Popular MTV franchise “Unplugged” will return to the network this fall. Shawn Mendes, who’s currently No. 1 at Top 40 radio with his latest single, “Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” will kick off the reboot with a performance from downtown Los Angeles’ Theater at Ace Hotel. “MTV Unplugged Shawn Mendes” is scheduled to air on Sept. 8.
“MTV Unplugged,” which features music acts reinterpreting their songs — and usually a cover — acoustically, first aired in 1989 and has showcased memorable performances from the likes of Nirvana, Jay-Z, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Miley Cyrus, Tony Bennett, Mariah Carey, Katy Perry, Lil Wayne, and Adele, among others. But for 19-year-old Mendes, it was a clip of Pearl Jam performing on the show in 1992 that got him hooked on the concept — even if it took place years before he entered the world. “It wasn’t so much about the commercial, showman side of it; It was really about the music,” Mendes tells Variety.
Mendes and his band have been rehearsing diligently in the days leading up to the Aug. 27 MTV Video Music Awards, where Mendes is nominated for Best Pop Video (for “Treat You Better”) and is set to perform. “We’ve been working our asses off just trying to figure out the most beautiful way to play these songs in a smaller, stripped-down way that still feels as impactful,” he says. “I feel like if I can do this right, then it will be a moment for me — where people can really understand and see me as a musician and a singer, and where I’m coming from.”
According to Amani Duncan, MTV SVP of Music and Executive In Charge of Music for “Unplugged,” for the “2.0 version” of the series, which had aired semi-regularly in the U.S. through 2009, each show will take place in a different venue of some meaning to the featured artist. “Let’s take it to cool locations” was the thought,” Duncan explains. “Like where the artist played their first major show, or maybe they choose a location to make a pro-social statement, or it’s, ‘I always wanted to play Carnegie Hall.'”
That the “Unplugged” franchise may not have been familiar to millennials wasn’t a concern. Adds Duncan: “At MTV, the brand equity is still so strong. It gives us an opportunity to bring back nostalgia and also recruit an entirely new consumer who may not know what ‘Unplugged’ was because they weren’t born.”
Mendes’ manager Andrew Gertler hopes that the relaunch will “be something that helps inspire a whole new generation of music fans and musicians,” promising that every song during Mendes’ set “is different from what anyone’s heard before.”
Adds Mendes: “People come to my shows not really knowing what to expect, and they leave experiencing a real rock-pop concert. We’re playing 100% of the time. To be able to film that and put it out to the people is exciting.”
“MTV Unplugged Shawn Mendes” will be produced by Den of Thieves, with Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager serving as Executive Producers. Chris Choun, Lee Lodge and Jen Jones will also Executive Produce.
The “MTV Unplugged” series, created by Robert Small and Jim Burns, is executive produced by Garrett English with Vanessa Whitewolf as Producer. Melanie Block serves as Executive in Charge of Production for MTV.