Volume 96, Issue 89
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

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America's musical customs

The line "American woman, stay away from me," is arguably one of the most recognizable lines in Canadian music history. Yet despite its warning, most Canadian artists/bands look to lady America for success.

Randy Bachman and The Guess Who were the first Canadian band to break into America and receive commercial success when they hit number 1 on the United States charts in 1970 with the single "American Woman." Since then, numerous Canadian musicians have attempted to infiltrate America with the same success, though the majority fail.

Is it essential for a Canadian act to make it in the U.S. in order to truly be successful?

It would be nice to answer the above question with a "no" and point to groups like The Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo as evidence to the contrary, but these two bands are also prime examples of Canadian acts that have been hindered by being Canadian.

The Hip's music is littered with Canadian references, making it difficult to sell outside of our own borders. Blue Rodeo openly admits they have been trying for years to break into the U.S. without any success. No matter how acclaimed both have become here at home, neither have seen much prosperity down south.

In most cases, as a musician, it is your goal to get your music heard on a global scale by as many people as possible. For this reason, people turn towards the big label market in the U.S. as the gateway to the international community.

The kind of Canadian bands that do break into the American mainstream are very rarely distinctly Canadian acts. Americans tend to accept music more if they are able to relate it to something. Nickleback has thus been associated with Creed, Celine Dion with Barbra Streisand and Sum 41 with Blink 182. This causes more creative or distinctive Canadian bands to have a very difficult time finding success in the U.S. market.

Many less successful bands often get nabbed by American labels too quickly and then dropped before they have a chance to develop.

Sadly, the majority of major Canadian artists who have achieved recognition in the U.S., such as Neil Young, are not even commonly known to be Canadian.

All of these factors have led to groups who are actually able to capture a piece of the U.S. market staying in the U.S., and not returning home in fear of losing their good fortune. The Barenaked Ladies demonstrated this when they scheduled an entire tour without a Canadian date.

The current surplus of Canadian artists hitting it big in the U.S. will most likely be the closest we get to a "Canadian invasion."

It is refreshing to see a Canadian legend like the Guess Who's Randy Bachman home in Canada touring. No matter where you end up, you should never forget where you came from.




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