Music History

America Tries to Figure Out What’s Wrong with Canadian Music

This is from NPR’s “The Good Listener” column. I’ll just quote it verbatim.

Gregory writes via email: “I have a question about Canadian recording artists who achieve breakout success in the U.S. When I listen to indie artists in Canada on sites like CBC Music, what I love is the references to the Canadiana — for example, in The Weakerthans‘ ‘I Hate Winnipeg’ or Sam Roberts‘ ‘The Canadian Dream.’ However, the big-name stars — Justin Bieber, Shania Twain, Feist — have none of this content. Even bands like Arcade Fire or Stars, with their strong indie credentials, don’t sound particularly Canadian. (I actually read an interview withKathleen Edwards where she says her record producers put a lot of pressure on her to change the lyrics to ‘I Make The Dough You Get The Glory’ to remove the references to Marty McSorley, Wayne Gretzky and the CBC.)

“I know that there isn’t a universal dislike of Canadian references, but why aren’t they the norm? References to Britain are very popular in music and visual media, and you don’t sense that there’s any self-censorship in their lyrics and writing. I have always suspected that the reason The Tragically Hip and Great Big Sea are enormous stars in Canada and unknown in the U.S. is that they refuse to strip their Canadian identity in their writing. But I can’t be sure. I would love to get your take on this. Is there self-censorship in Canadian music? Is it necessary?

That’s the question. Before you click here for NPR’s answer (which, you understand, was written by an American), formulate your own answer first. You might then want to leave a response on NPR’s page that may include words like “modesty,” “overly polite” and “we really don’t think the world wants us to sing about ourselves because, you know, that’s un-Canadian, eh?”


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37921 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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