Northern Bubble: Growing Up with Canadian Pop Culture

Hockey isn’t my thing. I’ve never had a double-double or an iced cappuccino. Winter is the worst. I’ve never owned a Tragically Hip album. I don’t say “sorry” when I mean to say “excuse me” or “oops.” I roll my eyes anytime someone says they like a celebrity even more because they’re Canadian. You could say that I’m not that great at being “Canadian.”

The thing is, though, my Canadian-ness comes out in full-force when it comes to pop culture.

The other day, Shawn Desman was in the news. Who? That’s exactly what an American asked in a pop culture Facebook group I’m in. Somehow, his Canada Day concert in Wasaga Beach becoming a free event after only selling 17 tickets became national news and had trickled into Americans’ newsfeeds.

I gave a full run-down:

“Shawn Desman is a (barely famous) Canadian pop star. He had a few Canada-only hits in the early-mid 2000s including “Get Ready,” “Shook” and my personal fave, “Red Hair.” 
His name is actually Shawn Fernandes but claims that his friends called him “Des-man,” hence his stage name.
His brother, Danny Fernandes (not Desman) had a (Canada-only) hit in the mid-late 2000s called “Fantasy” which was actually a bop.
Wasaga Beach is basically the Jersey Shore of Canada (although it’s on a lake, not an ocean) and is allegedly a shitshow of party bros all summer long.
And yes, Wasaga Beach was where Sean Cameron from Degrassi deafened the kid in one ear.
And no, Shawn Desman isn’t Shawn Mendes.
His debut single, “Get Ready” refers to Toronto as “the T-Dot,” which was one of the city’s nicknames before Drake coined The 6ix. Which brings us to Degrassi: The Next Generation’s hangout, The Dot."

That, folks, is how my brain works.

Last year, I spent a good portion of the Canada 150 weekend creating a collage of pop culture luminaries who are household names in Canada and not so much elsewhere. Buffy Ste.-Marie, David Suzuki and Sarah Polley are deservedly big names here, but not as recognized for their talents elsewhere. I posted the collage in the aforementioned Facebook group, and we discussed other beloved Canada-only famous Canadians like Rick Mercer, Jonathan Torrens and Don Cherry. Buffalonians chimed in with their love of and exposure to The Tragically Hip and other Americans made references to Robin Sparkles’ “Let’s Go to the Mall.”

Canadian Content regulations had my generation convinced that a lot of middling rock and pop acts were superstars. I grew up loving Candi, Alanis (pre-Morissette, though I enjoy that incarnation as well), Kim Mitchell and Gowan. By the time I hit my teens, I saw through it. I knew MuchMusic played awful bands like The Tea Party, I Mother Earth and Great Big Sea incessantly because they had to. For the next generation, this would be Simple Plan, Hedley and Billy Talent. I mean, good for them for being able to tour mid-size venues in mid-size cities across Canada, but without these rules? It’d be doubtful.

As outdated and problematic as CanCon rules are, I had the good fortune of being exposed to some really cool music from this era like The Pursuit of Happiness, Pure, the Gandharvas’ “First Day of Spring,” “Funkmobile” by Bass is Base and Meryn Cadell’s anthemic spoken-word masterpiece, “The Sweater.”

Growing up in the generation between Degrassi’s first and Next in this Canada-centric bubble, I was entertained as a child by both Mr. Dressup and Mr. Rogers. When we got the news that Kurt Cobain died, it was from Monika Deol and not Kurt Loder. When Party of Five started airing, it took me and my sister a long time to stop referring to Neve Campbell as “Daisy from Catwalk.” Our crushes would vary from Christian Slater to Pat Mastroianni, from Rider Strong to Fabrizio Filippo, from Damon Albarn to David Usher.

Names like Pamela Anderson, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Ivana Santilli, Nelly Furtado and Chris Murphy casually came up in conversation while spending time with family on Canada Day last year. Recently, I had a laugh with a group of people about how Ben Mulroney always pronounced Gabriel Aubry’s name “overly-French” when he was in the news for dating Halle Berry. I’ve Cansplained about how The Hills Aftershow came to be to many an American;  MTV Canada took over TalkTV’s license and they needed talk show content. And in what other country can you make Reitmans jokes about Duchess Meghan Markle? These are uniquely Canadian pop culture conversations that I truly do enjoy!

So, even though I can barely name a hockey player who isn’t Wayne Gretzky and I laugh when someone asks if I watched the Junos, I can still tell you that Paulina Gretzky loves to wear bikinis and the Juno award for Best New Artist used to be called Most Promising Male/Female Vocalist. I worship both Celine Dion’s music and her rebranding as a fashion icon, courtesy of stylist, Law Roach. Gino Vannelli, Grimes, Junior Boys and Queen Carly Rae Jepsen get a lot of play on my stereo. I cheered when Jully Black told Jeanne Beker to take her feelings to the altar. I’m in my 30s and not a parent and I still watch new episodes of Degrassi: Next Class (it’s still very groundbreaking). And Schitt’s Creek is one of the best comedies on TV, Canadian or otherwise!

I’m definitely a bit smug that I’ll never relate to a pandering Tim Horton’s commercial. But that’s not the only way to be Canadian. I’m Canadian in my own way. I’ve found my own identity as a curious consumer of pop culture. Canadian Content regulations may not have made me a huge fan of the art that was pushed, but this niche exposure is something that has helped craft the way I experience entertainment in a very critical way.

P.S. Busy Ramone was way cooler than Busy Philipps could ever dream to be!