The Canadian Accent, Eh

mckenzie brothers watercolour

The Canadian Accent, eh!

It goes without saying that accents around Canada differ as do accents around the United States or England. But the following rules are more or less universal across Canada and are primarily what distinguish the Canadian accent from the American accent.

It is hoped that Canadian recording artists will retain their Canadian accents in their music; there is no reason why they shouldn’t.

Rules of Thumb

1. or is always pronounced like ‘or’ (ɔr), never like an ‘ar’ (ɑr). This includes the words sorry, horrible, tomorrow, borrow, foreign, sorrow, and orange. Many Americans tend to pronounce ‘or’ the same as ‘ar’. In the words your and for, Canadians will often use the ‘er’ instead of ‘or’ sound, especially in the common Canadian rhyming expression for sure (‘fer sure’).

2. The o in hot is pronounced exactly the same as the aw in raw (‘ɒ’). There is a tendency among many Americans to pronounce hot’s o as an a. In Canada, caught and cot, don and dawn, stock and stalk, etc. are pronounced exactly the same. We’re not having a haliday; we’re having a holiday.

3. The o in mom is pronounced exactly the same as the o in mother and in son.

4. The ou in house is pronounced differently than the ow in down. In house, the ou is pronounced ‘ʌu’, and the ow ‘au’. Many Americans mistakenly think that the ‘ʌu’ pronunciation is unique to Canadians. In truth, this is the Irish pronunciation.

5. shone rhymes with gone and shown rhymes with bone. This is true among all English-speaking countries in the world except the United States, which dares to be different.

6. The i in like is pronounced differently than in ride. Like’s i is pronounced ‘əi’, while ride‘s is pronounced ‘ai’.

7. life does not sound like laugh. The i in life is pronounced ‘əi’, while the a in laugh is pronounced ‘æ’. There is a tendency among many Americans to pronounce them the same and say time like ‘tam’, light like ‘lat’, fire like ‘far’, etc.

8. pen and pin are pronounced differently. The first is ‘pen’ and the second is ‘pɪn’.

9. Mary, merry, and marry, are all pronounced exactly the same, rhyming with berry.

10. feel and fill are pronounced differently. The first is ‘fi:l’ and the second is ‘fɪl’.

11. been is usually pronounced as it is spelled, occasionally like bin. The latter pronunciation is more common among Americans.

12. The i in semi, anti, and multi is pronounced like an ee, not like the letter i.

13. In the words adult, pianist, composite, and comparable, the accent is on the first syllable.

14. In the word advertisement, the accent is on the second syllable, not the third.

15. Canadians never put an ee sound before the letter a. There is a tendency in some Americans to say Cee-anada, hee-am (ham), etc.

16. vase rhymes with gauze, not with chase.

17. The syr in syrup rhymes with cheer not with stir.

18. asphalt sounds like ASH-fault.

19. The a in bath and pasta is pronounced the same as in bat.

20. route and root are pronounced the same, and the oo in roof is the same as in root. In all these words the vowel sound is the same as the oo in boot.

21. bother rhymes with father.

22. Aunt is pronounced the same as ant.

23. because sounds like bee-KUZZ.

24. Envelope is pronounced as it is spelled, not like “onvelope”.

25. In the word often, the t is usually pronounced.

Félix Awards

The Félix Awards honour outstanding music in Québec.
As with the Junos or any annual award ceremony conducted anywhere in the world, award categories change from year to year in keeping with the times. The Felix Awards have been pretty consistent with their categories of Group of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and Female Artist of the Year. Song of the Year has also been fairly consistent; however, prior to 1989, there was also an award for the best-selling single in Québec.
The most inconsistent of the “major” categories has been their Album of the Year. Genre categories are so varied that they have even had separate categories for Popular, Pop-Rock, and Rock. Some years they had a category for the Best Album from a Singer-Songwriter. Some years they had an overall Best Album, some years a Best-Selling Album, and some years both. Some years they had separate categories for Anglophone and Francophone albums and some years not. Sometimes the best or best-selling album was a compilation album: either a greatest hits package of an artist or a collection of songs from various artists.
This presents us with an impossible task, as we want to list only one overall Album of the Year. So, we will not list the best album winners here. If you want to take a look at all the winners in the various categories, you can check out the Felix Awards website HERE.
Below are two tables. The first lists the winners of the Song of the Year Award. (Note that I haven’t bothered translating the song titles into English, as half of all English words come from French anyway.) The second lists the winners of Group, Female Artist, and Male Artist of the Year.
Félix Awards for Song of the Year (1979-Present)
Year Title Artist
1979 Le blues du businessman Luc Plamondon and Michel Berger
1980 Je ne suis qu’une chanson Diane Juster
1981 Si j’étais un homme Diane Tell
1982 Plein de tendresse Claude Dubois
1983 J’taime comme un fou Luc Plamondon and Robert Charlebois
1984 Tension Attention Daniel Lavoie and Daniel DeShaime
1985 Une Colombe Céline Dion
1986 Ce soir l’amour est dans tes yeux Martine St-Clair
1987 Chats sauvages Marjo
1988 Incognito Céline Dion
1989 Hélène Roch Voisine
1990 Un beau grand bateau Gerry Boulet
1991 Je sais, je sais Marjo
1992 Aux portes du matin Richard Séguin
1993 La légende Oochigeas Roch Voisine
1994 Encore et encore Laurence Jalbert
1995 Pour que tu m’aimes encore Céline Dion
1996 Seigneur Kevin Parent
1997 Father On the Go Kevin Parent
1998 Fréquenter l’oubli Kevin Parent
1999 Le temps des cathédrales Bruno Pelletier
2000 Je n’t’aime plus Mario Pelchat
2001 La désise Daniel Boucher
2002 Je n’ai que mon âme Natasha St-Pier
2003 Et c’est pas fini Various Artists
2004 J’t’aime tout court Nicola Ciccone
2005 Les Étoiles filantes Les Cowboys Fringants
2006 Évangéline Annie Blanchard
2007 Dégénérations / Le Reel du fossé Mes Aïeux
2008 Je veux tout Ariane Moffatt
2009 Fais-moi la tendresse Ginette Reno
2010 Cache-cache Maxime Landry

 Félix Awards for Group, Female, and Male Artist of the Year

Year Group Female Artist Male Artist
1979 Fiori-Séguin Fabienne Thibeault Claude Dubois
1980 Offenbach Ginette Reno Daniel Lavoie
1981 Corbeau Diane Tell Daniel Lavoie
1982 Corbeau Diane Dufresne Claude Dubois
1983 Men Without Hats Céline Dion Claude Dubois
1984 Uzeb Céline Dion Daniel Lavoie
1985 The Box Céline Dion Corey Hart
1986 Madame Martine St-Clair Claude Dubois
1987 Nuance Marjo Patrick Norman
1988 Madame Céline Dion Michel Rivard
1989 Uzeb Johanne Blouin Roch Voisine
1990 Les B.B. Joe Bocan Mario Pelchat
1991 Vilain Pingouin Julie Masse Luc De Larochellière
1992 Les B.B. Marie Carmen Richard Séguin
1993 Colocs (Les) Marie Carmen Richard Séguin
1994 Colocs (Les) Céline Dion Daniel Bélanger
1995 Beau Dommage Lara Fabian Roch Voisine
1996 Noir Silence Céline Dion Kevin Parent
1997 Zébulon Céline Dion Bruno Pelletier
1998 Dubmatique Lynda  Lemay Kevin  Parent
1999 Les Colocs Isabelle Boulay Bruno Pelletier
2000 La Chicane Isabelle Boulay Bruno Pelletier
2001 Les Respectables Isabelle Boulay Garou
2002 Les Respectables Isabelle Boulay (Tie) Daniel Bélanger, Garou
2003 Les Cowboys Fringants Isabelle Boulay Sylvain Cossette
2004 Les Cowboys Fringants Marie-Élaine Thibert Corneille
2005 Les Trois Accords Marie-Élaine Thibert Dany Bédar
2006 Kaïn Ariane Moffatt Dany Bédar
2007 Mes Aïeux Isabelle Boulay Nicola Ciccone
2008 Karkwa Isabelle Boulay Gregory Charles
2009 Mes Aïeux Ginette Reno Nicola Ciccone
2010 Mes Aïeux Marie-Mai Maxime Landry


Language Issues

Previously we talked a bit about problems with the Canadian Music Industry. One of them, which we’ll address in more detail here, relates to language which, in Canada, remains inextricably tied to politics.
Canadians are about 60% British descent, 25% French descent, and 15% came from other places. I’m not going into the history of the struggle between the two European countries and battles they fought in Canada. To sum it up, most of those of French descent ended up settling in one of our ten provinces, the Province of Québec. There are a few French scattered throughout the rest of the country, but the vast majority live in Québec. Those of French descent speak French, naturally, just as those of British descent speak English. Those who speak French are referred to as francophones (calling them French would be confusing because you would think they are citizens of France). Those who speak English are called anglophones.
Québec’s largest city (and Canada’s second biggest)—Montréal—has a large anglophone population, unlike the rest of the province. These live in the western part of the city which is richer and they make up about 18% of the city’s population.
The Canadian government has made English and French both official languages in the country. But this does not mean that all Canadians are bilingual, only that all government offices offer service in both languages.
Because francophones are in the minority, they have felt victimized by both language and cultural imperialism from English Canada. Many of them feel that the only way to solve the problem is by separating from Canada.
In terms of Canadian music, English Canada does not play songs sung in French by francophone artists (with the odd exception of a novelty hit like Mitsou’s “Bye Bye Mon Cowboy”). English Canada feels that it is prudent to segregate radio stations by language. So, in most major cities in English Canada (Vancouver, Calgary, etc.) there is a French radio station.
As we mentioned earlier, they have assumed, without much evidence, that anglophones are unwilling to listen to songs sung in another language, even one that is an official language of the country. If we look at the world at large, we see that most countries play songs in several languages, languages that are not even official in the country. For example, in Shanghai, China, radio stations play songs sung in Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Japanese, English, and occasionally in another language like French. This, despite the fact that very few people in the city understand languages other than Mandarin Chinese.
Because of this silly shunning of French Canadian music by English Canada, artists in Québec obtain very little exposure and usually only sell singles and albums within the Province. This means that most of them have to seek other avenues within the entertainment industry in order to earn a living. Many francophone singers are also authors, poets, and actors.
This reality cannot but encourage the separatist movement. But, there are two sides to the coin. Many of the initial French Canadian pop stars were separatists to begin with and many of their song lyrics centered around separatist themes and sentiments. This reality could not but discourage airplay of French songs in English Canada. So, right from the start of Canadian music, a vicious cycle of segregation was set in motion.
This aside, though, French Canadian singers have really been the victims here. Intensifying their woes is the fact that many of them have not been taken seriously outside of Canada. One would expect that a talented French Canadian pop star would find himself becoming popular in France and other French-speaking counties, but this does not happen as often as one would expect.
Only recently have French Canadian stars begun to achieve popularity in France. Some encouraging statistics are that several Canadian albums have been certified Diamond there. These include four from Céline Dion (two English and two French), Hélène by Roch Voisine, Seul by Garou, and Mieux Qu’ici Bas from Isabelle Boulay. It’s no surprise of course that Céline Dion is currently the sixth biggest-selling artist of all-time in France.
In 1998, Canadians Daniel Lavoie and Garou performed the song “Belle” with France’s Patrick Fiori as part of the soundtrack of the musical Notre-Dame de Paris. The single has become the second biggest-selling in the history of France (not including the 1946 song “Petit Papa Noêl”). But you would have to scroll quite a ways down the list of all-time best-selling singles in France before finding another Canadian artist, and it would most likely be Céline Dion. Canadian singers Bruno Pelletier and Natasha St-Pier often perform in France, indicating that they are popular there.
Despite these accomplishments, I would still argue, that French Canadian singers have not become as popular in France as English Canadian singers have in the United States.
Previously, we talked about the Juno Awards ceremony, which officially began in the middle of the 70s. These awarded outstanding music every year, but they seldom nominated francophone songs and artists. Even since then, there has been only the odd nomination like one for Song of the Year in 1986 and ’87. Starting in 2003, they added the category of Best Francophone album, but, again, this means segregating music by language. Canada’s main motion picture awards – the Genies – do not segregate movies based on language. Both French and English language films are up for the same awards.
Québec artists were naturally very hurt by this snub by the Junos. In 1978, a nonprofit organization was formed to assist the music industry in Québec. It is called ADISQ (Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo). Its president, Gilles Talbot, proposed, in light of the English-dominant Juno Awards, the establishment of a separate awards gala for Québec. It was decided to name the awards ceremony after Félix Leclerc, one of the founding fathers of French Canadian music. The first Félix gala was held in 1979.
The ceremony’s emphasis is not so much on francophone artists but on Québec artists. Anglophone artists from Québec have been frequently nominated for and given awards.
The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada says of the awards show:
The annual gala grew rapidly in popularity and with television ratings reaching approximately two million viewers, the Gala de l’ADISQ-Prix Félix has become one of the most widely viewed special televised events in Québec. In coordination with the activities leading up to the gala, ADISQ also produces special programs for Radio-Canada and ARTV dedicated to highlighting nominated artists and to introducing musicians from diverse musical backgrounds to the general public. The results of these promotional efforts are considerable, and the gala has an appreciable effect upon the popularity of artists and record sales.
The number and categories of awards have evolved over the years. The televised gala honours the best-selling album of the year as well as best album in the genres of pop, pop-rock, and rock. Other categories include best songwriter, best song, best female and male vocalists, best group, and best debut artist. The best show of the year is also awarded in the genres of singer/songwriter, comedy, and vocalist. Another award honours the Québec artist who is the most popular outside of Québec.

The Juno Awards

The Juno Awards are Canada’s principal music awards gala. Prior to the formal awards ceremonies, Canada’s RPM magazine began polling its readers to determine which artists were considered the best in Canada, publishing the results in December issues. Later on it was decided to present awards at a physical venue. This ceremony, which debuted in 1970, was initially called the Gold Leaf Awards but later renamed itself after the first head of the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television Commission), Pierre Juneau. Juneau was instrumental in establishing groundbreaking Canadian content regulations to force broadcasters to promote Canadian artists. The name was shortened to Juno.
In 1974, representatives of the music industry formed an advisory committee for the Juno Awards which became the Canadian Music Awards Association. Currently, this committee is called CARAS or The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Junos were first televised throughout the nation in 1975.
Because of the international popularity of Canadian music, the Juno Awards are now broadcast internationally; this started in 2006.
Depending on the award, winners, are chosen either by CARAS of a panel of experts. In most of the main categories, nominees are determined by music sales; whereas, in specific categories, they are determined by a panel.
As part of the Juno Award annual gala, Canadian musicians are honoured for their lifetime achievements by being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Below we summarize the Song of the Year and Album of the year winners and list Canadian artists who have been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Song of the Year

2013: “Call Me Maybe”, Carly Rae Jepsen
2012: “I Don’t Know”, The Sheepdogs
2011: “Wavin’ Flag”, Young Artists for Haiti
2010: “Haven’t Met You Yet”, Michael Bublé
2009: “Dangerous”, Kardinal Offishall
2008: “1234″, Feist
2007: “Promiscuous”, Nelly Furtado
2006: “Home”, Michael Bublé
2005: “Crabbuckit”, k-os
2004: “Powerless”, Nelly Furtado
2003: “Complicated”, Avril Lavigne
2002: “How You Remind Me”, Nickelback
2001: “I’m like a Bird”, Nelly Furtado
2000: “Bobcaygeon”, The Tragically Hip
1999: “One Week”, Barenaked Ladies
1998: “Building a Mystery”, Sarah McLachlan
1997: “Ironic”, Alanis Morissette
1996: “You Oughta Know”, Alanis Morissette
1995: “Could I Be Your Girl”, Jann Arden
1994: “Fare Thee Well Love”, The Rankin Family
1993: “Beauty And The Beast”, Céline Dion
1992: “Life Is a Highway”, Tom Cochrane
1991: “Just Came Back”, Colin James
1990: “Black Velvet”, Alannah Myles
1989: “Try”, Blue Rodeo
1987: “Someday”, Glass Tiger
1986: “Don’t Forget Me”, Glass Tiger
1985: “Never Surrender”, Corey Hart
1984: “Rise Up”, The Parachute Club
1983: “Eyes of a Stranger”, The Payola$
1982: “Turn Me Loose”, Loverboy
1981: (Tie) “Could I Have this Dance”, Anne Murray / “Echo Beach”, Martha and the Muffins
1980: “I Just Fall In Love Again”, Anne Murray
1979: “Hot Child in the City”, Nick Gilder
1978: “Sugar Daddy”, Patsy Gallant
1977: “Roxy Roller”, Sweeney Todd
1976: “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
1975: “Seasons in the Sun”, Terry Jacks

Album of the Year

2013: Kiss, Carly Rae Jepsen
2012: Christmas, Michael Buble
2011: The Suburbs, Arcade Fire
2010: Crazy Love, Michael Bublé
2009: Dark Horse, Nickelback
2008: The Reminder, Feist
2007: Loose, Nelly Furtado
2006: It’s Time, Michael Bublé
2005: Billy Talent, Billy Talent
2004: We Were Born In A Flame, Sam Roberts
2003: Let Go, Avril Lavigne
2002: The Look of Love, Diana Krall
2001: Maroon, Barenaked Ladies
2000: Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, Alanis Morissette
1999: Let’s Talk About Love, Céline Dion
1998: Surfacing, Sarah McLachlan
1997: Trouble at the Henhouse, The Tragically Hip
1996: Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette
1995: Colour Of My Love, Céline Dion
1994: Harvest Moon, Neil Young
1993: Ingenue , k.d. lang
1992: Mad Mad World, Tom Cochrane
1991: Unison, Céline Dion
1990: Alannah Myles, Alannah Myles
1989: Robbie Robertson, Robbie Robertson
1987: Shakin’ Like A Human Being, Kim Mitchell
1986: The Thin Red Line, Glass Tiger
1985: Reckless, Bryan Adams
1984: Cuts Like A Knife, Bryan Adams
1983: Get Lucky, Loverboy
1982: Loverboy, Loverboy
1981: Greatest Hits, Anne Murray
1980: New Kind Of Feeling, Anne Murray
1979: Dream Of A Child, Burton Cummings
1978: Longer Fuse, Dan Hill
1977: Neiges, Andre Gagnon
1976: Four Wheel Drive, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
1975: Not Fragile, Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Canadian Music Hall of Fame Inductees

2013: k.d. lang (Female Artist)
2012: Blue Rodeo (Country Rock Band)
2011: Shania Twain (Female Artist)
2010: April Wine (Rock Band)
2009: Loverboy (Rock Band)
2008: Triumph (Rock Band)
2007: Bob Rock (Producer and Musician)
2006: Bryan Adams (Male Artist)
2005: The Tragically Hip (Rock Band)
2004: Bob Ezrin (Producer)
2003: Tom Cochrane (Male Artist)
2002: Daniel Lanois (Producer and Male Artist)
2001: Bruce Cockburn (Male Artist)
2000: Bruce Fairbairn (Producer)
1999: Luc Plamondon (Lyricist)
1998: David Foster (Producer and Composer)
1997: Lenny Breau (Guitarist), Gil Evans (Pianist, Arranger, Composer), Maynard Ferguson (Musician, Bandleader), Moe Koffman (Musician, Composer), Rob McConnell (Trombonist, Composer, Arranger)
1996: David Clayton-Thomas (Lead Singer of Blood, Sweat, and Tears), Denny Doherty (Member of The Mamas & the Papas), John Kay (Lead Singer of Steppenwolf), Domenic Troiano (Rock Guitarist), Zal Yanovsky (Member of The Lovin’ Spoonful)
1995: Buffy Sainte-Marie (Female Artist)
1994: Rush (Rock Band)
1993: Anne Murray (Female Artist)
1992: Ian & Sylvia (Music Duo)
1991: Leonard Cohen (Male Artist)
1990: Maureen Forrester (Operatic Contralto)
1989: The Band (Rock Band)
1987: The Guess Who (Rock Band)
1986: Gordon Lightfoot (Male Artist)
1985: Wilf Carter (Male Artist)
1984: The Crewcuts (Singing Group), The Diamonds (Singing Group), The Four Lads (Singing Group)
1983: Glenn Gould (Pianist)
1982: Neil Young (Male Artist)
1981: Joni Mitchell (Female Artist)
1980: Paul Anka (Male Artist)
1979: Hank Snow (Male Artist)
1978: Guy Lombardo (Band Leader), Oscar Peterson (Pianist)

Controversies (Part 2/2)

Issue #3: Determining Whether a Production Is Canadian
The third controversial issue involves defining music that is Canadian. Sometimes a Canadian artist discovers that his or her album will not be up for an award because, since it was produced by a foreigner, or some of the music was written by foreigners, it is not considered a Canadian album. The rules about what can be considered a Canadian album are designed to encourage Canadian artists to elicit the help of Canadian producers, engineers, song writers, and musicians rather than turning to foreigners. But some argue that an artist should have the freedom to choose what he or she considers the best or most suitable people to assist in creating their work without worrying whether or not it is going to be considered a Canadian or foreign production.
Issue #4: Blacks-and-Whites-Only Club
The American music industry is a blacks-and-whites-only club. In order to be played on the radio, your skin has to be either black or white. It cannot be any shade in-between. You have to be of European descent or African descent. God forbid that you are of Asian descent! Because of the cultural imperialism of the United States, other western countries have blindly followed suit, such as The United Kingdom and Canada. Doors have been closed to Asians no matter how talented they are. Japanese-American Utada, Hikaru is one example.
Despite the fact that CoCo Lee proved she could sing the pants off most other American singers, even performing on the Academy Awards, radio provided very limited airplay of her songs, songs that were expertly composed and produced by some of the biggest names in the business.
Because of this appalling reality, singers of Asian background who are born in western countries face the humiliation of having to learn the language of their ancestors and sing for overseas audiences. Alexander Wang (Leehom) and Evonne Xu are examples of American-born people of Chinese descent who had to learn Chinese and perform songs in that language to become huge stars in China. They couldn’t perform songs in their native English because the racist American music industry would never accept them.
Sadly, Canada has followed suit. Even though Canada’s population of Asian descent far exceeds its citizens of African descent, a number of African Canadian stars have risen to prominence while its large pool of Asian talent has been shunned. (This is certainly not to say that Canada should turn its back on African Canadian talent; far from it!) The aforementioned Sally Yeh is a prime example. Of Chinese background, her singing talents were ignored by the Canadian music industry, so she had to learn Chinese to become a star overseas. She never was able to read the Chinese characters. So, in the recording studio, she had to read from large placards of romanized Chinese in order to sing the words. She became a huge star in China and most Canadians have never heard of her. The irony in all this is that the first Canadian international pop superstar was of Asian descent.
Questions to Ponder:
  1. Why do Canadians regard a Canadian artist doing well internationally who has done well only in the U.S., not in China, the U.K., France, etc.
  2. Why do some Canadian artists alter their accents to American ones?
  3. Why are Canadian radio stations strictly language-selective in musical content?
  4. Why do English radio stations outside Quebec refuse to air French Canadian songs?
  5. Why did the Juno Awards ignore francophone artists giving rise to the Félix Awards gala?
  6. Why do radio stations in Vancouver, which is over 17% ethnically Chinese, refuse to play Chinese songs?
  7. Why do Canadian radio stations predominantly feature music that is African-American and Hispanic style when Canada’s ethnic makeup is completely different from the U.S.?
  8. Should Canadian artists be discouraged from seeking production help from foreigners?
  9. Why does the western Music Industry shun singers of Asian descent?
If pondering any of these questions sparks certain realizations in you which make you become angry, this is a good sign. Cultural imperialism is indeed a dark and formidable force. If things are going to change, we need to start asking these kinds of questions. In examining the issues above, I think most will agree that there is definitely something wrong with the system, though opinions may differ on the magnitude of the problems.

Controversies (Part 1/2)

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves by celebrating unduly. There are some serious issues facing the Canadian Music Industry, some that have gone on too long without being solved. Controversies have sprung up time and again, most of which relate to trying to carve out an identity for our music that all too often succumbs to the fever of foreign cultural imperialism. I’m going to take a look at four issues and am not attempting to provide any definitive answers. But in exploring them, some suggestions will present themselves naturally. What follows is a lengthy article that I’ve divided into two parts.
Issue #1: “International” Versus Domestic Success
My previous blog entry looked at the huge success many Canadian artists have had abroad and noted that some, like Amanda Marshall, The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Tom Cochrane, and Jann Arden, have remained extremely popular domestically only. This subject has found itself at the heart of controversy in Canada. The question is often asked: should the success of a Canadian artist, album, or song abroad have any bearing on how great it should be regarded by Canadians? Canadian musician Matthew Good spoke out against the Juno Awards in 2008 refusing to attend, saying that, rather than celebrating Canadian music, it was just a showcase of who is doing well internationally. It can be argued that any artist can do well in her home country but when other countries award the artist, this signals real excellence. The spirit of Good’s argument was pure, but the argument itself was misplaced. There are two vastly more important points to consider; namely, what is the real meaning behind the term “international” and are Canadian artists more inclined to change their music to please foreign ears?
When the Canadian music industry talks about Canadians doing well “internationally”, it is whittling down the truth. What it is really talking about is Canadian music doing well in the United States. When Canada’s Sally Yeh became a huge star in China, a country with a population four times that of the U.S., her achievement was ignored by the Canadian music industry. In recent years, Vancouver’s Angela Zhang, with a string of Number One hits, has become one of top 3 biggest-selling female artists in the most populated nation on earth. Her achievement has been completely ignored. The successes of francophone artists who attain superstardom in the international French-speaking world are ignored by the Canadian music industry. For example, one of Isabelle Boulay’s albums was certified Diamond in France. Most Canadians have never heard of Boulay. Despite the fact that Canada is still under the Queen of England, artists who do well in Britain, Australia, and other commonwealth countries but who fail to chart in the U.S. are not seen as successful internationally.
The other important point is that other counties, whose ears are shaped by a different culture, may be attracted to different styles of music, and Canadian artists may alter their style to please them rather than focusing on producing the kind of music that appeals to Canadians. Many Canadians were critical of Nelly Furtado for having American Timbaland (Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, and Justin Timberlake) co-produce her third album, which took her in a very different direction musically. This leads to the second issue.
Issue #2: Foreign Influence
In 1998, “Cash Crop” by the band Rascalz was nominated for Best Rap Recording at the Juno Awards. As an article puts it, “Due to Canadian hip hop’s limited commercial notability, however, the rap award had never been presented during the main Juno ceremony, instead being relegated to the untelevised technical awards ceremony during the previous evening.” Rascalz was put off by this alleging that racism was the reason for the award’s suppressed status. I’m sure internationally-famous Canadian rapper Snow would accuse Rascalz of being racists themselves for suggesting that the performance of rap music is confined to those of African descent!
But this incident raised the question: just because Rap is a popular genre of music in the U.S., should Canada artificially establish it as a major force in its own music scene? The debate spawned further questions: should Canada promote Latin music since it is popular in the United States which, unlike Canada, has a large Hispanic population? It became evident to many Canadians that, the Canadian music and broadcasting industries need to reflect Canada’s own ethnic makeup which, with huge French and Chinese populations, is entirely different than that of the United States, which has much larger populations of African and Hispanic descent.
Despite this realization, the Canadian broadcasting industry has been intent on generously playing American styles of music: R&B, Rap (a.k.a. Hip Hop), and Latin. Canada’s premier music video network Much Music had a segment going for a while that was dubbed International. Did they play any Chinese, Indian, Italian, or Japanese music? No. Predominant were Spanish songs. And they had the nerve to include French songs (as if French Canadian music was international and not part of Canadian domestic music!) Canadian radio outside of Quebec stubbornly refuses to play French Canadian music, and airplay of Chinese pop music is non-existent on major radio stations, even in Vancouver which is over 17% ethnically Chinese. Canada, a country the prides itself on federalism, multiculturalism, and bilingualism actually holds separate awards ceremonies for English and French singers (Juno and Felix Awards respectively). One could argue that English-speakers are not willing to listen to music sung in other languages (which has never proven to be true) but one could also argue that reggae, Brit pop and other genres of music performed in English are not as prominently featured on Canadian radio as American musical genres which are just as foreign to Canadians.
Ashley MacIsaac’s “Sleepy Maggie” is sung in neither of Canada’s two official languages (English and French) but in Scottish Gaelic. Despite this, it received heavy radio airplay across the country and was very popular. This suggests two things: Canadians can enjoy a song sung in a foreign language and Canadian English radio stations, which snub French songs and Chinese songs, do not have a problem with songs sung in another language of the British Isles.
I mentioned above that radio’s contention that English-speaking Canadians are unwilling to listen to music sung in a foreign language has never proven to be true. I add to this that the evidence actually points to the contrary, thanks to the Germans. Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” was released in both English and German versions. The German version was more popular in Canada. Falco released the German song “Der Kommissar”. The band After the Fire released an English version. The original German version was far more successful in Canada (and the U.S.).
Speaking of language, Canadian actors working in Hollywood have been criticized for altering their accents to American ones. Actors from England are not asked to do this unless their role is one of an American, but Canadians are rarely allowed to keep their accents. To a lesser extent, some Canadian singers have been altering their accents to American ones, perhaps being told by their music producers to do so in order to maximize their chances of getting radio airplay in the U.S.. Their “sorry” becomes “sarry”. Their “foreign” becomes “fareign”. And so on.
The good news is that Canadian artists have, in general, not really bowed to American musical influences and continue to produce music that is very Canadian in Canadian singing accents. Often when Canadians have turned to Americans to produce their music, they have ended up being very disappointed with the results and, afterwards, abandoned the foreign assistance. This was true when Vancouver-based synthesizer outfit Images In Vogue turned to American Gary Wright to produce their debut L.P.. When they returned to Canada, very upset with the production, they ended up rerecording many of the songs.
There is irony in this, however. Canada has generated some of the world’s most successful producers. David Foster, who has produced some of the biggest acts in American music, is Canadian. The man who co-produced many of U2′s albums—Daniel Lanois—is Canadian. So, Canadians concerned that Canadian artists are having their music shaped by foreign producers can find some comfort in knowing that there are Canadian producers who are out there Canadianizing the music of foreign artists!

Monster Hits

One could argue that it is relatively easy for Canadian songs to top the charts in their own country. But when they do well overseas, it is more of an accomplishment. Ten Canadian singles have, over the years, managed to end up among the top 5 in the Year-End charts of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100. Nine Canadian albums have graced the Year-End Top 5 in Billboard’s Album charts.
Canadian Singles That Finished in the Top 5 Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts
1960: “Theme From a Summer Place” by Percy Faith (#1)
1970: “American Woman” by The Guess Who (#3)
1974: “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks (#2)
1991: “Everything I Do” by Bryan Adams (#1)
1994: “The Power of Love” by Celine Dion (#4)
1996: “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion (#3)
1998: “You’re Still the One” by Shania Twain (#3)
2002: “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback (#1)
2006: “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter (#1)
2006: “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado (#3)
Canadian Albums That Finished in the Top 5 Billboard Year-End Charts
1969: Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Blood, Sweat, and Tears (#3)
1972: Harvest, Neil Young (#1)
1985: Reckless, Bryan Adams (#2)
1996: Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette (#1)
1996: Falling into You, Celine Dion (#3)
1997: Falling into You, Celine Dion (#3)*
1998: Let’s Talk About Love, Celine Dion (#2)
1998: Come On Over, Shania Twain (#5)
1999: Come On Over, Shania Twain (#3)
2003: Up, Shania Twain (#3)
2003: Let Go, Avril Lavigne (#5)
* This is not a typo; the Grammy Award winning album was 3rd biggest of the year two years in a row!
Canadian music has never done nearly as well in Britain as it has in the States, so a Canadian album to top the British charts is a bigger accomplishment. Over the years, 14 Canadian albums have had the honour, most of them being certified Platinum in the U.K.
Canadian Albums to Go #1 in Britain:
1972: Harvest, Neil Young (2 Weeks at No. 1)
1991: Waking Up the Neighbours, Bryan Adams (1 Week, 3x Platinum)
1994: So Far So Good, Bryan Adams (1 Wk, 3x Platinum)
1995: The Colour of My Love, Celine Dion (7 Wks, 5x Platinum)
1996: Falling Into You, Celine Dion (1 Wk, 7x Platinum)
1996: Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette (11 Wks, 10x Platinum)
1996: 18 Til I Die, Bryan Adams (1 Wk, 2x Platinum)
1997-8: Let’s Talk About Love, Celine Dion (5 Wks, 6x Platinum)
1999: Come On Over, Shania Twain (11 Wks, 10x Platinum)
1999: All the Way, Celine Dion (1Wk, 2x Platinum)
2002: Silver Side Up, Nickelback (2 Wks, 3x Platinum)
2002: A New Day Has Come, Celine Dion (4 Wks, Platinum)
2003: Let Go, Avril Lavigne (3Wks, 5x Platinum)
2004: Under My Skin, Avril Lavigne (1 Wk, 5x Platinum)
Below is a table of Canadian artists (post-1970s) who have garnered the most Top 40 Hit Songs. The talbe shows that some have been more successful in the U.S. and some in the U.K. The bottom five artists, though scoring a slew of hits in Canada, have not been as successful abroad. I’ve tallied the numbers to give a “points” column and sorted the artists accordingly. As you can see, Canadian women dominate, but Bryan Adams (who had an earlier start) is champion.
Number of Top 40 Hit Songs by Canadian Artists in Selected Countries
Rank Artist Can US UK Points
1 Bryan Adams 44 22 28 94
2 Shania Twain 16 10 14 40
3 Celine Dion 15 10 14 39
4 Alanis Morissette 22 5 10 37
5 Nickelback 17 9 10 36
5 Corey Hart 27 9 n/a 36
7 Avril Lavigne 9 7 11 27
7 Nelly Furtado 12 5 10 27
9 Barenaked Ladies 17 2 2 21
10 Sarah McLachlan 13 5 2 20
10 Glass Tiger 14 4 2 20
12 Blue Rodeo 19 n/a n/a 19
13 Jann Arden 16 1 1 18
14 Tom Cochrane* 16 1 n/a 17
15 Amanda Marshall 15 0 n/a 15
16 Tragically Hip 14 n/a n/a 14

 * includes his hits with Red Rider.

Success of Canadian Music

In 1924 when Guy Lombardo formed his band, The Royal Canadians, Canadian music was born. In the 1950s when Ottawa’s Paul Anka recorded his international Number 1 hit “Diana”, Canadian Rock and Roll went full-speed ahead, echoing through the years the line, care of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”.

Above from left to right: Robert Charlebois, Rush, Sarah McLachlan (top); Celine Dion, Nelly Furtado, Sally Yeh, Neil Young (bottom).

  The rich diversity of Canadian music, which has reflected the vastness of its cultural makeup, has churned out some of the biggest names in the business from folk singers like Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell, country superstars like Hank Snow, Anne Murray, and Shania Twain, rock bands like The Guess Who, Rush, Loverboy, and Nickelback, dance acts like Mitsou, Men Without Hats, and k-os, pop legends like Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morrissette, and Celine Dion, jazz greats like Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall, Celtic artists like traditionalists The Irish Rovers and new ager Loreena McKennitt, alternative offerings like Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies, cutting-edge progressive music from FM / Nash the Slash, Images in Vogue, and Delerium to an array of chart-toppers like Nelly Furtado and Avril Lavigne in the new millennium.

Adored Canadian sportscaster Ron MacLean has often said that there are two things Canadians do better than anyone else in the world. The first, of course, is hockey. The second, he argues, is rock and roll. Whether or not you agree with the second, it can at least be argued that Canada has done better musically than what might be expected from a population only one-ninth of the U.S. and half of the U.K. Some of the biggest artists, albums, and songs in the English-speaking world have been Canadian.

A number of Canadian albums, songs, and artists have won awards at the Grammies, the most prestigious American music awards ceremony. This was especially true in the 90s. In 1998, Record of the Year went to Canada’s Celine Dion for “My Heart Will Go On”. Not very impressed? In that decade, the Album of the Year award went to Canadian artists two of the ten years (1995: Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette; 1996: Falling Into You by Celine Dion). How about the Best Female Vocal award? Four of the ten years, the award went to Canadians: 1992: k.d. lang for “Constant Craving”; 1997: Sarah McLachlan for “Building a Mystery”; 1998: Celine Dion for “My Heart Will Go On”; and 1999: Sarah McLachlan again for “I Will Remember You”. The award for Best Female Country Performance went to Canadian Shania Twain two years in a row (1998: “You’re Still the One” and 1999: “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”). Canada’s Diana Krall won Best Jazz Vocal Performance in 1999 for “When I Look in Your Eyes”. In the new millennium, a number of awards have gone to Canadians, especially in the traditional pop category: Joni Mitchell, Michael Buble, and k.d. lang all receiving such honours. Nelly Furtado won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2001 for her song “I’m Like a Bird”.

Canadians included in the United States’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame include The Band, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell.

In terms of album sales, Come on Over by Shania Twain is the 8th best-selling studio album of all-time worldwide, the 5th biggest-selling in the U.S. and the 3rd in Australia. It remains the #1 album by a female artist. Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill is the 10th best-selling worldwide and 6th in Australia. Moreover, it remained in the Top 10 charts longer than any album in history except Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

In terms of the sales of singles, Paul Anka’s “Diana” became the second biggest of all-time after Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” are in the Top 40 of all-time. The latter is the 6th biggest-selling of all-time in the U.K. and in the American Top 25. Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfrind” is the 6th biggest-selling single of all-time in Australia. Celine Dion’s “To Love You More” is the 13th best-selling single of all-time in Japan. Deboarh Cox’s 1998 single “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” remains the longest-running chart-topper in the history of Billboard’s R&B charts.

Above from left to right: Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, The Guess Who, Paul Anka (top); Anne Murray, Alanis Morissette, Claude Dubois, Shania Twain (bottom).

As far as artists are concerned, the Canadian Pop Encyclopedia lists some 1,450 Canadian singers and musicians who have released major recordings over the years. Celine Dion is one of the 25 biggest-selling artists of all-time worldwide as well as in the U.S. Shania Twain and rock band Rush are also among the biggest-selling artists of all-time.

But a more interesting note is that Canada has generated some of the most successful tunes in nearly all genres of music. You name the genre: Canada has had an internationally best-selling album. Grunge was founded by a Canadian and it was a Canadian who coined the term “Heavy Metal”.

This international success, however, is at the heart of one of three contentious issues that have sprung up among Canadians regarding their music.