The Meaning of Shawn Mendes' "What the Hell Are We Dying for?" Hits a Sour Note

Anna Garrison - Author

Jun. 9 2023, Published 11:18 a.m. ET

Shawn Mendes announces his collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger.
Source: Getty Images

Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes surprised fans with a new single on June 9, 2023. However, some fans were less than enthusiastic about his song after he revealed the cover art, a photo of the World Trade Center in New York City covered in orange smoke from the 2023 Canadian wildfires.

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Many are calling his move "ignorant" and "tasteless," but what is the meaning behind the song "What the Hell Are We Dying For?" Is Shawn actually using the single to bring awareness to the natural disaster? Keep reading for everything you need to know.

Shawn Mendes performs in an orange t-shirt.
Source: Getty Images
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What is the meaning of Shawn Mendes' song "What the Hell Are We Dying For?"

On June 8, 2023, Shawn Mendes released the cover art for "What the Hell Are We Dying For?" on his Twitter account. Shawn was immediately met with outrage and backlash, with more than one fan asking why he chose to use a natural disaster to promote his song. "Using real life problems for your own gain," one user wrote.

On June 9, the song's release, Shawn elaborated on the track. "Started writing this song yesterday morning with my friends in upstate New York and finished it only a few hours ago..felt so important to me to share with you guys in real time," he said on Twitter. Revenue from the single will also go to the Canadian Red Cross.

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The song's meaning could be a climate change anthem and a breakup song. As many are already aware, the 2023 Canadian wildfires are directly affected by climate change, which creates drier conditions for wildfires to start more easily and refuse to burn out. Shawn has also reportedly split with long-time love Camila Cabello for the second time, as reported by The Daily Mail.

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Lyrics such as "Smoke in the air, the city's burnin' down / I wanna speak, but I don't make a sound" seem to indicate a climate-conscious theme, but the rest point towards more of a breakup song, with Shawn comparing the efforts to save the end of a relationship to dying.

"I see it in the news, I see it in your eyes, ooh / I try to let you go, then I choke, I change my mind," Shawn sings.

Shawn Mendes attends the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscars Afterparty.
Source: Getty Images
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Being Canadian, Shawn has a direct connection to the devastation of the 2023 wildfires and has a history of being climate-conscious.

In 2022, Billboard revealed that Shawn's "Wonder" tour featured many sustainability initiatives, such as using sustainable fuel options while traveling and offering merchandise with sustainable fabrics and energy-efficient lighting for the show.

Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello attend the Met Gala together in 2021.
Source: Getty Images

Shawn also began speaking about climate change on his tours as early as 2019, according to iHeart Radio, when he visited Brazil and flipped his guitar around to reveal the words "Climate Action Now" taped on the back.

Regardless if "What the Hell Are We Dying For?" is about a breakup, existential dread, or both, it seems that Shawn isn't giving up on raising awareness of the ongoing climate crisis, and for that, we have to thank him.

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