Turns Out, We Never Really Understood Shawn Mendes’ “Treat You Better”

Photo: Courtesy of netflix.
If you glean anything from watching Shawn Mendes’ Netflix documentary In Wonder, it’s that Mendes really, really loves his girlfriend Camila Cabello. Like, really really. As we follow the pop singer around the world for his 2019 stadium tour, he deals with the physical hardship of putting his vocal chords through 105 live shows, as well as the emotional struggle of being apart from his family for so long — not to mention the stress of keeping the magic of making music alive once it’s your full-time job. But the biggest revelations from the film have to do with his relationship with Cabello.
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The two met as opening acts for Austin Mahone’s tour in 2014 back when she was in girl group Fifth Harmony, but didn’t become close until they collaborated on 2015’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and played the Jingle Ball circuit together. They remained close but dated other people in the years that followed, up until they officially came out as a couple in 2019, shortly following their steamy No.1 hit “Señiorita.” In In Wonder, we learn this was a long time coming.
There’s a particular scene in the film, when Mendes is explaining the extent to which he was pining for Cabello long before they were officially dating. “We were in New York and my song comes on the radio or something and the fact comes up that it’s about her. And I’m like, ‘Yeah it’s about you. Everything is about you. They’ve always been about you.’ And she goes, ‘What do you mean?’ and I’m like ‘They’re all about you. Like every song I’ve ever wrote.’” This wild confession actually served as the dramatic button to keep viewers wanting more at the end of the In Wonder trailer, but only when you watch the film do you hear what comes next. Mendes continues the story in and says he rattled off a list of songs that were about Cabello, but the only song he actually mentions by name is his 2016 song, “Treat You Better.” Knowing what we know now, it gives us answers to so many questions we had — and reveals that we had some assumptions totally wrong.
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If you were an eagle-eyed Shawmila shipper from the very beginning and somehow figured out who “Treat You Better” was about before the rest of us, well, that’s great, and you should treasure your gifts. For the rest of us, we were tricked by Mendes’ music video for the song, in which he seems to be singing to a woman stuck in an abusive relationship. And the lyrics work in that context as well: “I know I can treat you better than he can/ And any girl like you deserves a gentleman/ Tell me why are we wasting time/ On all your wasted crying/ When you should be with me instead.” But now that we know that it was originally written about Cabello, it was likely about her being with another guy (hopefully, not abusive).

Figuring out the exact identity of this mystery man is the tricky part. The singer wasn’t officially dating anyone in 2016 or even 2015, but there a few dating rumors involving Cabello floating around at that time. Cabello briefly dated her “first love” Mahone in late 2014, and their breakup was a bit messy, which would make Mahone a pretty good contender for the third member of the “Treat You Better” love triangle. A few months later after their November 2014 breakup, when Mahone started dating singer Becky G, he revealed to in an April 2015 interview with MTV that he’d never been “in a real relationship before,” which needless to say did not seem to sit well with Cabello.
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After that, Cabello was spotted out on a dinner date with 5 Seconds Of Summer lead guitarist Michael Clifford. Another more serious contender however is fellow singer Jacob Whitesides, who Cabello was linked to in April 2015 when he posted a few times about their friendship on social media. However, this was around the time when she and Mendes were touring their single, so fans speculated that the three were in a love triangle.
On a live stream that same month, however, Whitesides attempted to squash the rumor. “It’s not like me and her are in a fucking love triangle with Shawn,” he said. “It’s just so funny, because Twitter thinks there’s this massive love triangle between me and Camila and Shawn. That is so not the case.” Now, we’re not so sure. 
It doesn’t really matter in the end, however, because Mendes not only got a hit song out of it, but also ended up getting the girl. But just because he isn’t yearning for Cabello’s affections anymore doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll quit his habit of using his girlfriend as his muse. The man wears Cabello’s merch casually around his parents’ house, for God’s sake — not to mention that the documentary features a snippet of a song from his forthcoming December 4 album, Wonder, which literally contains the lyrics “it’s always been you” in the chorus.
However, Mendes did say in the film that he might just have to keep some of his feelings to himself. "I don't think I'll ever be able to write songs that really do it justice, that can really capture the things and the feelings with her,” he said. “I think it's like when you see a moon or stars and you try to take a photo of it with your iPhone, and then you just can't, it doesn't look good. And you're like, 'Ah it's not supposed to be captured.' You know? It's just supposed to be for us."
Well, that certainly won’t keep us from speculating.

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