America finally has its own Justin Bieber—and he doesn’t even have a rap sheet! Austin Mahone is an 18-year-old YouTube find who’s on the brink of being absolutely unavoidable. With his omnipresent beanie, dimpled smile, and the nascent, ethnically ambiguous sex appeal of Twilight’s Jacob pre-werewolf abs, Bieber 2.0 is poised to outshine his pop predecessor.
Mahone’s new EP, The Secret, is currently topping the iTunes album charts, and his Memorial Day Today show performance was attended by legions of rabid “Mahomies.” With his iTunes coup completed and his teeny bopper fan game on point, it’s only a matter of time before Mahone is all anybody’s talking about—so we compiled a primer of everything you need to know about the rising star. Consider it mandatory summer reading.
Austin Mahone was born on April 4, 1996 in San Antonio, Texas. In 2011, Mahone traded in his cowboy hat for a trendy beanie, skyrocketing to viral fame through a series of YouTube music videos. In a tale as old as time (aka, since Bieber was discovered through YouTube in 2007), Mahone’s Internet acclaim caught the attention of music industry bigwigs; in 2012, the Texan teen was signed to Chase/Universal Republic Records. His first two singles, “11:11” and “Say Somethin” followed in quick succession, as did the announcement that he would be performing as one of the opening acts of Taylor Swift’s 2013 Red Tour. In September 2013, Chase Records partnered with Young Money Entertainment for a label expansion, officially initiating Mahone into the YMCMB crew, alongside such luminaries as Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj.
Despite the hype and industry support, Mahone still hasn’t managed a solid, career-catapulting hit—which might be why you haven’t heard of him. His biggest single so far, the Pitbull collaboration “Mmm Yeah,” peaked at No. 49 on the Hot 100. But Mahone isn’t allowing a dearth of chart-toppers to stand in the way of teeny bopper world domination. On Memorial Day Mahone gave his biggest televised performance to date, performing several tunes and announcing to the packed Today Show plaza that “My fans are the reason I’m here, so I’ve got to give it up to them.” Swoon.
The flattery clearly worked, as an army of Mahomies stayed up way past their bedtimes to download The Secret when it dropped that night (at midnight on Tuesday, to be exact). The nine-track EP beat out Mariah Carey’s new album to snag iTunes’ No. 1 spot, suggesting that a genuine hit single can’t be far off.
Mahone’s complete songbook is an attempt to convince the listener that he wants to be their boyfriend, a tried and true Justin Bieber tactic (“Boyfriend,” anyone?). Much like his Canadian counterpart, Mahone puts his fans on a pedestal and worships them—it’s chivalry on a pixie stick sugar high, paired with a throwback ‘NSync sound. On ballads like “All You Ever Need,” he croons, “You ask what I like about you/ Ooh, I love it all.” Mahone’s born romantic lyrics are a crucial component of his good-boy image.
His Twitter primarily consists of grateful shoutouts to his fans, and his sultry Instagram selfies are clearly intended to fuel their boyfriend fantasies. Luckily for Mahone’s PR team, he’s single. Any tips for aspiring Mrs. Mahones? So far, Mahone’s only disclosed that he “likes girls that are shorter than me,” and “the best way to get my attention? Just come talk to me.” He’s also regaled interviewers with the story of a crazy fan who he had to remove from his car after a show. So don’t do that.
Mahone’s “Justin Bieber you can actually take home to your mother” persona is working, and not just on random preteens. After the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, Lorde announced via Twitter that she had “met a very nice boy called Austin Mahone”—the ultimate nice-guy shoutout from a fellow up-and-comer. Mahone’s also reportedly charmed Bieber’s ex, Selena Gomez—the two have hung out on multiple occasions, although Mahone insists that they’re “just friends”—a huge blow to fans of teenybopper love triangles everywhere.
And despite sharing a look, a sound, and a gal pal, Bieber doesn’t appear to be challenging Mahone to a tense, drug-fueled drag race anytime soon. In fact, according to an Instagram from Mahone’s account, the two have even put their beanie’d heads together in the studio. The picture, captioned “What an amazing song last night..The world isn’t ready!” is solid evidence that a Bieber-squared collab will drop in the near future.
While Mahone has shown that it is possible to sing sappy, teen-centric pop songs without simultaneously hotboxing your private plane and alienating your fan base, he has yet to prove himself as an independently interesting, unique artist. Being better than Bieber is a good start, but Mahone will have to truly differentiate himself from his Canadian doppelganger if he wants his fame to last. In other words, it might be time to ditch the beanie.