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Canada’s Chart Invasion: ‘It’s an Attitude. Quiet, But Strong’

Brit Adele may take the Hot 100's top spot next week, but Canada's presence remains felt, thanks to The Weeknd, Justin Bieber and, especially, an influential Drake.

“Great Canadian acts have been around all along. It’s just taken a little longer for the rest of the world to realize how great some of them are.”

Bob Willette, CKFM (99.9 Virgin Radio) Toronto music director, marvels at the recent run of Canadians atop the Billboard Hot 100.

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“What is happening right now feels like a bit of a renaissance. In the ’80s, Bryan Adams and Corey Hart had great success south of the border. The ’90s had Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette and Shania Twain, and you can throw Barenaked Ladies in there, too.”

More recently, Arcade Fire, Michael Buble, Nelly Furtado, Carly Rae Jepsen, Avril Lavigne and Nickelback have received “those all-important American accolades.

“It’s time to add Drake and The Weeknd to that list.”

2015 has seen Canadian artists invade the upper reaches of the Hot 100. The last three No. 1s belong to Canadians: The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” (three weeks), Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” (one) and The Weeknd’s reigning champ “The Hills” (six). On the Nov. 7 chart, five of the top seven are by Canadian acts: along with the three hits above, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” holds at its No. 2 high and Shawn Mendes rises 5-4 with “Stitches.” All four artists are from Ontario (from or near Toronto).

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While Britain’s Adele is likely to halt Canada’s control atop the Hot 100 after nine consecutive weeks by vaulting in at No. 1 on the Nov. 14 chart with “Hello,” Canada’s profile will remain prominent. Plus, Bieber is also set to debut, perhaps in the top 10, with new single “Sorry.”

Is there a thread to Canada’s current chart domination? “It would be naive not to credit Drake’s success with bringing Canadian hip-hop to the next level,” Willette says. Long before The Weeknd’s 2015 breakthrough, Drake was blogging about The Weeknd’s talents. Drake has also helped build buzz, via social media, for newcomer Alessia Cara (likewise from Ontario), who surges into the Hot 100’s top 20 this week (23-20) with her debut hit “Here.” On Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, the track enters the top 10 (11-8).

“Canada has always had a strong hip-hop scene. Thank you, Maestro, Kardinal Offishall and k-os,” Williette says. “But, really, Drake has blown things up for everyone and opened the doors.”

“Canada has had a thriving hip-hop scene dating back to the ’80s and ’90s,” echoes Paul Tuch, Nielsen Entertainment director of Canadian operations. “Rascalz … Dream Warriors … and into the 2000s with Swollen Members and Classified.”

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Rhythmic beats currently define Canada’s hits, but, they’re just one part of the country’s musical palette. “As of this moment, the sound is rooted in hip-hop,” Willette notes. “But, Canada, and Ontario, has a great history of producing so many great genres of music. This is the country that produced Rush and the Guess Who and Neil Young … and Joni Mitchell … and Gordon Lightfoot …”

Reggae has been a perhaps surprising successful export from Canada, as well, from Snow’s seven-week 1993 Hot 100 No. 1 “Informer” to 2014’s six-week leader “Rude” by MAGIC!

“It’s not that there is a distinct Canadian sound, it’s likely more an attitude,” muses Kara Judge, CKBT (91.5 The Beat) Kitchener music director and air talent. “Quiet maybe, but strong. We’re okay with the world thinking we’re all up here freezing, playing hockey and drinking our Tim Hortons coffee.

“But 2015 is Canada’s year.”