By PETER STEVENSON JAN. 16, 2016
Last October, at the Louis Vuitton spring 2016 women’s fashion show on the outskirts of Paris, a male beauty in a white T-shirt, white-and-black bomber jacket and black pants waded into a blizzard of flashbulbs and cries of “Xavier!” As he took his seat between Michelle Williams and Catherine Deneuve, fashion editors tilted their heads. Who was this man? Why was he in the front row?
A quick Internet search would have told them that he was the 26-year-old filmmaker Xavier Dolan, a darling of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the star of a new advertising campaign for Louis Vuitton’s Ombré collection who would go on to direct Adele’s “Hello” video.
But the notion that our neighbor to the north is a frozen cultural wasteland populated with hopelessly unstylish citizens is quickly becoming so outdated as to be almost offensive. Two weeks after the Louis Vuitton show, Justin Trudeau, the muscular, blue-eyed, social-media-savvy son of the former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was swept into power, along with his Liberal Party, in a surprise win over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
In the months since his election, Mr. Trudeau, 44, the 6-foot-2 self-described feminist, who has been a television actor, snowboarding instructor and amateur boxer, has assumed the role of world leader with a heart. In December, to the delight of the Twitterati, he welcomed a planeload of Syrian refugees with the phrase “You’re safe at home now,” while helping them into warm coats.
Vogue magazine wasted no time anointing Mr. Trudeau the “New Young Face of Canadian Politics,” noting that “the new prime minister is dashing in his blue suit and jaunty brown shoes.” Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post could not resist running a 2006 photo of a louche Mr. Trudeau, in torn bluejeans and an unbuttoned black chemise, with the headline “Hunky Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Is the JFK Jr. of Canada.”
United States citizens grimacing over a political and cultural landscape riven by a brassy real estate kingpin, endlessly recycled superheroes and reality-show dopes may be forgiven for looking northward with yearning.
As Mr. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau (along with their three young children, Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien), create a Canadian Camelot, they are casting light on a wider eruption already in progress.
An expanse once stereotyped as the home to square-jawed Mounties and beer-swilling “hosers” has quietly morphed into a multicultural breeding ground that has given us the Weeknd, who can’t feel his face; the director Sarah Polley, who makes films of subtle power; and the upstart fashion designer Tanya Taylor, whose creations have been worn by Michelle Obama.
The rapper Drake, of Toronto, comes in for a little ribbing now and then, but none other than Jay Z called him the Kobe Bryant of hip-hop. And even the latest album from Justin Bieber, the pride of Stratford, Ontario (population 33,430), is — gulp! — pretty terrific.
It’s all very exciting, eh? But still … Canada? The land of hyper-politeness and constant apology? The home of maple syrup, poutine, the gentle sport of curling and 10 percent of the world’s forests? The country that Spy magazine once said had “cultural Epstein-Barrness”?
As Joe Zee, 47, the Toronto-raised editor in chief of Yahoo Style, said: “There was always the feeling of being in the shadow of the U.S. For a treat we would take family trips to Niagara Falls, and I’d always want to cross the border and go to Buffalo, to go shopping! Buffalo, N.Y., was my rainbow growing up — it’s where the pot of gold was.”
“Even our national anthem sounds like a sigh: ‘O Canada,’” said the writer and editor Sarah Nicole Prickett, who was born in London, Ontario, and has written for T: The New York Times Style Magazine. “Drake, more than anyone, is the prophet who’s changing that, because, unlike a lot of talented Canadians before him, he accepts embarrassment as a cost of making big art.”
The niceness factor is something that may distinguish Canadian cultural producers. “The first month I lived in Manhattan, in the spring of 2012, I heard that I was ‘nice’ from seven people,” Ms. Prickett said. “That’s when I realized I was Canadian.” But like her confreres Grimes, Ms. Polley and the Weeknd, Ms. Prickett does not produce work that is meant to comfort.
True, Canada has delivered sultans of cool in the past. Amid the polite folk rock of Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray, there was the melancholy genius of Joni Mitchell, who was hip enough to win the blessing of Charles Mingus. And we would be foolish to forget the alternately sensitive and raucous Neil Young, who never met an expectation he did not defy. (“Obviously people are delighted with the change that has taken place,” Mr. Young, a California resident, said after Mr. Trudeau’s election. “It’s very positive news.”)
And let us not ignore the coolest cat in a hat, Leonard Cohen, still capable of multiple encores at 81.
Then there are the Canadian kings and queens of comedy like David Steinberg, Lorne Michaels, Mike Myers, Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara, who started out as foils to mainstream American pop culture and ended up shaping it.
Canadians have always been funny, according to the Toronto-born editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter. “S.J. Perelman used to think that Stephen Leacock was the funniest writer in the world,” Mr. Carter said, referring to the multifaceted author who moved to Canada from his native England at age 6. “And he was. The trouble is, the self-deprecation so regularly on display is often lost on Americans. Now Marty Short is the funniest person in the world — although he’s far too modest to admit it.”
Mr. Zee agrees that Canada has not become hip all at once, with the election of the mediagenic Mr. Trudeau. It is partly a dawning of self-recognition.
“We’ve always had Frank Gehry,” he said.
Below: The Canadians Making the Nation Cool
Toronto-born songwriter, rapper, singer, producer. Age 25. Lives in Los Angeles. Born Abel Tesfaye, to Ethiopian parents. Rolling Stone described his music as “drug-drenched, indie-rock-sampling, sex-dungeon R&B.” Reportedly dating Bella Hadid, a model who hopes to compete in equestrian events at the Olympics this year.
Toronto-born director and actor. Age 37. Feature-length directorial debut: “Away From Her,” based on a short story by another Canadian, Alice Munro. Follow-up: “Take This Waltz,” named after a song by Leonard Cohen. Then a personal documentary, “Stories We Tell.” Scores high on the Tomatometer.
Born in London, Ontario; lives in Toronto. Age 37. Gained fame with “Mean Girls.” Melted male hearts in “Wedding Crashers.” Declined to appear nude on a Vanity Fair cover with Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johansson and Tom Ford. Critics adored her Oscar-nominated normcore turn in “Spotlight.”
From Toronto. Age 46. A former “Daily Show” correspondent who, with the coming “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” on TBS, may rescue late night from the doldrums of male domination that have plagued it since Fox gave Joan Rivers the heave-ho.
Toronto-born rapper. Age 29. White mother, black father, raised Jewish. Building a house in Toronto, where he named Fring’s , a restaurant owned in part by a business partner. The video for his song “Hotline Bling” has been viewed nearly 350 million times on YouTube.
Big-time movie star, avatar of 21st-century masculinity. Age 35. Born in London, Ontario; lives in Los Angeles. Secretly menacing. Roger Ebert likened him to Steve McQueen; The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern went with Marlon Brando.
Also known as Wondagurl. Music producer. Age 18. Born in Mississauga, Ontario. Co-produced “Crown” for Jay Z’s 2013 album, “Magna Carta.” Has also added her magic to tracks by Rihanna, Drake and Lil Wayne.
Editor in chief of Yahoo Style. Age 47. Born in Hong Kong, moved to Toronto at age 1. Cool hair. Makes fashion accessible through his tweets and television appearances. A regular on the fashion and lifestyle show “FABLife.”
Fashion designer. Age 30. Raised in Toronto. Finalist for the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. Aside from Michelle Obama, those who have worn her clothes include Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Studied finance at McGill University. Lives in New York.
Montreal-born fashion designer. Age 38. British mother, Turkish father. Lives in London. His brand, Erdem, started in 2005 and has been worn by Keira Knightley, Chloë Sevigny and Marion Cotillard.
Singer, cultural force, Calvin Klein model, age 21. Lives in Beverly Hills, Calif. Can speak French. Pleaded no-contest in 2014 when charged with a misdemeanor after egging a neighbor’s home.
Director who shared (with Jean-Luc Godard) the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Age 26. Born in Montreal. Directed Adele’s “Hello” video. As a child, Mr. Dolan saw “Titanic,” directed by another Canadian, James Cameron, more than 100 times.
Sarah Nicole Prickett
Founding editor of the lit-erotic Adult magazine. Journalist. Essayist. Age 30. Has written for n+1, The New Inquiry, The Globe and Mail, Interview, Bookforum, The New Republic, Hazlitt.
Rapper, 23. Born Daystar Peterson in Toronto to a Dutch mother and a father from Barbados. Video for his song “Say It” has more than 32 million YouTube views. Signed to Interscope Records, which will release his first album this year. (Look out, Drake.)
Co-founder, co-owner, Vice Media. Host of the HBO series “Vice,” which drops Mr. Smith and others into global “hot spots,” resulting in a “Jackass”-goes-to-journalism-school spectacle. Age 46. Raised in Ottawa. 21st Century Fox bought 5 percent of Vice for $70 million.
Singer and songwriter often compared to Björk, Enya and Siouxsie Sioux. Age 27. Born Claire Boucher in Vancouver. Studied neuroscience at McGill University. Made news when she published an anti-hard-drugs post on her Tumblr.
Editor and publisher of that lush style book Monocle magazine. Age 47. Print evangelist. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba; raised in Toronto; lives mainly in New York. Writes a column for The Financial Times, “The Fast Lane,” about his high-end travels.
© 2016 The New York Times Company
Back To Topic: With the Rise of Justin Trudeau, Canada Is Suddenly ... Hip?