The New Maple Invasion
Did you know, on this week’s Billboard Hot 100, Canadian artists occupy six of the Top 10 songs? Did you also know that’s one less than all of December when Canadian artists had seven of the Top 10? A 70% occupancy rate by Canadians was the highest in Billboard history, courtesy of Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Drake, Shawn Mendes and Alessia Cara.
The music world is in the middle of a Canadian invasion, with Justin Bieber’s new peak in popularity, The Weeknd serving as one of the biggest acts of the last year, and Drake having not one but two top-selling albums in 2015. But the amount of coverage homegrown successes abroad has received has been rather minimal, especially in comparison to the 90s, when Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain and Celine Dion were simultaneously selling millions and millions of albums each.
Once the 90s ended, Celine took a highly publicized break and when she came back, it was never the same, Shania stopped recording and Alanis’ popularity dropped with each album she dropped. The torch was passed to Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne and Nickelback, but the tide was turning.
When we think of artists Made In Canada™ who went international, we tend to default to the classics like The Guess Who, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Anne Murray, before evolving into the 80s and 90s with Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan and the aforementioned Celine, Alanis, and Shania.
In the 2000s, something changed with how Canadians view Canadian music. Suddenly, it seemed, it no longer felt like it was ours. In the early 2000s, for the first time, Canadian artists became popular in the US and around the world at the same time as they did in Canada. I’m Like A Bird, How You Remind Me, and Complicated were all released in the US at the same time as or even before in Canada. No longer did Canadian artists have to get a hit at home first before branching out.
Pretty soon, Canadian-born artists skipped over their birth country entirely as their place to start. Justin Bieber exploded in both the US and Canada, with a stronger emphasis on American audiences thanks partly to his Usher connection. Drake, as a rapper (not an actor), rose to fame quicker in the US, where hip-hop and urban music have always been more accepted in the mainstream than in Canada, which brings us to The Weeknd, who made it in the US as a respected producer and singer arguably before in Canada. If the Junos can serve as a barometre of Canadian music at home, he finally won his home over in 2015 when he won Artist of the Year.
Despite their ongoing success, the buzz that existed continuously in the 90s made of pride that our talent was making waves the world over seems less enthusiastic today.
Maybe it’s because the artists today have a more focused audience and fanbase. The case can be made for Bieber, Drake and The Weeknd, whose demographics are defined not only by musical preference but by age as well. The people who would care about national pride might be slightly older than the average fan of these artists. But then there’s the continued popularity of Michael Buble, whose last four albums hit #1 in the US, including his holiday release, which is one of the biggest selling albums of the decade so far. And of course, Arcade Fire, still one of the most respected bands in indie rock.
But in 2015, the year did go to Bieber, Drake and the Weeknd. Maybe it’s more to do with the segmentation of the music of today’s top Canadian recording artists. Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes are both arguably classified as teen pop, while Drake and The Weeknd both lean urban, which hasn’t been synonymous with the Canadian identity the way soft pop, rock, or country have been.
Or maybe, it’s just no longer impressive.
Back in the 90s, everyone was amazed that Canada could boast that not just one of their own was owning the world stage, but more than. In the span of just a few years, Alanis, Celine and Shania all had albums sell over 10 million copies each. All were earning awards. All were topping the charts. All were selling out tours. It was a big deal. But after that, it started to become common. In addition to the Celines and Shanias of the 90s, and the Avrils and the Nickelbacks of the 2000s, there have been dozens of artists who have achieved popularity far and beyond. Simple Plan, Deborah Cox, Fefe Dobson, Barenaked Ladies, Sum41, Feist, Tegan & Sara, Metric, and on and on and on. Today’s generation grew up seeing and hearing Canadian talent all over. The current domination might still be impressive to see on paper, but it’s hardly a surprise, and it’s hardly an invasion when it’s been happening for decades.