“What the hell?”
Said the Arcade Fire’s front man, Win Butler, at the Grammy ceremony last Sunday.
What is going on? How can a band from that northern, laid back, polite nation of immigrants and aboriginals grab the most important Grammy award for best album of the year in the cultural centre of American mainstream music? Those present at the award ceremony responded with “Who?” when Barbara Streisand, a seasoned actress and singer, could not even speak its name, seemingly stumbling onto the album’s title “The Sssssssuburbs…”
At the post-Grammy press conference, Win Butler, the band’s lead singer was surprised and shared it had never entered his mind that the band had a real chance of winning. Considering the other candidates, already widely known artists in the mainstream music world, it indeed was a bit of a coup. Or was it?
Not so for those who already knew the three albums the band produced, had attended Arcade Fire’s many exuberant concerts during the ten years of their existence, or listened to Rich Terfry’s program on CBC Two.
Immediately, the media pundits started speculating about the reasons for this surprise award. Could it just be this band IS as good as that and DID deserve the award, that it’s not about rap not being popular with the 1000 voting members, not about sales of records or about having a record deal with a big record company that determines whether the music is any good, and most importantly, that the votes were cast by the 1000 musicians and artist to indeed encourage creativity and originality?
Arcade Fire received in 2008 Meteor Music Award for Best International Album and the 2008 Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year for their second studio album, Neon Bible. They also received nominations for the Best Alternative Music Album Grammy for all three of their studio albums and a day ago received the 2011 Brit Award for Best International Album for The Suburbs (Wikipedia).
It appears that Canadians slowly have gained respect on the continent and in the world. People elsewhere in the world don’t mind being associated with Canadians, a bit like dropping the name of a solid reference when applying for a position.
In Europe, Canadians have been very popular since the troops liberated the north European continent as part of the allied force in WWII; most Europeans feel indebted to the nation forever. Peacekeepers have played a small but solid role around the world for decades. Afghanistan has been retained for its citizens by Canadian forces in a major role, together with other UN nations. Canadian governments refused to be co-opted into the Iraq invasion by the USA without evidence of so-called weapons of mass destruction. American deserters always have found a refuge in Canada.
Refugees and immigrants alike want to move to Canada and make their life once admitted unencumbered and with rights. Its Medicare system was quoted in movies and political forums as an example of the feasibility and need for universal medical care in the US.
In the events surrounding the economic crisis of 2008 caused by ruthless banks, unethical traders and a de-regulated US financial system, Canada looked mighty good after the storm had subsided. The Canadian banking system had remained intact while worldwide it was not. Canada certainly has survived better than most nations during these last decades in most aspects.
Being Canadian long might have carried somewhat of negative image: that of an unimaginative and boring, unimportant cousin to our smarter and rambunctious US neighbours. That seems to have changed now enough to be noticed. Maybe we are smarter than we thought. Maybe we do deserve awards.
Many Canadian born musicians, actors and authors incubated their art in this country and when finding fame and fortune elsewhere, seem to be aware of and express their appreciation of their Canadian roots. US born citizens do not hesitate to travel and settle in Canada and also can become successful. Two of Arcade’ Fire’s musicians hail from Texas and immigrated to Montreal.
Could it be that the cautious and unassuming characteristics of the Canadian national personality, including its governments and institutions, has functioned to our advantage as a survival strategy? Canada is after all a small player amidst larger, more monopolizing and (formerly) powerful nations. Canadian character traits of caution combined with intelligence might just be an evolutionary adaptation, its results now more widely recognized and possibly, its strategies even emulated by others.
On a smaller scale, it appears that the “coup” in the music world by Arcade Fire’s Grammy award is a sign of this recognition and maybe a sign of bigger things to come.
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