Cool to Be Canadian

As Canada turns the big 1-5-0, it's clear to see that people from around the world are starting to look at us (differently) 

By Emil Tiedemann

There was a time when Canada had a reputation as sort of the laid-back, blandish younger sibling of America and the UK, the one that the family loved with all their hearts, but had more important things to deal with than listen to what we had to say. 

From left to right: Tory Lanez, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Justin Trudeau, Justin Bieber, Shane Smith, Grimes, and Joe Zee. This collage of Canucks was put together by 'The New York Times,' which wrote an article in 2016 about just how "hip" Canada has become.

Because we're just too damn nice to speak up, we tolerated their patronizing ways for decades, but I mean, what choice did we have? When they offered the sounds of Johnny Cash and The Beatles, we gave 'em Terry Jacks and Anne Murray. When they put out shows like Cheers and Monty Python, we reciprocated with The Littlest Hobo and Road to Avonlea. And in an era when Kennedy and Churchill were renowned global leaders, we had Diefenbaker

Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with our aforementioned homegrown talent, it's just that the rest of the world (& many Canadians, mind you) were rather habitually blasé towards what Canada was doing for so long, whether it was music and movies, art and literature, or politics and global affairs. And sure there were exceptions to the rules over the years (i.e. Neil Young, Margaret Atwood, Michael J. Fox, Pierre Trudeau, etc.), but for the most part we remained rather modest and somewhat unvarying in our cultural and political contributions. 

There were certainly plenty of "cool" Canadians before our most recent crop, including Alberta-born Joni Mitchell, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

There was a brief period in the '90s when we thought things might be starting to shift, with the rise of Alanis and Shania, not to mention the whole Canuck connection to the Titanic craze, but the affirmation fizzled out by the turn of the century. It didn't matter that Avril Lavigne wore her daddy's ties or that Chad Kroeger had a mullet that looked like ramen noodles, it wasn't enough to maintain our ascending cool stature among our older siblings. 

But my, my, my, have those tables turned! Over the last couple of years alone, Canada is now apparently the cool kid on the block; a subtle and sudden rise to center stage on all fronts, yet content as the global spotlight remains fixated on the erratic monstrosities of the Donald Trump administration and the Brexit fiasco. 

As our much older siblings incessantly struggle to maintain unity and focus on important issues, Canada sits back, feet on the desk, pours a glass of fine Canadian whisky, and lights up a soon-to-be-legalized doobie. In the words of one Shania Twain, "life's about to get good"!

Actually, for most Canadians, it already has. When real-life Disney prince Justin Trudeau took over for Stephen Harper as Prime Minister in late 2015, there was a renewed excitement in the crisp winter air. A fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning to an old and worn-out story that had gone on for far too long.

Our 23rd Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who once worked as both an actor and a snowboard instructor. Photo by 'Macleans' magazine.

With his flawless mane, chiseled torso, and a smile that could cure a heartache, the self-described feminist Mr. Trudeau won over everyday Canadians and world leaders wherever he went, etching a brand new face for our humble homeland. His charm and charisma reset long-resting ideas and understandings of Canada for foreigners who had become complacent in their ignorance of the Great White North. 

"Unlike his predecessor, Trudeau celebrates openness and transparency—he plunges into crowds, cheerfully poses for selfies (even at G20 meetings), and shocks some with his public displays of affection toward his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau," wrote reporter John Powers in a December 2015 Vogue article titled "JUSTIN TRUDEAU IS THE NEW YOUNG FACE OF CANADIAN POLITICS." Folks were taking notice, folks who never used to. 

Of course, it wasn't just the hair and that smile, but rather Trudeau's confident stance on modernizing Canada's political posture, shifting its global influence, and mending or hashing relationships around the world and even in our own backyard with the LGBTQ community and the Indigenous people that lay claim to this land. Oh, and he's legalizing pot, let's not forget about that! 

One year from now, Canada will join several U.S. states in the legalizing of marijuana for both medicinal and recreation use. Pretty sweet, eh!

Don't get me wrong, I am quite aware that there are plenty of Canadians who oppose Trudeau, and that he's made some of his own blunders along the way as well. However, in the big scheme of things - and especially compared to his American counterpart - we've got it pretty damn good, if you ask me. I'll take "elbowgate" over the social and judicial warfare happening around the world any day of the week. 

But Trudeau and our new political landscape are just one aspect of Canada's current renaissance. "United States citizens grimacing over a political and cultural landscape riven by a brassy real estate kingpin, endlessly recycled superheroes and reality-show dopes may be forgiven for looking northward with yearning," wrote the New York Times in a January 2016 article with the headline "WITH THE RISE OF JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADA IS SUDDENLY...HIP?" 

"An expanse once stereotyped as the home to square-jawed Mounties and 'beer-swilling hosers' has quietly morphed into a multicultural breeding ground," the article continued. 

For instance, let's have a look - or should I say listen - to what's been happening in the music industry as of late. If you're paying attention to what's hot in music these days then you know that plenty of the biggest and most applauded players happen to be from Canada: Drake, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tegan and Sara, Tory Lanez, Grimes, Ruth B., and it's-okay-to-listen-to-him-now Justin Bieber are killing it on the music front, both commercially and critically. And there are upcoming records from the Arcade Fire and Shania Twain that will likely extend our dominance over the Billboard charts this year.

In less than a decade, Toronto rapper Drake has scored more entries on the 'Billboard' Hot 100 than any other act in history (not counting the cast of 'Glee'), with 155. That's six more than Elvis.

In fact, there's rarely been a week that has gone by in the last couple of years in which there was not multiple Canadians in the Billboard Hot 100's Top 10, and in fact there were periods when as much as seven of the top ten tracks were by Canadian acts! Since 2015 alone, Canadians have scored more than two dozen Top 10 hits in the States, including mega hits like Drake's "Hotling Bling" and "One Dance," Bieber's "Sorry" and "Love Yourself," and The Weeknd's "The Hills" and "Can't Feel My Face." 

Even the late Leonard Cohen, perhaps the "coolest cat" of 'em all, scored his biggest album to date last year, though part of You Want It Darker's allure was that the "Hallelujah" singer had died just three weeks after it was released. Still, the death of Cohen sparked an influx of tributes for the singer from people around the world, including Elton John, J.K. Rowling, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and even the folks over at Saturday Night Live (which, by the way, was created and is still run by Canadian Lorne Michaels). 

Then there's Hollywood, which seems to have seeped up into (mostly) Vancouver and Toronto when it comes to both production and talent. Oscar-winning dramas like Room (2015) and The Revenant (2015) were both filmed in Canada, while big-budget action features are also prone to shoot north of the border, such as 2014's Pompeii and X-Men: Days of Future Past, or the 2015 flop Pixels

But it's our on-screen talent that everyone seems to want to talk about, as Canadians Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Seth Rogen, Ryan Reynolds, and Anna Paquin continue to pack a punch at the U.S. box office, while Samantha Bee (Full Frontal), Stephen Amell (Arrow), Will Arnett (Flaked), Michael Cera (Arrested Development), Shane Smith (Vice), Eugene Levy & Catherine O'Hara (Schitt$ Creek), Howie Mandel (America's Got Talent), Taylor Kitsch (True Detective), Eric McCormack (Will & Grace), Laura Vandervoort (Bitten), and Tatiana Maslany light up TV ratings. Actually, in 2016, Maslany became the first Canadian to win a Primetime Emmy Award in any key dramatic category, scoring Outstanding Lead Actress for her role in the Canadian production Orphan Black.

Regina-born Tatiana Maslany won the 2016 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her work on 'Orphan Black,' which is shot on location in Toronto.

Canadian staple Anne of Green Gables is even getting a modern facelift for worldwide audiences, as the "edgier" Anne - a brand new CBC mini-series - makes the rounds on Netflix internationally. Another Canadian icon, Margaret Atwood, had her 1985 classic novel The Handmaid's Tale adapted into an acclaimed 2017 TV series on Hulu, just as sales of the dystopian epic rose substantially after the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Even on Broadway things have come up Canuck, as Ontario musical Come from Away has been causing quite the stir on Broadway, where it has experienced sold-out shows and standing ovations. Based out of Gander, Newfoundland during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., Come from Away has garnered much praise from theater goers and critics, even nabbing seven recent Tony Award nominations (winning for Best Direction of a Musical).
 
The cast of the Tony-winning Canadian-made-and-based 'Come from Away' musical, which made its Broadway debut on March 12, 2017 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.


And for a country that had once been synonymous with plaid and toques, fashion has become an unexpected export, thanks in large part to top designers like Tanya Taylor and Erdem Moralioglu, models such as Winnie Harlow and Meghan Collison, and fashion editors in Joe Zee and Tyler Brûlé. We're doing something right, as these folks have either designed with, posed for, or written about some of the world's top-tier fashion brands. 

It's not exactly very Canadian to brag about our sexy assets and impressive achievements, but this is a different time, a new Canada. We've come a long way from the days of Corey Hart and the McKenzie brothers, and by now we have grown into our own, it seems. We're awfully proud of our humble past, but we're also ready to engage globally and to embrace our new "cool kid" status. 

They say that the finer things in life get better as they age, and at the ripe old age of 150 (officially), I think we've hit that sweet spot. Happy birthday, Canada...stay cool!

Oh, and one more thing. We've got poutine!

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