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As her Vegas residency came to an end after 16 years last weekend, it feels odd that her international superstardom hasn't been more embraced here at home
In her home province, Céline Dion might be referred to as “quétaine.” It’s Quebec slang for something considered dated and slightly kitschy.
If the term was used to describe anyone else, it would probably be considered insulting, but for Dion, it’s not only endearing, it has the benefit of being accurate. It’s an almost perfect description of who she is and how she presents herself.
As her Vegas residency came to an end after 16 years last weekend (so she can embark on a sold out North American tour in the fall), it feels odd that her international superstardom hasn’t been more embraced here at home. Her own country has mostly failed to properly recognize her grandeur. We’ve not rallied around Dion like we have other celebrities who’ve made it internationally. The success of Canadian artists is so frequently judged by how big they become beyond our borders, and yet Dion, arguably one of the most famous people (and certainly, voices) in the world, seems almost taken for granted here.
Her fans (near, far, wherever they are) remain ferocious. But others — perhaps daunted by her quétaine-ness — discount just how much of a game-changer she has been in pop music and the industry in general. No one could have predicted that going to Las Vegas for a multi-year residency in 2003 would not only revitalize her career, but also trail-blaze the path for other artists. Cher, Shania Twain and Elton John set up their own residencies shortly after Dion. And more recently, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez followed suit. It all seems so obvious now: Once you’ve attained a certain status, why go to the fans when they’ll come to you? But it was Dion who did it first.
Is the lack of celebration for Dion due to an English Canada/French Canada divide?
Born in 1968, in Charlemagne, Quebec, Dion was the youngest of 14 children in a very musical family. She made it first in Quebec and France — and even won Eurovision representing Switzerland in 1988. She accomplished all of this before even learning English. (To some, it might sound like she is still learning English, but to a Quebecois living outside Quebec, her hard Ts, Rs and Hs remain quintessentially Francophone.)
But it’s not like her English-language career wasn’t also incredibly successful.
Dion didn’t release an English-language album until 1990, when she came out with Unison. But it went seven times platinum in Canada and reached over three-million sales worldwide. Then there was The Colour of My Love (1993), which had worldwide sales of 20 million and went diamond in Canada. She followed that success with Falling Into You (1996) and Let’s Talk About Love (1997), which were both certified diamond in the U.S. and Canada. More English-language albums and singles (“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” “My Heart Will Go On,” “I’m Your Angel”) followed. Records were broken; awards won; accolades received. And yet, she’s always been seen as something of a kitschy punchline or a guilty pleasure for some.
This, despite the multiple reinventions of her career that have given her second, third, fourth and fifth winds. After her brother died just two days after the death of her husband and long-time manager René Angélil in 2016, Dion went on a small tour to support the release of her latest French effort, Encore un soir. Shows in French-speaking countries and Quebec were instantly sold out. The press tour, at once solemn, goofy and earnest, solidified the fact that Dion would not be slowed down, and revealed an artist who could adapt while also remaining true to herself. She’s never shied away from leaning into the earnest performances that have made her music the soundtrack to break-ups, weddings, funerals, car sing-alongs and shower cries.
Even still, every time a photo of her makes the rounds online — very chic photos, by the way , of a 51-year-old woman in couture, owning her age, body, sexiness — the trolls come out. She’s too thin, they claim. They’ll make jabs about her appearance and mock her status as if trying to prove themselves to be above what she represents.
It’s rather fascinating that while Dion’s cheesiness – her lean into camp – might preclude her from all the respect she deserves, it has also solidified her status as a queer ally and icon. Her over-the-top persona, owning the quirks that make her unique and different, staying positive in the face of adversity is everything this community champions.
So, yes, Céline Dion is absolutely “quétaine.” But while that might make her less understood, unappreciated to some, it’s a trait that she embraces completely. And to those who love her and her music, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019