© Andrew Zaeh | ZAEH LLC
Andrew Zaeh

“Song of the Fall” does not exist. In the pop music realm, the months-long “Song of the Summer” debate is promptly followed by Q4, which is a time for major album releases primed to stuff stockings and be gifted on the seventh night of Hanukkah. Everyone cares which summer song will be blasting from cranked-up boomboxes on beaches (people still do that, right?) and blaring from rolled-down car windows; no one cares about which pop song happens to be dominating October. There’s a reason most people can easily recite the biggest album of last fall (Taylor Swift’s 1989), but not the song that was riding high at No. 1 on the Hot 100 upon that album’s release (that one was Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” if you forgot too).

There’s nothing about a song that makes it a “fall” song in the same way that the breezy vibes of OMI’s “Cheerleader” or Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” perfectly encapsulate the slow unwind of summer. This is evident by glancing at the current Hot 100 chart: there’s nothing linking the styles of the Weeknd’s “The Hills,” Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” and Fetty Wap’s “679” (aside from the fact that they’re all by male performers, natch). It’s a mishmash of sounds that coincidentally coexist on the radio during autumn. If anything, a song like “Hotline Bling” sounds like a phenomenal summer song that happened to be released in late July, too late for “Song of the Summer” contention.

So, again, “Song of the Fall” is not a thing. But if it were a thing, 2015 has a clear-cut champion: “Stitches,” by 17-year-old pop newcomer Shawn Mendes. “Stitches” is behind all of those aforementioned songs on the Hot 100 right now, but Mendes’ first Top 10 hit resonates in a way that is decidedly fall-flavored. It’s the brisk afternoon air of Top 40 right now, the Pumpkin Spice Latte of the charts, if you will. It just feels like light-jacket music.

Let’s examine the evidence. “Stitches” was originally released back in March, roughly before Mendes issued his debut album, Handwritten. Back then, Mendes was searching for a crossover hit: early single “Life of the Party” notched a big chart debut back in 2014 but never touched pop radio, and Handwritten’s lead single, “Something Big,” also failed to pick up steam. Mendes was opening for Taylor Swift on select 1989 tour dates and had developed a huge social media following thanks to his stardom on Vine, but he needed a semi-legitimate radio hit to start bringing in casual listeners.

“Stitches” received a new music video and radio push in late June, but didn’t enter the Top 40 until late August, as the summer of 2015 was winding down. The song spent September continuing to climb before reaching the Top 10 in early October, in its 19th week on the charts. Mendes had done it: the Canadian singer-songwriter had breached pop radio, with a chilly song that had to outlast the summer before it started to really take off.

"'Stitches' is the brisk afternoon air of Top 40 right now, the Pumpkin Spice Latte of the charts"

Make no mistake, “Stitches” is not some 808s & Heartbreak-level downer — it’s a ballad sung by a wide-eyed teenager, who has admitted that the song isn’t necessarily about real-life experiences. There are bummed-out lyrics like “Just like a moth drawn to a flame/Oh, you lured me in, I couldn’t sense the pain,” but Mendes presents them as the trappings of youthful distress and sings like he’s just been dumped via Snapchat instead of left at the altar. 

That’s not a knock against “Stitches.” The song brilliantly captures the visceral experience of young heartbreak, the feeling that your entire existence is imploding because your very first significant other somehow hurt you. Mendes’ world may be momentarily rocked, but “Stitches” is not a winter song because young Shawn never sounds like the emotional wound he’s suffered can’t also be healed. That’s the point of stitches, right? 

The sound of “Stitches” (which was co-produced by Teddy Geiger!) is slickly withering, as the doubled vocals and stomping percussion of the bridge and chorus continuously revert back to an acoustic crawl. Those harmonies on the line “But I know that I’ll make it out alive” are engineered to induce chills, and they hit their mark. It’s a clean, well-written folk-pop song that threads the Pop Mumford & Sons needle, which Ed Sheeran has also mined with major success recently. If any of the songs on the downbeat Journals by Justin Bieber (who recently claimed to not know who Shawn Mendes was) possessed this type of balanced production, the Biebs’ comeback could have gotten underway in 2013 instead of 2015.

So what do yo do with “Stitches,” which reached a new Hot 100 peak at No. 5 this week? Savor it as the days get shorter. Zip it up and carry it with you as you shop for new mittens. Play it on the way to the Halloween party that you know probably won’t live up to expectations (you spent way too much money on your costume this year). We haven’t had a Song of the Fall this perfect since Lorde’s “Royals”; enjoy the hell out of it.