Monday, November 11, 2013

ON CÉLINE DION | Music commentary for Le Journal de Montréal in Canada

QUEBEC |  Canadian journalist Raphaél Gendron-Martin of Le Journal de Montréal interviewed me about my views on the release of Céline Dion's new album Loved Me Back to Life. It was her first English-language studio album since Taking Chances in 2007, so naturally it's big news.

Raphaél published a thoughtful and well-researched article, in which he interviewed various members of the English-language media (including Robin Leach).

I very much enjoyed being interviewed about Céline for this French-language Canadian newspaper. I did actually say a lot more about her and her new album. Scroll down to read the complete text of the interview I gave Le Journal de Montréal.

Raphaél's «Le retour d’une valeur sûre» article appeared in French on November 6, 2013 in the Canadian publication. It was subtitled «Les médias étrangers saluent l’arrivée d’un nouvel album de Céline». 

See more at

I was happy to help Gendron-Martin, who charmingly tweeted his article as soon as it was published online.

To prepare his article, Raphaël asked me these questions:
  • What's the importance of a new Celine Dion's album in today's industry?
  • How can Celine Dion be still relevant compared to the other pop artists?
  • When you hear the name "Celine Dion" today, what do you first think of?
  • How do you think being "permanently" in Las Vegas had changed her career compared to a touring artist?
It turns out that Raphaël is quite an expert on Céline Dion, as evidenced by this tweet where he is writing at a junket while surrounded by Céline's glamorous photos.
As is often the case, I offered the U.S. perspective on cultural matters, just as I recently offered an Irish radio the U.S. perspective on the conviction of Bradley Manning.

In «Le retour d’une valeur sûre», Raphaël quoted me as saying:
Selon Randy Gener, critique new-yorkais pour Critical Stages et ­ancien contributeur du New York Daily News, l’arrivée d’un nouvel album pour Céline Dion apportera de la nouveauté au public qui ne pense à elle que pour ses spectacles à Las Vegas et pour les reprises du Titanic à la télévision. 
«La question est maintenant de voir si sa réputation sera suffisante pour créer du profit dans une industrie maintenant dominée par les ­extravagances de Lady Gaga ou encore un rappeur coréen. L’image de Céline dépend entièrement de sa merveilleuse voix. Mais je me ­demande si ce sera assez pour se traduire en immense succès de vente pour l’album.»
Man, he made me sound so trenchant!

Raphaël was courteous and professional. I am thrilled that he got a cover story for his work. That's super-cool.

Like I said, I enjoyed being interviewed about Céline for this French-language Canadian newspaper. I did actually say a lot more about her and her new album, so I am posting here the entire interview I gave Le Journal de Montréal.

Raphaël G.-Martin of Le Journal de Montréal: What's the importance of a new Céline Dion's album in today's industry?
RG: Céline Dion has not released an English-language album in six years. "Loved Me Back to Life" is going to be a novelty in an entertainment industry that has relegated her to Las Vegas concerts at Caesars Palace and the occasional TV re-run of the movie Titanic. The question is whether Céline's brand of talent will ultimately make a huge profit in a music industry where wild Lady Gaga-like antics or Korean rappers on YouTube typically make a big splash on the top 10 list. Celine's image depends entirely on her golden voice, and I have to wonder whether that will be enough to make her album a huge success.

-How can Céline Dion be still relevant compared to the other pop artists?
Have you noticed that pop stars do not just sing anymore? Lady Gaga sang her new song on a London stage while completely naked. Miley Cyrus, the nasty little twerker who shouldn't, exploits Twitter to post photos of herself sticking her tongue out and proclaiming her promiscuity.

In Brazil, Justin Bieber has been visiting brothels in between performances where people throw water bottles at him. Courtney Love revealed her drug addiction problem in a magazine because she wants to make a comeback. Guys like Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and Bono act more like politicians than rock stars; they use their music as a platform where they score political points. Madonna recently packaged her latest song inside a short film and a free speech web project.

When you compare Céline to these pop artists, you would not be so far off if you thought she were a nun! She has a stable home life. Her French albums kick ass in the French market and sell very well. She's not a songwriter, so she's an interpreter of songs. She's a mother. She does not smoke. She does not do drugs. She does not drink. She always thanks her husband and her family. Maria the nun in The Sound of Music was a bigger troublemaker than Celine. She's from another planet of Music Star.

-When you hear the name "Céline Dion" today, what do you first think of?
As a Broadway critic in New York, I always put a great premium on a singer/entertainer's sound. The golden voice that comes out of her just wins me over, no matter how overly cutesy her image has become and how shockingly thin her body looks and how mannered her vocal style can be when she sings. She has a powerful voice that is beautiful to listen to. Nobody can take that away from her.

-How do you think being "permanently" in Las Vegas had changed her career compared to a touring artist?
Céline minted herself as a different kind of star by being permanently in Las Vegas. If you want to hear her sing in person, you have to go to her. She does not have to go to you. That's a game changer, a real testament to how she has positioned herself in an orbit that is closer to the genuine old-fashioned pop artists of the previous century like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr.

Of course, Céline is also selling spectacle by staying rooted to Las Vegas. But she does not have to constantly trick out or twerk her ass or do nasty attention-getting antics, the way other touring artists do. An argument could be made that she has become a kind of singing statue: that she runs the risk of becoming a too-comfortable, immovable fixture in Las Vegas. She attracts an older demographic of audiences, for example. I bet it is difficult for her theatrical collaborators to stage her in every new Las Vegas concert just because there is a level of out-sized spectacle that people have come to expect from her Las Vegas shows. The challenge is always to re-design the spectacular effects in ways that do not overpower her singing voice.

I have heard some tracks from her new album, "Loved Me Back to Life." The voice I heard there is practically difficult to recognize. It's stripped down, almost pure in its sound, restrained, elegant, more beautifully controlled. Going this direction is quite likely the logical next artistic step for a pop icon who has become so closely associated with a certain level of Las Vegas spectacle.

That's where my interview ends.

BONUS FOR DION FANS:  Two days after the Le Journal de Montreal article was published, on Friday, November 8, Céline showcased her excellent Loved Me Back To Life with an intimate gig at New York’s Edison Ballroom.

See her wow the fans and music critics with a resonant rendition of the album’s Sia-penned title track in this YouTube recording of her live performance:

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