Every album release cycle gets the pop heartthrob it deserves, but right now we’ve found ourselves with an embarrassment of riches: This season has given us new albums from Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendes, the men vying for Justin Bieber’s throne. Mendes is the Canadian megastar who began by covering Adele and Rihanna songs on YouTube. Puth started on YouTube too, before he went to music school, got a +1 from Ellen, and wrote a hit song for Furious 7. With Vulture’s heart divided — Dee Lockett prefers Mendes, while Hunter Harris’s heart beats for Puth — we opened the floor for debate. Mendes and Puth are friendly, share mutual fans, and have no clear rivalry, but if we had to choose, which pop prince reigns supreme?
Hunter: Dee, we are gathered here today to declare pop’s new prince. It is my duty to inform — nay, evangelize — that the crown belongs to Charles Otto Puth Jr. He’s highbrow and lowbrow. He’s Justin Timberlake without all the baggage. He has written and released the song of the summer! (Or at least the song of my summer.) Charlie Puth just makes great pop music: Every song on Voicenotes slaps. My Leo heart loves “Attention.” How can one album go from “L.A. Girls” to “How Long” to “Done for Me”? It’s almost unreasonable what pure, sexy R&B melodies Charlie Puth has put into our ears. “BOY” is a song about being in love with a mystery older woman! In the romantic comedy of my life, “Empty Cups” would soundtrack the climax. Join the CP Family.
Dee: Hunter, my dear sweet confused friend. I can understand why in the desperation to fill the void left wide open by Justin Bieber while he’s busy doing whatever he does, you misdirected your allegiance to the Puth. It’s an honest mistake: He’s kooky, so full of himself it’s almost endearing, and has now made exactly one (1) respectable album. “BOY” is a certified bop. I’m happy for you! But, also, let me stop you right there. Have you heard that my sweet prince, Shawn Mendes, has three of those babies? Count ’em – THREE.
Let’s start with Handwritten, an album that gave us the earworm “Stitches” and recognized Camila Cabello as a solo star before anyone else; then Illuminate, which contains an actual Perfect Pop Song, the resplendent John Mayer knockoff, “Ruin”; and, now, his self-titled masterpiece. He named it after himself because even he knew he had achieved his final form! Hunter, do tell, how do you grapple with your boy’s past, i.e., his atrocious first album? Yikes.
Hunter: Listen, I like Shawn Mendes and I’m into his eponymous album. There were some points that he made: “Lost in Japan” is sexy, and speaks to my inner basketball wife, who wants to be wined and dined and flown places. “Where Were You in the Morning” and “Why” are sweetly gloomy ballads. He’s definitely a good pop star, but he’s not the leading pop star of my heart! I appreciate that Shawn has a history of hits, but let’s not pretend that Charlie Puth’s oeuvre began with the ill-conceived Nine Track Mind. There was that Fast and Furious song, “Marvin Gaye” (which founds its way into the cinematic event of the summer, Book Club), plus the Selena Gomez collab “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” which brought Charlie into my heart. The rest of Nine Track Mind was lackluster, sure, and Charlie himself has addressed that. We’re not defined by our past sweetie ;)
Dee: What Shawn has to offer the world and me, the mental equivalent of a 15-year-old girl, is the pretty fantasy of a pre-social-media pop star. He’s like a leftover relic of that Disney Channel era when they were still wearing purity rings and the errant expletive in an interview was enough to make me gasp. I don’t pretend to know a damn thing about Shawn Mendes. Like, maybe he’s gay and Hailey Baldwin is his beard (he says he’s not, and she’s been friendzoned). Maybe he spends every night at the strip club. Maybe he’s got a secret child, like some other Canadian we know. I don’t know! I don’t care! In the age of pop stars oversharing absolutely everything, Shawn is a breath of fresh of air. He’s mysterious, probably because he’s also a little boring. And I’m not mad at it. Give me the rare pop star where all there is to talk about is the music — especially in the age of Kanye — and I’m relieved. Which brings me to something I think we can both agree on: Shawn and the Puth take their craft very seriously — maybe in the Puth’s case, a little too seriously (LOL). I mean, Shawn just discovered electric guitars and thinks he’s Dylan now. It’s very cute. Speaking of cute, I should note that Shawn is very easy on the eyes, and if that’s not his greatest offering, I don’t know what is.
Another thing: They both seem to share exceptionally sweet fan bases, which often overlap. You’re practically president of the Puth fan club, invented it even. What’s it like to rep a community so small? (Also, do you really think he’s a secret Trump supporter? This is my favorite Puth conspiracy.)
Hunter: I like how you’re spinning it, but somehow Shawn’s personality is rendered a little flat for me. He’s about the music, but I like people willing to be weird. Part of the Puth appeal is that he’s so hilarious, that he cannot stop himself from being a kid from Jersey. He’ll pause in a Vulture interview to let you know his tour is nearly sold out. He’ll very obviously allude to a “fling” with Selena Gomez, but then say he “doesn’t kiss and tell.” He says hungies! Charlie Puth feels like every boy we all went to high school with that suddenly became extremely famous. He’s literally just a guy from Berklee — with perfect pitch — that accidentally wrote a super-popular song. I love how weird he is, and how willing he is to be so random.
You call the CP Family “small,” but I prefer to call it “an intimate group of probing, discerning pop music connoisseurs.” It does overlap with Shawn, to be sure — they’re mutual fans irl! — but the tried and true Notetakers don’t bend to the prevailing trends. We have chosen the pop prince less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. Like Kim Kardashian, I will always ride for my man! His music just — breathy teen-girl sigh — makes me so happy, makes me want to underage drink and not do my math homework. (As for the Trump stuff — I’m just unconvinced by a thinly sourced babe.net exposé!)
Dee: Hunter, I’m pretty sure you just diagnosed my main problem with Puth: I, too, am just a kid from Jersey. I’ve known Puths all my life. They’re infuriating, obnoxious, and also irresistible in that train-wreck-you-can’t-look-away-from sort of way. But I hold no ill will toward him. He can Puth in peace and co-exist with my one true love, Shawn, all he wants. Cover his songs, if he must; continue taking gym selfies together; hold hands! We won’t do them the way the 2000s did Christina and Britney, the way the ’90s did the Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync, the way right now is doing Drake and Pusha-T. We’ll allow them both to be great and await the co-headlining tour we deserve.