Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Shawn Mendes – Treat You Better

Shots fired against: nice guys, Canada, tropical house…


A.J. Cohn: In her essay “But Now I’m Gonna Move,” Ellen Willis proposed a rule of thumb for measuring how sexist a song is: “Take a song written by a man about a woman and reverse the sexes.” She selects Cat Stevens’ supposedly sweet and gentle “Wild World” for special opprobrium, pointing out that such a patronizing song would never be addressed to a man. Similarly, Mendes’s “Treat You Better” ought to be called out for its display of condescension, under a veneer of care, towards its female subject.

Cassy Gress: Noooo, it’s Nice Guy: The Song. “I’m always there for you while you date douches! When are you going to date me instead? I walked three miles in the snow to bring you a printer! Guess I’ll just wait and wait until I inevitably decide you’re a whore.” Give her some agency, dude; even if she’s not happy with her relationship, why does that mean she should date you? Why are he and you the only two options; why does she have to date at all? How do you even know she’s unhappy, besides “I can just tell”? What makes you a gentleman other than saying you are one? And while we’re at it, why does this sound exactly like your last song?

Hannah Jocelyn: Previous singles “Stitches” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” aren’t great songs, but the interlocking guitars and percussion in both are just interesting enough to make them listenable. That arrangement meets its limits when “Treat You Better” is basically electrified “Stitches” on twice the scale, with added distortion for some reason so Mendes sounds like Tyler Joseph. With that scale comes the introduction of electric guitars and atmospherics, giving the song a dramatic weight it doesn’t deserve. Like, really doesn’t. When I hear “You Belong With Me”, I still get caught up in Taylor Swift’s frustration, even though that song is now six years in the past and Taylor’s long since moved on. When I hear “Treat You Better”, it’s just impossible to relate; Mendes sounds selfish and insincere, giving no actual reason why she needs to be with him other than “that other dude’s shitty” and “uh… I’ll stop time for you?” 

Katie Gill: Now that I know this exists, I regret giving “Like I Would” such a low score. It’s the same damn song! The only difference is that Zayn didn’t blatantly half-ass it the way Shawn Mendes does.

Brad Shoup: 2016 and we’re still getting lines like “any girl like you deserves a gentleman,” huh. The track bops like “Stitches” and thumps harder — the approach is almost as pizzicato as “Burn the Witch” — but his gripe is rancid.

Will Adams: There is a fine line between unrequited love and gross entitlement; no amount of charity could ignore a lyric like “you deserve a gentleman.” “Treat You Better” taps into a previous version of myself I’ve come to loathe: the nice guy complaining to no one in particular about how the girls he likes seem to always go for the “bad” boys. I was that way in middle school and through high school, always grumbling to myself that the problem was with them, never me. I would later gain some perspective, and hearing Mendes dredge up those feelings — and the shame I had from having those feelings — borders on painful.

Taylor Alatorre: This is teen pop in the most literal sense, so a bit of adolescent silliness is to be expected and maybe even encouraged, whether as a necessary outlet for distraught youth or a respite from the demands of adulthood. But the specific type of teen boy cosmology which deems the “gentleman” to be the paragon of virtue deserves no such encouragement. Mendes seems to be on a mission to out-Sheeran Sheeran, splicing the wound-up theatrics of “I’m a Mess” and the accusatory tone of “Don’t” into an ostensible love song. I’d been wondering when the emo revival would start filtering into the mainstream, but this isn’t what I had in mind.

Thomas Inskeep: Bargain-basement Bieber in every sense.

Anthony Easton: Canadians aren’t nice, they are passive aggressive. Attach this to some nice guy white knighting, and some light toasting by a white dude, and you hit the Reddit trifecta of cringe. 

Will Rivitz: I feel kind of obligated to like this, since I’m apparently the only person in this desolate corner of the internet who genuinely enjoyed “Stitches,” but this one’s beyond even my pale. Instrumentally, it’s everything wrong with Imagine Dragons’ arena-schlock, and I imagine Mendes tipping an imaginary fedora as he penned the chorus. One Charlie Puth is enough.

Katherine St Asaph: Let’s call “gentleman” ambitious for now. What girls deserve is someone who doesn’t mistake grating falsetto for sensitivity or sex appeal. And what pop deserves is almost anything but this desexed, denatured tropical trilbycore.

Edward Okulicz: I’ll admit that I find the “BETTER THAN HE CAN!” at the end of each chorus to be incredibly compelling listening, because I cannot accept that it has come from a human voice. Much like I can’t accept that this song isn’t a parody of “nice” “guys” who know what a woman wants better than they do!

Alfred Soto: Mendes comes through clearly — his only talent as a singer. But he’s going to be burrowing milquetoast electronic-inflected acoustic earworms into the hapless ears of teen girls for years until they’re old enough to blast “Love Yourself” in response.

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12 Responses to “Shawn Mendes – Treat You Better”

  1. All these blurbs are great, especially Katherine’s and Will’s.
    I didn’t find it as offensive, more eye-rollingly dumb if anything, but I totally get the vitriol here.

  2. Assuming Mendes is being sincere with this, I hope he’s able to grow out of his nice guy phase soon, because he has some real potential as a songwriter. It comes through more clearly in his previous singles, particularly “Last Summer,” but it’s still present here. If he isn’t being sincere, though, and this is what he thinks his largely teen girl fanbase wants to hear, then that’s even scarier.


  4. Head canon that Mendes is complaining about how he’s better than Bieber.


  6. I meant Adams, but I really like “imaginary fedora” and “arena-schlock”


    I thought I was the only one who thought Shawn sounds like a self-entitled douchebag. To be honest, that’s the kind of person I thought he was before I knew of even this song. Thanks to Stitches, I thought of him as that so much that I could just imagine him replaces “stitches” with “bitches”

  8. Shawn M’endes

  9. not all mendes

  10. > In her essay “But Now I’m Gonna Move,” Ellen Willis proposed a rule of thumb for measuring how sexist a song is: “Take a song written by a man about a woman and reverse the sexes.”

    …it was called “You Belong with Me”, and y’all loved it.

    Like yeah it was a better song than this turdpile but not by a lot

  11. Only that’s not exactly true, is it?
    The core fantasy in “Treat You Better” is one of righteousness. Shawn Mendez deserves the girl because he is a gentlemen, he can make everything right for her, he is better. In the song there is absolutely no possible reason she can have for being with her shit boyfriend besides just being wrong, and it’s clear that even if she had the chance to explain her choice he just wouldn’t listen. The entire song is buit on a language of sureness that tramples over any agency a girl could have.
    “You Belong With Me”, on the other hand, painfully aware of why the guy is with the wrong girl: she’s the popular one, the pretty one and all that. Taylor Swift sings as the face of inadequacy, while Shawn Mendez believes he is completely, well, adequate. Furthermore, even the sureness of the chorus has a real base in the chemistry the leads have (or at least the chemistry she thinks they have) instead of just pure condescension. Overall, “Treat You Better” is a white knight fantasy, and “You Belong With Me” is a daydream.

    Also, the proposition of reversing the genders in songs was made as an attempt to shine a spotlight in issues that would be invisible in the societal bias otherwise, not as any measure of quality and specially not so people could talk even more shit about music made by women.

  12. also, only one of the writers on that post is on this post, so this makes as much sense as talking about a political landslide centuries ago