Jordan: Like a lot of people who were cynical teenagers in the 1990s. I considered Céline Dion cheesy at Bastion has a Canadian kind of embarrassing. Don’t hold it against me that was kind of the style at the time Céline was overemotional. She was way too heartfelt and Earnest and cringy and you remember and then I got older and Céline kind of faded into the background. At least. I certainly never thought that I would be publicly apologize. And admitting my wrongs 20 years later on a podcast. But here we are and here is Céline by here. I mean everywhere she is rocking fashion week’s she’s changing the definition of a Las Vegas residency.
She is planning her first worldwide tour in forever. She has a new album. And oh, my does that single kind of rock.
So wait is Céline Dion finally cool, or have we all finally become cool enough to get where she was coming from this whole time.
I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is the big story Suzannah Showler is a writer at many Publications including the walrus where she unpacked today’s Céline Dion. Hey, Suzannah.
Jordan: Why don’t we start in Vegas like you did and for those of us who have not been there. Tell me what it’s like to watch Céline Dion perform in Las Vegas.
Suzannah: Well, first of all, it was my first time in Vegas, so it was a bit overwhelming and I was at the time I was living on a small island in BC where there are no street lights. So heading to Las Vegas was a little bit of a physical and emotional culture shock and Selena was incredible. I have to say it was really above and beyond I had spent a few days there by the time I saw her.
And it really sort of felt like the culmination of my Vegas experience. She is just a. Flawless professional and really just like a force of nature. There’s not a note amiss in her entire performance. It’s really really incredible to see
Jordan: What about sort of the theater itself and the the Showmanship of it all is it done up in pure Vegas-style? I have never been to a concert in Vegas for the record.
Suzannah: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what the Pure Vegas style is necessarily because I haven’t been to any other shows but hers really so it made its enormous first of all, it’s just like. Huge Amphitheatre. It’s very but somehow weirdly intimate like you can really see her from all angles and she feels very close even though you’re quite I mean, I was quite physically far away.
I guess lots of other people pay more money to be a lot closer to her and people are just like really there to have a good time. It’s a very. Although I would actually say it was a lot calmer than the rest of Vegas like either such focus and such attention on this one phenomenon rather than having sort of distractions everywhere and like flashing things.
It’s just really like, you know, you and your 4,000 closest friends and Céline Dion
Jordan: And she had been there almost constantly for about 16 years right when it ended in June.
Suzannah: Yeah, she first started there in 2003 and was there from 2003 to 2007 and then again from 2011 until just this June
Jordan: When she first started in Vegas as a resident. What was a residency in Vegas seen as for a performer?
Suzannah: It was when we first started in Vegas as a resident. It was really seen as a place where you should have went for your career to quietly die. It was not a place people went to promote new work to sort of be on the up. And so it was really quite radical that she went at the moment of really like the peak of her Fame.
It was just after Titanic it was when. The entire world really for the first time knew who Céline Dion was and it was really considered like a very strange and unexpected career move and it has just absolutely radically transformed the economics of what a Vegas residency is and what it means and also really like the cultural valence of what it means to do a residency.
There is now something people do when their careers are really. Striving not not when they’re sort of stardom is in Decline.
Jordan: Why did she decide to go to Vegas then at the peak of her Fame?
Suzannah: Yeah, so she does discuss this a little bit in her autobiography and I would say that the main reason was her husband Rene who was also her manager.
He was a really big Vegas guy and he was a gambler and he had relationships with all of the casino owners with the hotel owners. He was just like really a part of that world and it was really sort. His vision and it was kind of a huge Gamble and it certainly did ultimately pay off but that was really yeah mostly his brainchild I think and I mean certainly a gamble for her career and a really big forward decision in that way.
But also I think just really a personal decision like he wanted to be in Vegas.
Jordan: What about the way her career has been transformed over the time she’s being in Vegas because I remember I am the right age to remember the Titanic era Céline Dion and she was many things and she was huge. But she was also just not cool in particular.
Suzannah: Yeah. Yeah. I mean that’s a really tough question to answer because there’s I think a lot of factors because something that a lot of saline fans will say when you sit When you mention like, oh like she suddenly. Again as they get very defensive about it always cool exactly. They’re like, she’s always been here.
She’s always been a clean but and that’s sort of her fans call her Queen saline. That’s the reverend’s but I would say that to my mind. This has a lot to do with our culture’s relationship to irony. And the way that that relationship has been renegotiated a lot. And I feel like I mean, this is just completely my assessment.
But I feel like in the last few years. We’ve really moved away from being interested in art and culture that projects any kind of like. Reserve or Detachment or disinterest or like ironic distancing like it in the way that I mean, I’m sort of originally a product of the 90s and I feel like in the 90s.
Yeah, there’s a sort of like. Like irony was really like the dominant mode and I feel like and I feel like we’ve really moved into a place where we’ve come to really value just like raw open-hearted sincerity and Céline Dion has always been there delivering that and it just what it was sort of embarrassing I think to a lot of us like to like the cultural sensibility for a long time.
And I mean, I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I. I kind of feel like in the wake of the 2016 election of Donald Trump really changed the way our culture views expressions of sincerity and expressions of emotion and there’s been this move towards like tenderness and like big heartedness and people sort of expressing their love and their pain and really Frank ways and Céline Dion has just always done.
Yeah, and then the other thing I think that she really captures in addition to that kind of like schmaltzy big-hearted. Is that we’ve also become very comfortable mediating our big and strong emotions through very superficial media and just like sort of the like Instagram post about all the feelings.
It’s kind of the Prototype even Céline Céline . Dion is an incredibly. Superficial person who’s nonetheless like completely imbued with huge and unwieldy and sincere emotions. So I think I feel like she sort of become this avatar for what our cultural taste has like grown into
Jordan: so give me an example beyond the songs themselves that kind of illustrate the the Persona that she wears now and how it resonates with us.
Suzannah: We’ll definitely her fashion is a great place to turn. I mean, I’d she’s off son really become a fashion icon and she’s always been very very interested in fashion. And she talks about it again a lot in her autobiography and she’s always really liked kind of. Big things and too much in excess and it often took a form that I think in the past we would have described as incredibly tacky and now fashion has sort of moved in this direction.
We’re like expressions of over-the-topness and sort of like Ridiculousness and self-reference have really moved back into fashion back into and and there’s and so Céline Dion is like all of a sudden just even this year, you know. It was like Queen of Paris Couture week, you know watching her she was, you know, walking around Paris using like dogs as props and just like wearing just wearing like huge and ridiculous and over-the-top things and like really mixing like high and low and everyone just loved it.
It just sort of felt like she was she was this 2019 figure but she’s just like always been there doing that. It just looked totally different.
Jordan: Tell me about what it’s like to try to inhabit that kind of persona because you spoke to a number of people who who are Céline ‘s. I guess
Suzannah: yeah, so I approached this piece.
I mean typically when you’re writing a celebrity profile the ideal thing obviously is to spend time with that person and to you know, sort of follow the model where you spend three days with them and the publicist sends you out to go mini golfing or whatever and obviously in the case of somebody like Céline Dion that it’s just not really an option.
So I was really just trying to find a way to. See her in a different way and to think about like how I could get close to her without being with her. And actually it was also partly my I should give credit where it’s due to Danny Viola my editor at the walrus when we were just kind of knocking ideas around he brought up impersonators.
I was like, what about a piece that’s just all about the impersonators.
Jordan: But how do you impersonate Céline Dion?
Suzannah: Yeah. Yeah. Well very different ways. I mean. The thing that I learned about impersonation is that I mean, it kind of takes place on a spectrum and that people are doing different things with it.
Like there are like both of me. I mean the main difference the main distinction is essentially whether people are like look-alikes and their goal is to just present visually as Céline Dion and then maybe like sits for example, like doing drag your lip syncing like it’s all that sort of inhabiting somebody’s character and then there are vocal impersonators.
Who will perform as Céline like singing her songs? So I spent time with both and the way that they do it. I mean, I mean they all sort of have different approaches to it. But the thing that was I mean, I don’t know if I want to say it was surprising to me, but it was more than I could have hoped was.
The degree to which it’s almost sort of like a spiritual transformation that these people undergo that they really are trying to sort of inhabit and channel like her and some quality of like her Essence in her character and her being and they just. Like really adore her far above and beyond what I really could have expected.
I am for the most part I would say there were also some people who I didn’t necessarily include in the story, but who I talked to or researched or like looked around and there is a mode of becoming an impersonator where it’s more like you happen to have an incredible vocal expression and you happen to basically be an incredible vocalist and you apply that Talent too.
Mimicking Céline Dion the people who I ended up choosing for the story and ended up talking to were more people who were really like immersed in becoming her and it was really really interesting. It was really interesting to see them and to look at their performances and to and to talk to them about what they do.
It was quite fascinating.
Jordan: How do those people because. They’re impersonating Céline , but they’re also living their regular lives.
Jordan: How do you merge those two? And how do you be saline in public with all of the cause of all the people to impersonate? It’s a very odd one for Vegas, especially
Well, I mean and so it’s different for different people. But in a lot of cases, this is just sort of you know, they’re Freelancers and they live life the way that many. Zoo where this is a gig there self-employed they are negotiating their own contracts with people and sort of figuring and trying to figure out what their service is worth than what they can ask for and you know how much to invest in their costumes and in their makeup and it’s really just like anybody running a small business.
It’s just like a very odd very particular and very unique service that they’re offering. And yeah, they have very regular lives. They’re just people you know
Jordan: Has Céline ever met any of them?
Suzannah: So mostly know and actually a big part of my piece was really talking to people about their relationship to her specifically in light of the fact that they hadn’t met her.
There’s like a very big a longing on many of their parts to be close to her and to meet her but there’s also quite a lot of anxiety about. The fact that you know, you have dedicated your art and your craft and your livelihood to imitating a person you don’t know if they really are going to like that you’re there copycat.
So while I was writing the story one of the impersonators, I had been speaking to Stephen Wayne who is a drag performer. He had been in Vegas at the time for 20 years and so slightly longer than saline herself and they never met and he was really devastated by it. And then while I was writing the story, he got hired by selene’s people to perform in a sort of promotional video for her new world tour where he plays a Céline Dion impersonator.
So he plays himself playing saline and. And so they met like while I was writing the piece after I had met him and he texted me and like sent me a photo of the two of them on the set and he just talked about how wonderful she was and how gracious and there’s actually you can find some videos on YouTube of.
Like from like the making of video from this promo that they did and you know, there’s them, you know in the desert and he’s like wearing his sparkly Céline dress and she’s like wearing this ludicrous outfit and dancing around and talking to him about how much she appreciates him. And so that was really lovely that that connection got to happen and it was very lucky for me writing the story.
Jordan: Do we appreciate Céline Dion in Canada as much as they do in Vegas or as much as we should I guess because it’s always it’s always for a lot of us. Come back down to the are we appropriately proud of our national icons.
Suzannah: Yeah, I think that I think that lately we there’s been a real in just her increase in popularity in general.
I feel like Canadians are kind of seizing a little bit on that and being like, yeah, I know she’s one of ours, but
Jordan: But we haven’t really done that for her entire career like she was made fun of on South Park and Canadians were apologizing for her and.
Suzannah: Yeah, I mean, I feel like recently there’s been a turn like all of a sudden like just with this sudden sort of like the Céline I saw says they’re calling it.
I do feel like Canada’s it Canada. I find is always very quick to claim people when they’re doing well elsewhere. And so I feel like in a very only in very recent times has that kind of happened and I do think that Canada maybe has like the opportunity to appreciate Céline Dion in a way that Americans like never really fully can and for more on that I would recommend people read Carl Wilson.
This book at school blessed. Let’s talk about love and it’s sort of a an examination of kind of the hermeneutics of taste as evidenced by Céline Dion and and he has a really wonderful chapter about. Her relationship specifically to like quebecois music and to keep it cool history, but I think is really stunning.
So if people want further reading I recommend that
Jordan: Well that was kind of the last little bit I wanted to talk to you about is because she’s been in Vegas for most of the last 16 years how connected is she to quebecois culture and has she performed there. Is she going back?
Suzannah: Oh, yeah, she’s I mean she don’t know if I’m going to quote this right but in her autobiography at one point, she says that because she sorry this is kind of a roundabout answer but she performs like really rigorous vocal rest.
And like will not speak for days at a time to save her vocal cords, and one point in her autobiography. She says that silence is a country. I will always go back to just as always go back to Quebec. I just love that. She’s yeah shimmy. She considers herself a very very deeply rooted and Quebec and I know she certainly very much considers herself quebecois.
Also, I mean, I think anybody who you know sees her here’s her speak. There’s something sort of inevitably typical about. I think yeah, but I hope that doesn’t offend anyone.
Jordan: She’s a quebecois icon. I mean, yeah, lastly where does she go from here? So she’s not made any plans to go back to Vegas yet.
You mentioned a world tour we get new saline music as she capitalizing, I guess on on the Salinas on.
Suzannah: Oh she sure is. Yeah, she’s launching her twelfth studio album in English. I believe also called courage starting World Tour that I don’t think has any plan to end yet. Like they just kind of keep adding dates and.
Yeah, and also, I mean they’ve only released one track from the album so far. I believe I think it comes out in November but it’s sort of like an EDM dance like upbeat dance c-pop EDM hit so I think she’s also really exploring different sounds and you know, it’s a whole new saline
Jordan: Amazing. Thanks Suzannah.
Suzannah: All right. Thank you so much. It was really a pleasure.
Jordan: Suzannah Showler from The Walrus. That was the big story. For more from us including zero other episodes about Céline Dion so far. You can head to thebigstorypodcast.ca you can also share your Céline thoughts and tell me how wrong I was on our Twitter account at @thebigstoryfpn.
And of course this podcast and all our brother and sister podcast here the frequency podcast Network are available wherever you get them in your favorite app Google Stitcher Spotify pick. Claire Brassard is the lead producer of the big story Ryan Clarke and Stefanie Phillips her our associate producers and Annalise Nielsen is our digital editor. Thanks for listening. Have a great weekend. Listen to some saline. We’ll talk Monday.
Back to top of page