Music

20 Canadian songs turning 20 this year

From Shania Twain's 'Up!' to Sum 41's 'Still Waiting,' it's a 2002 party.

From Shania Twain's 'Up!' to Sum 41's 'Still Waiting,' it's a 2002 party

Chad Kroeger, Celine Dion and Avril Lavigne circa 2002. (Vince Bucci, Michael Winter, Scott Gries/Getty Images)

What better way to celebrate the new year and 2022 than a tribute to all the best Canadian songs turning 20 this year?

2002 was a wild year for the country's music scene: pop-punk and emo were making friends, the burgeoning indie-rock reckoning was in its infancy, and some of the biggest artists in the world were breaking new ground. 

From powerhouse debuts to forgotten gems to songs that somehow feel fresher now than they did then, here's a snapshot of Canadian music circa 2022.


'Beautiful Blue,' Holly McNarland

"This is where I live/ this is where I do my screaming" takes on a whole new meaning in 2022 as we head into the third year of the pandemic. Holly McNarland is a terminally underrated artist, and this gentle storm of a song is the perfect invitation into her 2002 record, Home is Where my Feet Are. Andrea Warner

 

'It's not Fair,' Glenn Lewis

Revisiting Glenn Lewis's World Outside my Window in 2022 is mind-blowing for a couple of reasons. First, while soul/R&B has flourished in Canada during the 20 years since his album was released, it's clear that the songwriting has become much more formulaic. It's refreshing to hear how free and even improvisational Lewis could be, especially in a narrative song such as "It's not Fair." Second, his singing is just incredible, with unmistakable strains of Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder in his emotional delivery as he processes his betrayal by his wife and best friend. Has there been another male soul singer in Canada with his vocal abilities? — Robert Rowat

 

'Hands Clean,' Alanis Morissette

A narrative that is new to no one at the end of 2021: blunt, gutsy songwriters like Alanis Morissette walked so that artists like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo could run. And, on the heels of "All Too Well (10-minute version) (Taylor's version)," re-examining Morissette's 2002 hit feels like watching the prequel in living colour. "We'll fast forward to a few years later/ and no one knows except the both of us/ and I have honoured your request for silence/ and you've washed your hands clean of this," Morissette sings on this coming-of-age pop-rock ballad about a young woman stifled by an older man. In her borderline spoken-word approach — just like Swift — the song blends rightful frustration with empowered hindsight, concluding that both Morissette and Swift's experiences were nearly secret, but, man, were they real. And they have every right not to forget anytime soon. — Jess Huddleston


'Still Waiting,' Sum 41

After its 2001 breakout album, All Killer no Filler, Ajax band Sum 41 doubled down on its heavy rock and punk influences. Lead single "Still Waiting" is a prime example: singer Deryck Whibley ramping his vocals up to a shout, battling against a wall of guitars, while still maintaining an infectious chorus that had fans singing along. As the band's music has evolved over the years, it hasn't always been able to strike a successful balance of pop and rock, but its sophomore album, Does This Look Infected?, found Sum 41 still at its prime as pop-punk leaders of the early 2000s. — Melody Lau 


'Feels Like Home,' Chantal Kreviazuk

If you weren't already a superfan of Chantal Kreviazuk's ubiquitous, early 2000s piano ballads, you certainly crossed over after hearing "Feels Like Home" score the turning point scene in the seminal 2003 rom-com How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson's characters finally lean into their authentic feelings for each other, while the twinkle of Kreviazuk's piano flutters in, capturing the hearts of teen girls everywhere who might have also been grappling with the desire to find that "home." Twenty years later, I still think about the concept of home a lot — and how it can most certainly reside in people — so kudos to Kreviazuk for that timeless sentiment and, of course, the endlessly delightful piano. — JH


'I'm With You,' Avril Lavigne

"Sk8er Boi" and "Complicated" were, arguably, the biggest hits on Avril Lavigne's hugely successful debut, 2002's Let Go, but everyone knows that "I'm With You" was the secret star. It's a song that takes big, messy feelings, names them explicitly — "'Cause nothing's going right/ and everything's a mess/ and no one likes to be alone" — and then the narrator asks for what she needs. It's a perfect model of vulnerability! Plus, Lavigne absolutely crushes the vocal performance, particularly as she belts out the final moments, a full crescendo of frustration, angst and hope. — AW


'Pulmonary Archery,' Alexisonfire

Most people likely discovered St. Catharines rock band Alexisonfire through "Pulmonary Archery," one of its earliest songs. Even though the band had only been together for about a year when it released this track, off of its 2002 self-titled debut, all the signatures of Alexisonfire were there. From the built-up tension of the song's intro, to George Pettit's guttural howls and Dallas Green's (and later, Wade MacNeil's) contrasting melodies, all captured as a chaotic, whirlwind performance in the memorable music video, Alexisonfire came fully formed and felt like lightning in a bottle that couldn't be replicated again. — ML


'Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,' Broken Social Scene

Almost every song from Broken Social Scene's seminal album, You Forgot it in People, is worth celebrating as it approaches its 20th anniversary this year, but "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl" has always stood out as one of the album's best tracks. The song is the beating heart of the album, and Emily Haines gives one of her best performances ever, looking back at her teenage self through a cocktail of nostalgia, love and compassion. Most Broken Social Scene songs feel like a collective experience, a cacophony of voices finding comfort as a united force; "Anthems" is a rare moment where the noise fades away, but that feeling of embrace remains. — ML


'Woodstock (arr. Vince Mendoza),' Joni Mitchell

Following their successful collaboration on the 2000 release Both Sides Now, which won two Grammys and a Juno Award, Joni Mitchell reunited with arranger Vince Mendoza for Travelogue, a double album of orchestral/jazz versions of 22 songs from Mitchell's catalogue. Mitchell in 2002 was a very different kind of singer from the clear soprano who first recorded "Woodstock" for 1970's Ladies of the Canyon. If her voice is grainier and more limited in range, it's also imbued with greater wisdom and depth. Mendoza went on to win a Grammy for his splendid "Woodstock" arrangement. — RR


'Get Ready,' Shawn Desman

Shawn Desman's whole schtick might seem cheesy now, but you can't deny that "Get Ready" is the perfect blend of early 2000s R&B and pop. It's an earworm that still holds up two decades later, and everyone knows it's time to find the dance floor when "This is how we rock it in the T-dot" rings from the speakers. The music video is clearly constructed in the image of post-*NSYNC Justin Timberlake with dance sequences reminiscent of Usher, but the groove is just so Toronto. — Kelsey Adams 


'Living Room,' Tegan and Sara

The third album from Tegan and Sara Quinn marked a definitive new path for the duo. If it Was You is the moment the sisters moved from folk-inspired indie rock to a more pop-leaning lane — but the album still retains a bit of grit, especially on "Living Room" with the repeated, twangy banjo chord at its heart. It was written and sung by Tegan, pleading and voyeuristic, as she sings about watching someone through their window. It sounds as if the person being watched is in the throes of heartbreak, and all Tegan wants to do is alleviate their suffering: "I hope I never figure out who broke your heart/ and if I do, if I do/ well I'd spend all night losing sleep/ I'd spend the night and I lose my mind." The situation becomes increasingly dire and the song picks up a frantic urgency as Tegan's raspy voice agonizes emphatically. — KA


'I'm Alive,' Céline Dion

That opening hum is undeniable, and with it Céline Dion introduced fans to her seventh English-language album, A New Day Has Come. "I'm Alive" is built on what nonjudgmentally sounds like a Casio preset, and it is a certified jam, bolstered by Dion's soaring voice and those uplifting harmonies. It's classic Dion meets affirmational pop anthem, in juxtaposition to the album's first single, "A New Day has Come," which is no less optimistic but instead really leans into that slow, dramatic piano. Written by Kristian Lundin and Andreas Carlsson, who worked with Dion on 1999's "That's the Way it Is," "I'm Alive" also found a home in a kids film: Stuart Little 2, starring Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie.Holly Gordon


'A Case Of You,' Diana Krall

On the 20th anniversary of Diana Krall's Grammy Award-winning Live in Paris, please spend a moment appreciating her masterful interpretation of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You." Krall's version takes the iconic song in so many different directions — tempo, key, emotional terrain — but honours the original with the kind of reverence that only comes with deep understanding. — AW


'Another Miracle,' One Ton

The biggest hit from One Ton's second (and final) album, Abnormal Pleasures, was the lavishly titled "Supersexworld," which attained Top 10 status in Canada and won a Félix Award for best dance song. But the Quebec City-based trio, known for introducing global music sounds to the dance/pop idiom, also had success with "Another Miracle," a lyrically effusive song that recalls the B-52s as well as that pervasive, late-'90s touchstone "Tubthumping." It's kind of adorable how the song begins with the (then new) sound of a flash loading on a digital camera. — RR


'Innocent,' Our Lady Peace

We are
We are all innocent
We are all innocent
We are
We are.

If you attended an Our Lady Peace show in the early aughts, those lyrics will bring back sweaty memories. "Innocent," the second single off the band's fifth studio album, Gravity, is vivid in detail and anthemic in chorus, making it a live show staple. It came in second on the charts to "Somewhere out There," Our Lady Peace's most successful single to date and the lead on Gravity, but it's hard to deny the shout-along status of "Innocent" — plus those tinny, opening drums are unmistakable. — HG


'Up!,' Shania Twain

Shania Twain had already been crowned the queen of pop-country crossover by the time her fourth album came out, but Up! gave the Timmins, Ont., singer a chance to revel in her command of both genres. Released in three versions — Red Version (pop), Green Version (country) and Blue Version (supposedly inspired by music from India) — 2001's Up! was decadent from start to finish, and its title track quickly became a fan favourite. The pop version of "Up!" climbed the charts, still clinging slightly to its country twang, and with delightful sing-along backup additions from a chorus of men. The rest of the album might not have aged as well, but "Up!" has stood the test of time. — HG


'Brother Down,' Sam Roberts

Before his official 2003 debut album, there was a six-song EP, The Inhuman Condition, which featured three now-classic Sam Roberts bangers: "Brother Down," "Don't Walk Away Eileen" and "Where Have all the Good People Gone?" It was "Brother Down" that immediately stood out from the lot, with its hazy, psychedelic guitars and Roberts' understated vocals. The Montreal rocker quickly became the Canadian counterpart to the indie-surf, retro-inspired rock icons of the early aughts — think Jack Johnson, Ben Harper — navigating his late 20s with no shortage of existential angst and stomping guitar jams. — JH


'Dans un océan,' Ariane Moffatt

An album that Montreal's Voir said renewed the city's electro-pop scene at the turn of the century, Ariane Moffatt's debut album, Aquanaute, swiftly pushed the singer into the limelight, garnering her three Felix Awards and 11 ADISQ nominations. On Aquanaute, Moffatt wanted to transform her acoustic music into something more electronic, and with the collaboration of bandmates Joseph Marchand (guitar) and Francis Collard (producer/beatmaker), you can hear that now trademark push and pull over the album's 15 tracks. "Dans un océan," a standout even 20 years later, is built on electric guitar and light percussion that Moffatt recorded using her bathtub, giving it an underwater feel that is dreamy and atmospheric (and not gimmicky). It's a world Moffatt has continued to build, as recently as on her 2021 album, Incarnat.  — HG


'Hero,' Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott

It took years after this song was released for me to realize that it was part of the 2002 Spiderman soundtrack. That's probably because I didn't see the music video until about a decade later. I was seven when it was released, so not exactly the demo for music video shows like MuchOnDemand or The Wedge ,where it might have played on loop. In my young mind (when I heard it on the radio while carpooling to school), Chad Kroeger was singing about finding a hero who could save our war-worn world, but that maybe we weren't so worthy of receiving that aid. I know, very prescient for a seven-year-old. Impassioned lyrics like: "And they say/ that a hero could save us/ I'm not gonna stand here and wait," or "Look what love gave us/ a world full of killing/ and blood spilling," just cemented this idea in my mind. Imagine my surprise when I found it was actually the lead single for a superhero movie about a teenager who can shoot webs from his wrists. Regardless of the song's intended purpose, the earnestness of its lyrics still strike me all these years later. — KA


'It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken,' the Tragically Hip

Twenty years later, I still don't entirely know what this song's about, but it's one of my favourites by the Hip. In part, it's the poetic constellations of meaning in Gord Downie's lyrics:

For a good life we just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go
Go somewhere we're needed
Find somewhere to grow
Grow somewhere we're needed

But it's also the tension of the guitars and then the drums that fill out under him as Downie expands his voice upwards and out, like a window opening and a blast of fresh air breathing new life into a space. — AW

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