Here's everything you need to know about Shawn Mendes' new single

"If I Can't Have You" includes nods to Toronto and British band the 1975.

"If I Can't Have You" includes nods to Toronto and British band the 1975

Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes has released a new single, 'If I Can't Have You,' ahead of his Saturday Night Live performance on May 4. (Shawn Mendes/YouTube)

On the eve of Shawn Mendes' Saturday Night Live performance — his second time gracing the coveted late-night stage — the Canadian pop star has released a brand new single. The track, which he has teased all week, is called "If I Can't Have You." With it came a black-and-white video that includes a brief nod to his home of Toronto, a choir and perhaps a peek into the pop star's workout routine.

Fan reactions since the midnight release have been overwhelmingly positive, with fellow musicians Camila Cabello and Day + Shay giving Mendes shout-outs on Twitter. "My grandma and I are rocking out to this right now," Cabello wrote. "Love this and love you very very much @shawnmendes."

In an interview with Beats 1's Zane Lowe, Mendes calls "If I Can't Have You" a "confident pop record." Noting that he's written roughly 45 songs over the past six months, he says he zeroed in on this one as his new single because "every time I've played it for friends and family, it was just giving people that smile."

Scroll down for an in-depth look at Mendes' new song, breaking down the track itself, its influences and the music video that is making fans around the world swoon today.

Whom is this song about?

"It's about me," is the hopeful answer of most Mendes fans. But seriously, this song continues the theme he visited in "Where Were You in the Morning?" in which Mendes rubs his sleepy eyes and realizes his previous night's date has fled the scene.

In "If I Can't Have You," Mendes' unrequited infatuation with somebody consumes him. "Oh, I'm good at keeping my distance/ I know that you're the feeling I'm missing," he sings of this elusive muse.

Unlikely as the scenario may seem, jilted Mendes does write good songs. When pressed by fans about the person who inspired the track, he slyly responded, "I think you don't have to guess anything about me at this point. You know everything!"

Influence of The 1975

In a YouTube Q&A with his fans, Mendes revealed that the musical inspiration behind "If I Can't Have You" was British rock band, the 1975. "Not to say it sounds crazy like them but I was obsessed with their album while making this song," he clarified. Because he's right: the song doesn't bear many similarities to the 1975's '80s-leaning synth-pop anthems. But if we were to pinpoint one thing Mendes might've paid close attention to, it would likely be the use of a gospel choir on their 2018 single, "Sincerity is Scary." Just like the 1975, Mendes enlists a choir near the end of "If I Can't Have You" to bolster the final chorus.

Chorus to sing along with

As choruses go, this one is not strikingly original and yet it grabs you with its driving rhythm. Of its four lines, the first three are identical and basically sit on the same note. But in the fourth line, the rhythm drops out and Mendes sings a descending falsetto line that suspends time: "Everything means nothing if I can't have you" — it's the song's signature line and the one you sing along with.

Toronto references

Mendes grew up in Pickering, Ont., but he now calls Toronto home. Much like fellow Torontonian Drake, Mendes is proud of where he's from and even gives the city a prominent shout-out in "If I Can't Have You." The song's first verse opens with the line: "I'm in Toronto and I got this view." (The use of the word "view" here could also be a subtle reference to Drake's 2016 album, Views.) In the music video for this song, Mendes is seen sitting on a couch in front of a faux backdrop of the CN Tower.

Shawn Mendes' new music video for 'If I Can't Have You' includes a nod to his home of Toronto. (Shawn Mendes/YouTube)

Revealing video

The song's straightforward, black-and-white video is set in an industrial-looking loft that appears to serve as Mendes' bedroom, personal gym and rehearsal studio (conveniently equipped with a 12-voice gospel choir), underlining how his unrequited love infiltrates every aspect of his life.

Some observations:

  • The fitness equipment — bench, mats, battle ropes, medicine ball and treadmill — explains Mendes' spectacularly shredded arms.
  • We were alarmed at the garish white grand piano, but since it does pop in the black-and-white video, it passes.
  • What don't pass are the bed linens. Mismatched stripes? Please, no. And why is there still plastic on the box spring?
In his his video for 'If I Can't Have You,' Shawn Mendes has mismatched striped bed linens. (VEVO screenshot)


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.