Shawn Mendes. It’s a name I am sure we are all well acquainted with. And I’m sure not one person reading this article will have the same opinion on him and his music. Maybe you're the same as me and smile at the letters that make up the name of the person you have obsessed over, the person whose music you waited anxiously for every time it was released, the person whose music helped save your life. Maybe you recognise the name and think of a song or two you heard on the radio. Maybe you hear the name and roll your eyes at the idea of a mindless pop singer, liked for his looks rather than his talent. But delve deeper, and you will find a story of anxiety and pain and innate imperfect humanness hidden amongst the assumed perfect “pop- indie” artist facade people paint around him.
Now if you fall under the roll your eyes category, I know you’re saying to yourself, "give me an example of this craziness you talk about." And I am so glad you say that because I have just the song in mind… well songs, but I will only delve into one of Mendes’ more underrated songs - my favourite of all of his work - that does not get near enough love and recognition. This heart-wrenching ballad goes by the name of ‘A Little Too Much’ off of Mendes’ first album Handwritten. It follows the story of a girl who is being crushed by an unseen weight that she tries so desperately to hide from others, seen in the first lines; “she would not show that she was afraid, but being and feeling alone was too much to face, though everyone said that she was so strong, what they didn't know is that she could barely carry on.” However, the song goes on to remind the listener that yes, sometimes things get hard, they get a little too much for us to handle, but things will get better and asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.
The first time I heard it, I was struck with a feeling of connection between myself and this unknown girl. My own emotions were mirrored in this song by a person I never met about a person who probably doesn’t exist, yet I was able to connect with it. And to me, that is what good music is all about. It isn’t about the labels we place on it or which song has the best ratings or is played the most on the radio, it’s about that one song that affects you so deeply that five years after it’s released, you’re still so touched by it that you’re writing a newspaper article for uni about it.
It’s hard to claim that Bastille are an underrated act, having birthed a plethora of commercially successful singles over the years that have racked up literally billions of streams online, including ‘Pompeii’, ‘Good Grief’ and ‘Happier’ which are extremely recognisable in households across the country - and indeed the world - after receiving excessive radio play.
Despite their mainstream success, a lot of the album tracks do not get the praise I feel they deserve, across all 3 LP releases to date. The one I want to highlight in particular is ‘Fake It’ from 2016 album Wild World.
Lyrically, it discusses an inability to move on from a mistake in a relationship, and although a bond of trust is broken and the cracks are showing, sometimes you just want to pretend everything is okay so you can feign happiness just a little bit longer. The chorus says “don't turn over, turn over the page, we should rip it straight out” which is clever wordplay but immediately contradicted by the protagonists need to “fake it”. Relationships are a common thing to focus on in songs, but this one does it in a delicate, mature and complicated way that you don’t often see expressed in popular music.
While featuring a heavy amount of post-production, the song truly shines when it is stipped back to its core elements in the Spotify Live version. Sonically, the version relies on Dan Smith’s potent vocal performance and gentle piano accompaniment, with harmonies, guitar and bass adding the final touches.
This song is a great example of the artistic strength of this band and especially this record, which had a huge influence over my music taste and holds a special place in my heart. Meaningful and bittersweet, ‘Fake It’ epitomises this band’s vastly underappreciated body of work, and pushed the limit of what charts music in the 2010s could encapsulate.