The Politics of Dancing: Gloating to Scapegoating at the 2017 JUNOs

In our view, the 2017 JUNO gala, if watched and treated as a whole, was quite a good one. However, when several incidents within the two and a half hours are brought under the magnifying glass and examined on paper, its shine fades into darkness, something that looks like co-host Bryan Adams’ dusty faded black jacket draped over unceremonious jeans. A slant towards honouring works made by the dead and ailing, an opening skit containing foul language, ego-driven babbling with arrogant statements like “this is my arena, not yours,” the gloating roundabout self-promotion of politicians, and certain jokes from a co-host to which a number of folks chose to take offence—all of these failed to derail the overall wholesomeness of the broadcast.

It is interesting that Russell Peters’ jab at the Governor General, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in the Dominion of Canada, was ignored by the press. The comedian pointed out that the Prime Minister was in attendance “and so is our Governor General, but let’s be honest, you’re more excited about the Prime Minister.” What was picked up on were his comments that sexualized women, as he referred to the Minister of Heritage as “hot” and called underage, attractive girls in attendance, “a felony waiting to happen.” The Minister in question later on called such remarks inappropriate, and JUNO president Allan Reid issued a statement of apology basically absolving CARAS from being responsible for the co-host’s off-script jokes.

If the JUNOs felt such comments from Peters were inappropriate, we question why the organization invited July Talk to perform its song “Picturing Love”. Have you read the lyrics? We can also take a look at lyrics of songs that have been nominated at the JUNOs. The Weeknd, for instance, was nominated for the Songwriter of the Year award last year for his song “The Hills”. Have you read the lyrics? (We love July Talk and The Weeknd who make great music; it is the double standard we are questioning here.) We can even look at similar statements made by Russell during his previous JUNO hosting duties, for example his comment about Anne Murray. Why is the fuss bubbling up now?

Besides the fact that CARAS has been under pressure since last year for a lack of female representation in award nominations, this year politicians were present. Politics and music do not mix. Politics is about dividing people, while music is all about bringing people together. It was a tricky situation this year, as it is Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Thus, one might expect some form of government presence. The nonpartisan Governor General, the Prime Minister and his wife, and the Minister of Heritage were there, the latter three presenting. There was mention made of the current U.S. President (who ironically was elected despite making a much more lecherous statement), and a former U.S. president (who ironically has been accused of sexual assault) showed up in a tribute to the Hall of Fame Inductee. Many felt this was all a bit too much. The focus of the JUNOs ought to be on the recording artists, not on politicians.

We would suggest that one of the reasons for the strong political presence and also for the emphasis on diversity at the gala was a Canadian attempt to counter the climate in the United States, a country that has been extremely vocal against its current leadership and its perceived suppression of diversity. Whether the spirit behind Canada’s stepping up to the plate to show the opposite of both is more of a taking over the reins of a faltering sister nation in a posture of humble assistance or more of a showing off that we are better in these areas is up for debate. In any event, the political presence put CARAS in a tight situation, because you see, ultimately it comes down to pleasing one’s sponsors for fear of losing funding. And obviously, the politicians were not amused.

Regarding the sexism, if CARAS is really serious about tackling it, principles and standards need to be adopted rather than simply supporting politicians’ scapegoating of a politically incorrect comedian for one or two off-the-cuff remarks, especially when there are more deep-seated issues at stake that involve the music industry as a whole and beyond that society at large. If we are really serious about tackling sexism, then let’s have a conversation about why a male host who bowed out was replaced with two male hosts and why the dinner and awards was emceed by another male host who happens to be the third male in a row that the CBC has appointed as the host of Q. Let’s have a conversation about why many entertainment journalist summaries of the JUNO gala were filled with lengthy, positive remarks about Downie, The Hip, and Cohen while glossing over the wins by Alessia Cara Jess Moskaluke, and Ruth B. Let’s have a conversation about why male singers account for 71% of radio spins across all radio formats and female singers only 29%. Let’s have a conversation about why male singers’ voices are autotuned up to a higher register or they sing in falsetto to sound like women as a means of keeping female vocalists out of the game. Let’s have a conversation about why the designation of pop versus rock depends not so much on the style of music but the sex of the singer. Let’s have a conversation about why the media constantly calls female artists brats not acting their age, reminding us of their age at every opportunity, brands them with hot iron pokers as “one-hit wonders” before they have even had a chance to release new music, analyzes their red carpet looks more than their production skills, and treats their credibility as hinging on the males who work with them to make their music rather than stemming from their own talent.

And while we are all brainstorming on action plans to tackle these issues, let us begin thinking about the exclusion of Francophone artists and their performances and the francophobia that surrounds it.

Graham Henderson Speaks on the Broken Promise of Music’s Golden Age


While Sean Parker was busy reinterpreting legalities to justify unethical conduct in his pursuit of channelling $2.4 billion into his own personal pockets (or offshore bank accounts), something media mentions with cringeworthy casualness, the music industry’s fortunes dropped 70% from 1999 to 2013. From physical copies at legitimate retail outlets, to internet piracy and Napster, to digital shops, to streaming services, the twists and turns of music platforms were part of a course that has led to the stark modern reality that the average Canadian recording artist earns $7,200 per year.

On November 1, 2016, President of Music Canada Graham Henderson spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Economic Club of Canada presenting his thoughts on the state of the music industry and how its fortunes might be rekindled.

In a toxic environment in which greed is overlooked in the praises of cleverness used in poaching, he notes that musicians are not the only ones treated with contempt; authors are earning 27% less than in 1998. He points out that behind the disdain is the “offensive concept” that artists do not need to be compensated much for their works because they have an intrinsic need to create which is not sparked by remuneration. Henderson argues that the age-old mechanism that work leads to wealth is largely seized up in today’s world of precarious work characterized by “immigrant Uber drivers and millennial interns, part-time lecturers and the cleaners and couriers of the ‘gig economy'” becoming mainstream. He cites as a grotesque example Amanda Palmer’s remark that musicians would be happy to perform with her for “beer and hugs”.

Curious also is the apathy or feelings of impotence preventing players in the industry from taking hold of the rudder and instead abandoning it to the mindless will of market forces. Rather than being driven by human intelligence, reason, and moral rectitude, “the market determines how we live our lives and governments need to get out of the way”.

Interestingly, this “political and economic mess” was heralded by some as the beginning of a golden age, an idea shared by “artists, the media, pundits, professors and most importantly, policy makers around the globe”. It was assumed that “in return for the collapse of artists’ traditional marketplaces” they “would make more money from the sale of concert tickets, merchandise and other means” because the digital world would enable them to tap into a much larger audience. The reality now is “a world in which the creative middle class, within the span of a single generation, has virtually ceased to exist,” as recording artists have transitioned “to the world of the self-employed ‘entrepreneur’ … working longer hours … engaged in activities for which they have little aptitude, such as data entry clerks – all for scandalously less money.”

Graham Henderson blames much of the share of problems on the fact that the regulations which govern the modern digital music world were founded on two nascent treaties adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1996: The WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. He believes these, borne of speculation, were made at a time when we knew little of the emerging digital world and now stand starkly obsolescent. The new rules were made with the intention of supercharging the digital marketplace in which both the creators and public would benefit. Creators, who in return would gain a wider audience, were asked to sacrifice receiving copyright payments for use of their works in order to subsidize the development of the new technology infrastructure. The safe harbours from liability insisted on by technology companies were codified in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Since the hasty regulations were slapped together, no golden age emerged. On the contrary, “digital technologies and the Internet were associated with sharply reduced demand, prices and sales, and consequently, to lower investment and employment.” Music Canada has identified what it terms a “value gap”, or “the gross mismatch between the volume of music being enjoyed by consumers and the revenues being returned to the music community”.

Digital’s promise to bring the buck back that was lost in internet piracy and Napster not only failed to deliver but as supported by statistics worsened conditions. Streaming is now parroting those same promises in its own interests, and it will not come as a surprise that Sean Parker has managed to weasel himself onto the board of Spotify. A lawyer, Graham Henderson expresses a number of suggestions regarding legislation, policies, and programs he thinks will help turn the fortunes of artists around such as ending “all the cross-subsidies paid by creators. Now.”

You can read the full text of the speech here or watch a video of it below.

Holiday Confusion: Wonderland, Poppies, Starbucks, and Beyoncé

starbucks-2016-green-cupSarah McLachlan is the first established Canadian artist to release a Christmas album in 2016, and it’s a really beautiful one, Wonderland. Speaking of the holidays, despite much vocal disapproval, many businesses put up Christmas decorations immediately after Halloween, nearly two months before Santa’s arrival. Today we saw Christmas trees up in a Roots shop. This practice in part trivializes the holiday on November 11. In Sarah McLachlan’s home province of Nova Scotia, outrage was expressed over the demotion of the Remembrance Day ceremony from Sydney’s largest indoor venue to make room for a crafts show.

And then there’s the matter of the new Starbucks coffee cups. The Howard Schultz coffee chain was previously criticized for washing out any holiday references to yield a plain red cup. Today, it introduced a green cup which some speculate is meant for the Christmas season. Howard Schultz is not a believer in the religion, but he has managed to channel $2.9 billion into his own personal pockets, so he probably is not too concerned with winning any best or worst coffee cup design awards. Consumers ought to remember that when they give the Starbucks cashier their money, it is all going to Schultz and virtually none to the helpful barista. The extravagant lusts of the few outweigh the basic needs of the many. That’s the American way.

No worries, folks. All of this holiday confusion can be cleared up tonight when Beyoncé performs at the Country Music Awards. What? Yes, you read that right. Is she nominated for any awards? No. Do organizers feel that actual country music stars are not good enough to draw viewers? Probably. Are the Americans turning it into a racial thing? Yes. Are any Canadian country music artists nominated? No. Would the hashtag #CMAsSoAmerican be appropriate? Almost: Olivia Newton-John is presenting. Viewership for the annual awards show has been way down since 2012. Things are not expected to pick up this year, as the televised spectacle will be on the same time as Game 7 of the world series. Baseball, cold showers, or Beyoncé twerking on a country music stage? Yikes. Most Canadians would probably pick the second option.

As for us, tonight we’ll just pick up a copy of the new Sarah McLachlan album to listen to later and settle down with a Tim Hortons coffee sprinkled with cinnamon, don a poppy, and listen to Dean Brody.

A Justin Bieber Weeknd at Guinness

justin bieber guinness

Who has wolfed down the most strips of bacon in 5 minutes is a pretty finite record in itself. These days, it seems Guinness is becoming even more microscopic. Which green-eyed 30-something male from Bolivia has wolfed down the most strips of Maple Leaf brand bacon in 5 minutes? Yes, let’s put aside for a moment the bacon question about sugar being listed as an ingredient while the nutrition facts template lists sugars at 0%.

At one of his recent sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Justin Bieber was presented with 8 framed certificates celebrating his record-breaking achievements by staff from Jim Pattison’s Guinness World Records. (The publisher has dropped the words “Book of” from the title). These records will be included in the 2017 edition. While we, along with fans of the highly successful recording artist, are happy with the announcements, we are reminded by some of the records how over-inclusive the Guinness group has questionably become. They are supposed to be world records but included are records within a country. They also endorse certain brands. We will spell things out with comments following the Biebs’ records below.

1. The record for the most streamed track on Spotify in one week (“What Do You Mean?” – 30,723,708 plays).

2. The record for the most streamed album on Spotify in one week (Purpose, 205 million plays).

3. The record for the most YouTube subscribers of any male (20,711,202).

4. The record for the most viewed YouTube music channel (10,478,651,389).

5. The record for the most Twitter followers of any male (82,235,563).

6. The record for the first act to fill the three top slots simultaneously on the U.K. singles chart: (“Love Yourself” (No. 1), “Sorry” (No. 2) and “What Do You Mean?” (No. 3).

7. The record for having the most simultaneous new entries on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (13).

8. The most simultaneous tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 (17).

We wonder why Guinness is highlighting streaming brand Spotify in particular? Deezer, Pandora anyone? Streaming records only across all services would undoubtedly be more appropriate. For some things, records by age group, sex, ethnicity, etc. may make sense but some may not think it is a must for brands Twitter and YouTube. It is interesting that Guinness mentions Canada’s Justin Bieber in records for singles charts of The United Kingdom and The United States but not for Canada. A reminder to Canadian Jim Pattison that Bieber held not 17 but 18 simultaneous tracks on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100. Sure, that chart has only been around since mid-2007, but again these are supposed to be world records; we question the mention of success on certain national charts above the rest.

The spirit of this is not to rain on the Guinness parade but to express a desire for the system to be tweaked and improved. We’re happy for The Biebs.

weeknd guinness

The Weeknd scored a couple of entries as well: most streamed album on Spotify in one year (Beauty Behind the Madness), current (60 million unique listeners). He also gets one for the most consecutive weeks in the Top 10 of U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100 by a solo male artist.

Toxic Exclusiveness Continues in Country Music


The CMT Awards in the States left many country music fans scratching their heads. It featured performances from rock band Cheap Trick, rapper Pitbull, British R&B singer Leona Lewis, as well as Pharrell Williams and Fifth Harmony. Even Candace Payne, the “Chewbacca Mom”, made an appearance. It seems the industry still hasn’t been able to embrace the right kind of inclusiveness, and realize that welcoming artists from other genres does not justify its recent downplay of female artists and its chronic lack of involving Canadian country musicians. The latter did graduate a notch from a complete shunning to tokenism, as Calgary’s Lindsay Ell was nominated for Social Superstar of the Year.

Speaking of regional/ethnic cleansing in country music, the Canadian Country Music Association recently announced a Spotlight Contest where one country music artist will win a performance spot at Country Music Week. The association reached out to provincial music associations to select one artist from the province to participate in the contest. One would expect to find ten artists representing all 10 provinces, but alas there are only nine: BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, …, NB, NS, PE, and NL. The CCMA does not offer an explanation as to why it left out Canada’s second most populated province — Quebec — a region that has spawned a host of platinum certified stars of country music.

Cœur de Pirate, Metric to Play Parliament Hill Canada Day

coeur de pirate6

The Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly has announced the lineup for the annual Canada Day concert on Parliament Hill. 2015’s celebration had Kiesza, Francesco Yates, Andee, Karim Ouellet, Gord Bamford, Cassidy Mann, Jonas & the Massive Attraction, Marc Dupré, and MAGIC! (See photos and a link to video here).

Performers of the 2016 concert just confirmed are BC world music JUNO winner Alex Cuba, Quebec pop star Alex Nevsky and internationally successful Cœur de Pirate, Ontarian multiplatinum newcomer Coleman Hell and electronic rock band Metric, New Brunswick indie folk trio Les Hay Babies, and Manitoban indigenous group Indian City. The concert will be hosted by Toronto rapper Kardinal Offishall and Montreal Musique Plus / CBC personality Rebecca Makonnen. Oui! Cœur de pirate et Metric au spectacle de la fête du Canada!

A crowd of 50,000 is expected to turn up on July 1 to view the spectacle which will be broadcast live. The CBC is touting the diversity of geographical origin and musical genres of the performers, a lineup that, like the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, excludes representation from the 15% of Canadians of Asian heritage, born on Canadian soil prior to Confederation. It is a form of ethnic cleansing that the country has not yet successfully rooted out. On the plus side, the inclusion of Francophone and Aboriginal performers is to be commended, though it is not new with this year’s event. A milestone of the maturation of the country would be that performers and presenters at Canadian spectacles reflect Canadian demographics rather than those of a foreign country (one that does not recognize the sovereignty of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II).

“I’m very pleased to be taking part in my first Canada Day as Minister of Canadian Heritage,” Joly said in a statement as reported by the national broadcaster. “I invite all Canadians to show their Canadian pride during the celebrations taking place in your part of the country.”

Besides the main event on Parliament Hill, there will be celebrations and concerts throughout cities across the country as well as Major’s Hill Park in Ottawa and the Canadian Museum of History in the Gatineau.

The Maple and Estrogen Ghost Town in Country

ghost town

With the nominations announced for the Country Music Awards states-side, the growing separation of forces is more apparent than ever. American country artists are all over the radio in Canada, but Canadian artists are practically barred from airplay in the United States. Is this fair? We do not know to what extent country music is popular throughout the world, such as in the UK and Australia, but Canada has a rich history of country dating from Wilf Carter’s debut in 1929 (he is known in the U.S. as Montana Slim). Canada is inviting American artists to perform at its CCMA awards. Is this leading to Canadian performances in the U.S.? Again, something is certainly wrong.

While American broadcasters are snubbing artists from the north of the continent, Canadian broadcasters have been icy cold towards female artists (estimates are 12.5% of airplay). The best-selling country album of all-time is from a Canadian female. Yes, Shania Twain’s Come on Over. Mother nature has not genetically modified people’s ears since that album came out. There is thus big discrepancy between what the people want to hear and what broadcasters seem intent on airing. From an economic standpoint, inclusivity, not exclusivity, increases profits because more people are engaged, listenership grows, advertising rates rise, and more people buy music. Speaking out will not necessarily change the attitudes of the suits, but we are happy to give it a try.

The Canadian Country Music Association Awards takes place in Halifax this weekend.

To What Extent Is Retailer Incompetence Contributing to Declining Music Sales?

How many times has the following scenario happened. A new album is released from a popular artist. The media has hyped it and assured you that it is available at all major retailers. Excited, you travel to the record shop and cannot find any copies in store. You ask the clerk who checks the computer which says that there are copies available in store. He chooses to believe it and wanders all around the shop looking for it. After several minutes, he returns to you and apologizes that there do not appear to be any copies in stock. You ask how long it would take to order it. He says, “several weeks”.

What retailers are failing to take advantage of is the fact that many music consumers do not accept the low sound quality of iTunes music with 256 kbps which results in horribly distorted sounding bass. They also refuse to acknowledge the fact that many Canadians (estimates are over one-third) refuse to use credit cards online due to all the hacking, putting purchases from online retailers like Amazon out of the question. For many consumers, shop purchases of CDs are the only viable option. When these retailers fail in their duties to satisfy customers, the music does not get purchased, probably streamed for free or pirated.

There was a time when you could find just about anything at the record shop, from the best-sellers to the obscure, from old releases to new. These days, most releases cannot be found. The supply falls far short of the demand. Gone too are the days of staff bending over backwards trying to please the customer.

YouTube: Napster of the Modern Era

pirate1While music piracy continues unabated, disabling music sales, agencies responsible for going after its platform sources seem focused on the minnows and not the bigwigs. YouTube has not assumed responsibility for the plethora of pirated files its users have uploaded to the platform, leaving it to the copyright holders to go through the rigmarole of filing takedown notices for each individual unauthorized clip, new clips no doubt being uploaded faster than notices can be drafted. Given the fact that YouTube attaches ads to pirated clips, in effect, YouTube is profiting over them which is highly unethical not to mention illegal.

The piracy goes far beyond streaming unauthorized copies of movies and music. There are a number of free downloadable software programs on the internet that convert YouTube videos to MP3 files. You may have noticed that many of the newer music videos contain dialogue or a pause in the music in the middle. This is a countermeasure to discourage people from converting the MVs to MP3s. The problem is that YouTube users upload unauthorized copies of the songs with homemade videos or lyric videos onto YouTube for the pirates to then download onto their music players. YouTube also allows users to post comments on music videos without removing libellous and defamatory remarks, another culprit in damaging music sales.

1989 Is a Reminder of the Value of CanCon

MAPLTaylor Swift’s 1989 album sold 107,000 units in Canada last week. It is the highest first-week sales total since AC/DC’s Black Ice sold 119,000 copies in 2008. We attribute the success both to her refusal to make it available on streaming services like Rdio and Deezer (here’s hoping other artists will follow her lead) as well as unusually aggressive promotion, without having heard it, by the American media. The latter is a reminder of why Canadian content regulations are vitally important. With the dastardly rich American media hyping its own artists globally, Canadian singers would be wiped into oblivion without CanCon. Consider too that the same nationalistic U.S. media relentlessly bashes all the big name Canadian artists, often without due cause, simply because they are Canadian.

It’s interesting to note that synth pop albums by Canadians like Little Machines by LIGHTS and Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara have been rated as better than Taylor Swift’s 1989 by the general public in Canada, The United Kingdom, and United States but have not sold as well. The only possible explanation for the discrepancy is the difference in marketing. Below, is a table revealing the ratings mathematically converted to scores out of 100 using iTunes data from the respective countries. (None of this is to discredit Swift; she and her album are wonderful.)

Synth Pop Albums Ratings

Male/Female Split by Radio Format

lee-aaronWith all the talk about misogyny this year, we decided to take a look at radio airplay in Canada and determine the percentage split between male and female artists. (In the case of a band with both, we looked at the gender of the lead singer). From the 2012 year-end Nielsen radio airplay charts by format, we counted the spins of songs by female and male vocalists to determine the split. The results are presented in pie charts below. As you can see, in the case of contemporary hit radio (CHR), adult contemporary (AC), and hot AC, male vocalists take a slight edge (55% to 60%) over female singers (40% to 45%). Country radio has a much bigger discrepancy with men at 89% and women at only 11%. Shocking is rock radio. Nearly all songs spun by rock radio DJs are voiced by men at 97%. Female rock singers make up only 3% of all rock radio spins in Canada.

Ann Robinson Weakest LinkFor those of you who may argue that there are few female rock singers, we beg to differ. What seems to happen is that subjectivity is abused by broadcasters conveniently writing off rock music performed by women as not rock but some other format like “alternative rock”, “punk”, or “pop punk”. Consider too that the same personnel who do this considered Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” as rock; rock stations played it profusely in 2012. There seems to be a double standard. Rock has a much stricter definition when it comes to female artists and a much looser one when it comes to the men. Canada has had a rich tradition of women in rock: Toronto-led Holly Woods to Headpins-led Darby Mills, Lee Aaron, the list goes on. We have been informed that a number of women who adore rock wanting to perform it have been discouraged by the industry and advised instead to perform pop, dance, or R&B. Strange that it is the artists being asked to change, not the broadcasters. This is something we can all work on changing. Three percent is much too low.

Male Female Split by Radio Format

Issues with Francophone Music in 2012

Musique francophone iTunes Canada

In 2012, Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, a tune performed in the Korean language, topped the Canadian Hot 100 for seven straight weeks, once and for all blowing to pieces the hasty assumption Canadian broadcasters have made that Anglophones are unwilling to listen to songs in a language other than English, an assumption they have parroted over the years, without any supporting evidence, to justify shutting out Francophone songs on English-language radio stations.

Despite the success of “Gangnam Style”, Canada still did not seem to get it. While it was on top of the charts, the Canadian media made no mention whatsoever of the Félix Awards gala, the biggest event in the country to honour Francophone music. Even the CBC which always seems so intent on promoting Canadian music published not a single word on its website about the award winners and the gala. Moreover, the same month that Psy’s Korean tune wrapped up its dynasty at number 1, no Francophone artist was invited to perform at the halftime show of the 100th Grey Cup, a huge national event. The media did not pick up on this snub choosing instead to pick on the choice of Anglophone artists and their performances.

There are some problems with retailers as well.

Issues with iTunes Canada
We have noticed that iTunes Canada considers Francophone music a genre. Whether a song is mainstream pop, hard rock, rap, electronic, jazz, or country, if it is performed in French, it gets categorized as a Francophone song. Moreover, if a Francophone artist releases an album with a couple of English songs, these get labelled as Francophone under the genre. Some may find the Francophone category helpful. But consider that there is no category called Anglophone Music. Songs that are half in French and half in English are considered French songs, not bilingual songs, revealing that Canada has somewhat of a “one-drop rule”* when it comes to music. Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” had a few Spanish phrases; does this make it a Spanish song?

iTunes Canada Musique francophone

Whipping HMV into Shape
Earlier in the year, the Canadian Music Blog was fighting its own battles. One of the most successful Canadian recording artists from Quebec, who is fluently bilingual and had released albums mainly in French in the past, decided to record a bilingual album, most songs being in English with a few in French. The album peaked at #2 on the Canadian Albums chart published by Billboard. We noticed that record chain HMV in Vancouver was not carrying any copies of the album. We checked the store’s website and noticed that none of their stores in western Canada were stocking the CD. We took it upon ourselves to contact their corporate headquarters and inquire. Their response was as we expected, stating that because the artist was Francophone, mostly popular in Quebec, there was no sense in them stocking the album in western Canada. We contacted the artist’s publicist and passed on the information. He relayed it to her management team. We are not sure what transpired, but we do know that shortly afterwards, all HMV stores in western Canada stocked the album. However, despite being mostly an Anglophone album, the Vancouver store filed it in the Francophone music section.

This is an example of what we can do as individual Canadians to try to rectify things. Although we are not in positions to make sweeping changes, we can perform a few strategic acts that can begin to change obsolete patterns of thinking.


*One-drop rule refers to a historical social classification in the United States by which any person with “one drop of Negro blood” was considered black.

For Those of You Disturbed by What You’re Seeing in the Press…

In the new millennium, when pop stars are treated like they are politicians and politicians like they are pop stars; when Quebec is lambasted for considering separation by those who exclude its artists from performing at a national event, when drunkards from the peanut gallery jeer at their own while cheering on the foreigners playing their own sport for them; when the wisdom of acts chosen to perform is questioned rather than the contempt and ill-will harboured by the audience; when, unexplainably, stars are suddenly criticized for lip syncing when this has been going on at the same event for years; when, after weeks of raising awareness about bullying, the latter’s manifestation in booing the young rears its ugly head and goes on unaddressed—all fuelled and driven by the press in the name of increasing Grey Cup halftime show viewership to 6.1 million, up by 44% from last year—one wonders what is happening in this crazy country of ours.

The nastiness of the press can be summed up in a single word: materialism. Materialism is the belief that financial gain is more valuable and important than doing the right thing, that, for example, treating people badly is acceptable provided it leads to the accumulation of material wealth. Morality is the opposite of materialism.

The media has learned that, generally speaking, it pays to praise obscure artists and to denounce the popular. The press has no conscience. It does whatever will result in attracting readers and viewers to the maximum extent possible. The more they attract, the higher the rates they can charge those corporations wanting to place advertisements, therefore the more money they make. The media does not do what is right; it does what is profitable.

When we see something very negative written about a famous Canadian recording artist, not only does it draw us in, it has us telling others about it. Even if we are a fan of the artist, we tell other fans in order to voice our grievances, and these want to see the article too. Readership goes up, lots of comments are added, nasty replies are given, everyone swarms around these trashy articles like a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and this is exactly want they want.

Understanding how the media works and why it operates the way it does helps unburden our hearts and to resist the temptation to read / watch the pieces.

As for Justin Bieber, we hold nothing but admiration. Holding his head up and responding to hatred with love, the youth is more manly than most men, who could learn to do some growing up themselves. We’re better than that, Canada.

Uniting the Two Solitudes: Mission Impossible?

In some ways, Canada is an instructive model of how different ethnic groups can co-exist peacefully while still retaining the distinctive and attractive qualities of their respective cultures. In simple terms, we can call this “unity in diversity”. But the isolation that separates what have been dubbed the “two solitudes”, namely English-speaking and French-speaking societies, stubbornly batters on, despite the best efforts of so many creative and dynamic individuals and organizations across the country who have striven to build intercultural harmony and understanding.

The corrosive discord between the French and the English has gnawed away at the backbone of Canadian society, crippling its progress and staining its reputation. This one issue, which Canadians are still far from having adequately resolved, should be regarded as the most vital confronting the nation at the present stage of its social development.

Whether from Victoria, Québec City, St. John’s, Windsor, or Iqaluit, old or young, rich or poor, naturalized or native-born, all Canadians must lend their assistance to the common mission of uniting the two solitudes. Whether Francophone or Anglophone, neither has the right to claim absolution from such an obligation. It must be consistently demonstrated in every activity of daily life, no matter how insignificant, whether in homes, schools, offices, social gatherings, recreational facilities, meetings, conferences, galas, and radio and television broadcasts.

Such an issue goes far beyond the callous limitations of political and economic policies and the passive virtues of tolerance and mutual admiration. It calls for genuine love, sincere respect, true humility, indiscriminating fellowship, contempt for any and all manner of criticism, and a keen sense of justice tempered by wisdom. Overall, it calls for magnanimity on the part of both groups.

To discriminate against either party, on the grounds of its being numerically in a minority, economically inferior, or culturally distasteful is a flagrant violation of the Canadian spirit. Acceptance of any division in the ranks of its citizens is alien to the very principles and ideals on which the country was built. Every segregation of Canadians based on culture or language must be completely obliterated if we are to pilot the world into global concord.

The only form of discrimination that should be allowed is one not against but in favour of the minority. In sharp contrast to much of the rest of the world’s countries who conveniently choose to ignore, oppress, or extirpate minorities within their respective realms, all Canadian citizens, communities, and institutions should feel it to be its prime directive to nurture, encourage, uphold, defend, and promote every minority group that resides within its confines.

Let Anglophones attend to and allow themselves to openly receive the contributions Francophones wish to make and acknowledge them ardently and graciously. Let them cheer and promote French culture not only within the Canadian landscape but to the greater world abroad. Let them become experts of and the chief supporters of French arts and artists. Let them make efforts to master the French language. Most importantly, let them be the first to uphold and defend Francophones in the face of unjust treatment or a lack of representation.

Let Francophones display a warm response, an eagerness to move beyond dwelling on past injustices, and a strong resolve to remove any traces of suspicion that may still linger in their minds. Most importantly, let them encourage and assist Anglophones, through their experience and advice, to develop a strong and unique culture that moves beyond imitation of British and American influences.

Let neither group think that the solution to such a deep-rooted problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can be settled quickly or easily. Let neither think that the efforts required to overcome the discord call simply for an extra measure and brief discharge of gallantry. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the resolution of this problem to rear its head when favourable circumstances appear prompting political bodies to pass an array of dry regulations and policies.

Rather, let them generate bonds of friendship that go beyond formal arrangements of public policy, no matter how successful such arrangements are in breaking down the barriers of mistrust and ignorance. Let the two groups intermarry so that their offspring can claim loyalty to neither side, embrace both cultures, and master both languages. Let them set their sights on nobler and loftier pinnacles of excellence in accentuated acts that exemplify to a cynical world the shining example of magnanimity of which Canadians are so renowned. And, in so doing, let us fulfill our glorious destiny.

It Is Time to End Segregation in Canada

Many Canadians pride themselves on thinking of their country as being far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of social development, citing that we are multicultural and bilingual. Yet, when we turn on the radio in Canada, we hear music that is performed in only one language. Canadians do not seem aware of the fact that, in most of the rest of the world, this is not the case.

For example, if you were to travel to Shanghai, China, and turned on the local Top 40 hit radio station, you would hear songs not only in Mandarin but in Cantonese, Korean, Japanese, French, and English all of which are languages unintelligible to nearly all inhabitants of that city.

In reality, Canada, in many ways, is lagging far, far behind the rest of the world in embracing multiple cultures and languages. In fact, Canadian broadcasters will not even air music in both official languages on a single station and has over the years behaved in defiance of Canada’s official policy of bilingualism, segregating music based on the language in which it is performed. It has even frowned upon songs that are bilingual and refused them airplay.

This presents tremendous irony. On the one hand, Canada encourages its Anglophone youth to learn French, having required them to take French lessons in grade school and built a number of French immersion schools across the country. On the other hand, however, the Canadian broadcast industry contradicts this by not airing Francophone songs on English radio stations, one of the best ways to introduce Anglophone youth to the French language and inspire them to learn it.

What is additionally absurd is that, despite this, English songs are frequently played on French radio stations in Quebec. This means that we have a national double-standard.

The Canadian broadcast industry has cited three reasons for their refusal (with only the very odd exception) of airing French songs on English radio stations.

1. Anglophones are unwilling to listen to music that is performed in a language other than English.
2. Those few who want to listen to French songs can simply tune in to the French radio stations.
3. Québec artists do not need the rest of Canada to purchase their music in order to earn a living; they can simply sell it in France which has a much larger population.

It is important to note that these are the key and principal arguments on which the entire foundation of all music segregation in the country has been based.

The problem with the second argument is that, if an Anglophone cannot understand French fluently, he is unable to enjoy the DJ chatter, radio shows, and other features of the French radio stations. Moreover, because of this lack of understanding, he cannot pick up on the titles and artists of the songs and learn any background info on the singers. If he hears a song he likes, he cannot purchase it because he cannot pick up on its name, name of the artist, album on which the song appears, etc. In contrast, if the odd French song were played on the English language radio station, Anglophones could learn much more about the song and the artist and acquire some insights into the meaning behind it.

The third reason is as ridiculous today as it was in the beginning. Francophone artists have as much luck scoring hit singles and albums in France as Anglophone artists do in the United Kingdom. Europe has never been terribly friendly towards airing Canadian music.

That leaves us with the first argument. This is the key argument broadcasters have used again and again to justify their barring of Francophone music both on English radio stations and television channels. A number of French language performances have in fact been cut from intended broadcasts over the years on Canada Day and other occasions (See an example HERE). French language performances do not happen during the JUNO awards. They were underrepresented during the Vancouver Olympics. The CBC Music website does not list even the biggest Francophone artists in the country. Record stores in western Canada do not stock much Francophone music and relegate such CDs to the “international section” as if they were imported from another country or at least from a “distinct society”. And Canadian Anglophones wonder why Quebecers are talking separation!

First off, the Canadian broadcast industry has never been able to provide a single shred of evidence in support of this hasty assumption. In fact, there has been ample evidence over the years that such is not the case. English radio stations were more than happy to play Falco’s German language songs “Der Kommissar” and “Rock Me Amadeus” and all English speakers who could not understand a word of German loved listening to them. They also loved playing Ashley MacIsaac’s “Sleepy Maggie” though no one could understand a word of Gaelic. But when it came to French, a language that was an official language of the country, radio said “No.” When pressure finally had them make an allowance with Mitsou, they shut down the operation soon afterwards by turning her into a centerpiece of controversy over a steamy music video.

Let us suppose for a moment that the first argument is true. French songs are aired and a number of people complain that they cannot understand the lyrics. (I bet if these same people were asked to quote the lyrics of their favourite English songs, they would be unable to do so.) What would such a phenomenon say about our education system? Presumably after all the taxpayers’ money spent on the French immersion schools and French programs in public schools, after all the teacher training, and text books and curriculum development, our youth are graduating from high school without being able to understand French? How come?

This week, once and for all, the flimsy argument that broadcasters had used time and again for years, that Anglophones were unwilling to listen to music performed in a foreign language, was debunked and rendered a myth in one fell swoop. PSY’s “Gangnam Style” is the #1 most popular song in the country, topping the Billboard Canadian Hot 100. The song is performed in the Korean language. Last time I checked, most Canadians are not fluent in Korean, but they love the song anyway. And what is more, the same radio stations who refused to air Francophone songs because they stated Anglophones were unwilling to listen all began playing the Korean song like mad. Did they refuse to air the song and dismiss Anglophones who liked it by telling them to tune in to their local ethnic station? Not this time. How come?

This is not to say that we should not rejoice that Canada is becoming more multicultural with the airing of a Korean song. This really is a cause for celebration. But if we are going to air German songs, Gaelic songs, and Korean songs, we really should be airing songs in the other official language too.