50 years of Céline Dion: a chest-punching, heart-melting animated timeline

Happy birthday, Queen Céline! We asked 6 Canadian artists to illustrate the life (and fashion) of a superstar.

Happy birthday, Queen Céline! We asked 6 Canadian artists to illustrate the life (and fashion) of a superstar

Long live the queen of CanCon. (Lauren Tamaki)

Céline Dion turns 50 this week, and since the moment she entered the world — belting a pitch-perfect high E that would melt bonhommes de neiges and make lumberjacks weep — Céline's never stopped moving.

She's so loved, in our country and beyond. I can't imagine a world without her.- Lauren Tamaki , artist

The pride of Charlemagne, Que. has been working a stage since childhood, and as special tribute on this milestone birthday, CBC Arts commissioned six Canadian artists to salute the queen of CanCon. From the Titanic era to her current fashion-monster moment, it's an animated timeline of her life and career. 

1973: Introducing Céline

(Siobhan Gallagher)

All 14 of the Dion sibs — baby Céline included — would perform at their mom and dad's piano bar back in the day, and there are stories of her singing songs on top of the family dinner table when she was barely out of Pampers. But this moment, animated by Siobhan Gallagher, illustrates a turning point in Céline's life.

At age five, Céline sang at her brother Michel's wedding, and as she once told CNN, it was the moment she discovered her superstar calling: "When I started to feel the love and the warmth of the audience, it got me. I said to myself, 'Really, this is what I want to do all my life. I want to be a singer.'"

Really, this is what I want to do all my life. I want to be a singer.- Céline Dion

Originally from Moncton, N.B., Gallagher's a New York-based artist and designer with some experience drawing young Canadian icons. (She illustrated the recent Penguin Classics Deluxe edition of Anne of Green Gables.) "I wanted to represent Céline's origin story," she says, "which is just a really cute image to picture: 13 young adults and children and her being the youngest."

"As a Canadian in the States, I become extra Canadian patriotic," says Gallagher. "I don't usually feel the need to defend Céline Dion, but when I'm here, if anyone says an ill word against her I'm like, 'No, no, no, no! She is a powerhouse!'"

1988: Céline wins Eurovision, wins over the world

(Celia Marquis)

By this point, Céline had spent her tweens and teens becoming a star in Quebec. At 12, she'd recorded her first song ("Ce n''était qu'un rêve"). At 13, she'd released her first album (La voix du bon Dieu) — going on to rack up Félix Awards like other kids earn hockey trophies.

But the Eurovision Song Contest, which she clinched by just one vote, was a significant step toward her inevitable bid for world domination, and soon after the win, she was recording her first English album, Unison (1990).

Featuring "Where Does My Heart Beat Now," the record was an international hit, going platinum in the States — and seven times platinum here in Canada — and laying the groundwork for a chart-topping decade of melodramatic power ballads.

It's kind of the moment the world embraced her.- Célia Marquis, artist

Montreal artist Célia Marquis grew up singing Céline's French pop hits, stuff like "Destin" from her 1995 album D'eux, so home perm era '80s Céline is before her time.

But Marquis says she was charmed watching Céline's Eurovision performance while she was researching which moment to illustrate. "She was so young and sort of down to earth," says Marquis. "It's kind of the moment the world embraced her, and I thought it was cute — so that's why I wanted to put the world on her shoulder."

"She's a great artist and she has a great sense of style" — and that includes the blazer/low-rise tutu combo she wore for Eurovision. "The wide shoulder pads were important for me to include."

Says Marquis: "She deserves to be celebrated."

1994: "A Canadian royal wedding"

(Kenzi Inouye)

In the liner notes for 1993's The Colour of My Love, Céline confessed a secret to the world: she was in love with her manager, the same man who'd been overseeing her career since she was 12, René Angélil.

He was 51. Céline was 25. And on Dec. 17, 1994 the couple married at Montreal's Notre Dame Basilica in front of family and famous-ish friends (David Foster), while hundreds of fans and reporters thronged outside on the steps.

"I really had no idea it was almost like a royal wedding — a Canadian royal wedding," says artist Kenzi Inouye. Based in Toronto, Inouye grew up the UK — and she admits she assumed the lady belting love songs on the radio was American until her Canadian parents set her straight.

"I think it's such a sweet story about her marriage, and about her and René and how they met, and how they knew each other for such a long period of time," says Inouye. Her piece is inspired by one of her favourite news photos from the wedding. "It was such a sweet and intimate image," says Inouye.

Bonus: it offers an extreme closeup of some bonkers bridal fashion. Packed with 2,000 crystals, Céline's headpiece was so heavy it was reportedly sewn onto her head.

1997: My Heart Will Go On...and on and on

(Amanda Di Genova)

The '90s were good to Canadian divas, and that's especially true for Céline. Back-to-back hit albums, Grammy wins and then — cue the tin flute — came Titanic.

Sure as all 90 pounds of Leonardo DiCaprio could've fit on that damned life raft (RIP Jack Dawson), there's one song that's synonymous with the pop star, and that's "My Heart Will Go On." Apparently both Céline and Titanic's director James Cameron hated the theme song on first listen, but the people were on it like Billy Zane on eyeliner. The movie's soundtrack debuted at No. 1 on U.S. Billboard, staying on top for 16 weeks before winning Grammys, a Golden Globe and even the Oscar.

"That was the peak song that made her," says Amanda Di Genova, artist and lifelong Céline fan. Growing up outside of Montreal, Di Genova says Cé​line's music was always playing at home, but when Titanic arrived, her mega-fandom reached a new level. "I already loved Céline, but I think at that point, that's when I started to recognize how powerful she was as a musician." In Di Genova's piece, Céline's reflection appears in the Heart of the Ocean — the Titanic diamond necklace she wore onstage at the Oscars.

Di Genova's designed merch for Canadian acts including Tegan and Sara, and her Montreal clothing brand, Elektrek, often features screenprinted portraits of celebs — including Titanic pin-up Leonardo DiCaprio. But Céline, she says, is more than a pop idol. "I think she's an inspiration," she says. "I think she's someone to look up to because she's worked hard and she's gone a long way, so it just goes to say, anything can happen. It doesn't matter where you're from."

2003: Céline goes Vegas

(Rosena Fung)

Viva Céline. Nobody, not even Elvis, has made more money off a Las Vegas revue. And it all began in March 2003, when Céline launched A New Day..., her 90-minute, Cirque du Soleil-inspired stage show that would run at Caesars Palace through 2007. Another concert residency — Céline —​ would follow in 2011, and it's still playing The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, though Céline herself is currently pressing pause on her marathon performance schedule while she recovers from surgery. (A hearing condition caused her to cancel some shows last week, and she's expected back May 22.)

Toronto illustrator Rosena Fung says she's been performing her own one-woman all-Céline cabaret from the moment she got this assignment. (Here's the Instagram comic to prove it.)

"I wanted lots of colour," she says of her Vegas-inspired GIF. "Everything about it is spectacle and I love that. It's jam-packed full of stuff, but I wanted to showcase how great she looked to." The GIF's an illustrated fashion montage of Céline's Vegas costumes. "Those outfits? They're magnificent," laughs Fung. "But beyond anything, just listening to her sing is really incredible. It's the kind of voice that gives me goosebumps."

Today: The re-invention of Céline

(Lauren Tamaki)

Whatever is happening with Céline right now, it's so much better than a comeback. It's not like she ever went away, for one thing, and in the last year, it's seemed like Céline's been taking on the world — red carpets, fashion shows and even kids' hockey games — with the same goofy, open-hearted enthusiasm that she's usually kept to the stage.

And then there's the fashion. There were moments of gold and there were flashes of light; there were things she should never do again; but then they always seemed right. Artist Lauren Tamaki says she's living for all of it.

"This is her time now," says Tamaki. "It's a renaissance."

For her tribute to Céline, the New York-based/Calgary-raised artist drew the superstar in the Stephane Rolland gown she wore to last spring's Billboard Music Awards. But unlike her actual Billboard Music Awards performance — a restrained but spot-on rendition of "My Heart Will Go On" —  Céline's beating her chest. It's a signature move, one reportedly labelled "The Céline Salute" by members of her inner circle.

This is her time now. It's a renaissance.-Lauren Tamaki , artist

Sticklers will note that the "salute" has not been seen in the wild for years, though it may be seared in the memory of anyone who watched the 1998 Oscars. According to Tamaki, the piece represents Céline's past and present hyper-dramatic glory: "classic Céline with new fashion Céline."

"I wanted to try and illustrate how I feel when a [chest bump] moment happens, so sparkles, lightning, sunshine, lightning," she laughs. "She controls the weather with her awesomeness."

"I think she represents Canada so well, just because she's a goofy mofo," jokes the artist.

"She's so loved, in our country and beyond. I can't imagine a world without her."​

Corrections

  • A previously published version of this article misstated Céline Dion's age at the time she married René Angelil (she was 26, not 21) and the release date of her album D'eux (1995, not 1996).
    Mar 28, 2018 1:15 PM ET

About the Author

Leah Collins

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.