Down with CanCon

I used to be a big supporter and fan of Canadian music. The old saying “It’s Canadian!” was always justification enough for why we should like a new artist or an unknown song. And the pride when a Canadian song received international attention was always swelling. The late 90s was a great period for this when CanCon favourites Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion and Shania Twain were pretty much the definition of pop music – only they never really came back.


MAPL logo (from

Back when I learned about the CanCon rule that was placed on any content produced in Canada, I was pretty supportive of it. Take radio, for example. It’s a rule that 35% of the content played on the radio must be at least half-Canadian made. That means that out of four criteria, two must fit. It must be (1) made in a Canadian studio, (2) by a Canadian artist, (3) with a Canadian producer, or (4) a Canadian songwriter. The purpose of this rule was to help keep Canadian content on the radio in an effort to keep American pop culture from completely overtaking Canadian culture. It worked. Canadian names got big in Canada – and then moved to the States. So while the CanCon rule continued to benefit Canadian acts, eventually it became just as easy to mirror American radio playlists that play internationally known Canadian-born artists by just playing more of them. When Nelly Furtado or the Barenaked Ladies were big in the US, they were REALLY big in Canada.

Nickelback, Simple Plan, Drake, Michael Bublé all get tons of radio airplay nowadays. The 35% requirement is filled up by these groups and singers who are already established, essentially defeating the purpose of the CanCon rule. I can list off dozens of great Canadian singers who could and should be receiving more attention by Canadian broadcast media but due to their lack of international fame, they don’t.


Juno Awards logo (from

And then there’s the Junos. Canada’s answer to the Grammys. With pretty admirable intentions. Awarding the best in Canadian music. By Canadians, for Canadians. Being a big fan of award shows, the Junos were one of my favourites. I even got to attend the Junos when they stopped in St. John’s back in 2002. That was the first year Nickelback broke through, with other performances by Nelly Furtado, Alanis Morissette, Diana Krall, and many others. But eventually I began to question their credibility. It seemed like the big winners and the big awards always went to whoever happened to be the big international act of that year. So instead of awarding within our country, they would give the award to whoever achieved the most outside of the country. Eventually, it seems that in order to get any significant attention from the Junos, you need to earn success OUTSIDE first.

Now, I realize that it’s an award show with a purpose to achieve television ratings. But when you have a show whose success is dependent on whether Michael Bublé, Drake and Justin Bieber are going to be present, it begs the question of whether it’s even worth it. Looking over the list of nominations for the main categories this year, we have for the Fan Choice Award:
Arcade Fire
Justin Bieber
Michael Bublé
City & Colour
Avril Lavigne
Ginette Reno

Justin Bieber - Under The Mistletoe

Justin Bieber's Album of the Year nominated Under The Mistletoe

All have gotten significant international attention in the last year except for City & ColourHedley and Ginette Reno. Hedley is perhaps the only big band that Canada has to call their own since the Tragically Hip seemed to have disappeared as of late. A few respectable choices, a bunch of filler because they’re international, and of course, the obligatory Quebecois artist. Album of the year is an even bigger mess:
Justin BieberUnder The Mistletoe
Michael BubléChristmas
Drake Take Care
Avril LavigneGoodbye Lullabye
NickelbackHere And Now

Celine Dion

Celine Dion (from

Has Canadian music gotten so bad that the Junos have to resort to nominating TWO holiday albums? Well, Justin and Michael had two of the biggest selling albums during the holiday season… in the US!
No, Canadian music isn’t that bad. Simply put, we can no longer use the formerly supportive award shows and radio stations to provide an indication for what is great about the music from this country.
Meanwhile If you want to know who’ll win the Junos this coming weekend, look to see who won (or was nominated for) Grammys back in February, or at least who garnered the most international success. This year, that means Drake will be a big winner, maybe some for Justin as long as Michael isn’t competing. Otherwise, just give the award to Celine Dion. She was always the default anyway.

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