one fan asking Mendes, "What was the inspiration behind 'Treat You Better'?" Mendes replied via video.

Although "Treat You Better" was released almost two years ago, it's a song that will be remembered for its meaningful message — and this year, it will be playing a role in the Canadian Music Class Challenge. In association with MusiCounts, CBC Music is challenging students to learn Shawn Mendes' hit single to enter the contest. (There are also 16 other songs to choose from — get the full list here.) Find out more about the 2017 Canadian Music Class Challenge here.

More to explore:

The fairytale story behind Ruth B's 'Lost Boy'

The story behind the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games theme song

Sign up now for the 2017 Canadian Music Class Challenge