Trudeau plays it safe with playlist

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - GUEST OPIN­ION BY EMMA TEITEL Emma Teitel is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Justin Trudeau is hav­ing a rough summer. It turns out that a lot of Cana­di­ans aren’t thrilled about the fed­eral govern­ment’s mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar set­tle­ment pay­out to for­mer Guan­tanamo Bay pris­oner Omar Khadr, ar­guably the only pub­lic face in the nation more hand­some than the prime min­is­ter’s. (Say what you want about Khadr, but he’s got great bone struc­ture.)

How­ever, where there is neg­a­tive en­ergy di­rected at a po­lit­i­cal leader there is also sunny dis­trac­tion. I highly doubt it’s a co­in­ci­dence that in the midst of the back­lash against the Khadr set­tle­ment this past week­end, Trudeau re­leased a summer playlist on Spo­tify called “PM MIX” — as if to say to the masses, in his own up­beat camp coun­sel­lor way, “I know we don’t al­ways agree on everything, but let’s just sit by a fire and sing it out.”

Per­son­ally, I have no is­sues with the playlist dis­trac­tion method, pop­u­lar­ized by for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whose own Spo­tify se­lec­tions favoured soul and jazz. But why must our own leader’s pref­er­ences be so painfully safe? PM MIX is a pre­dictable nod to Cana­dian con­tent across the genre board. Blue Rodeo? Check. Drake? Check. Chan­tal Kre­vi­azuk? Check. Justin Bieber? Check. The Trag­i­cally Hip? Check. K-OS? Check.

Only in Canada is it taboo for politi­cians to ad­mit that the ma­jor­ity of art and en­ter­tain­ment they con­sume does not orig­i­nate in our home and na­tive land. (Maybe I’m to­tally out of line here, but I don’t be­lieve for a sec­ond that the prime min­is­ter sits on his back deck blast­ing Hed­ley.) Our pro­gres­sive lead­ers may tip­toe around is­sues of na­tion­al­ism, avoid­ing a nar­ra­tive of Cana­dian ex­cep­tion­al­ism like the plague, but when it comes to the arts, they are Cana­dian-con­tent evan­ge­lists.

I know what some of you might be think­ing: what’s the big deal? Trudeau is the prime min­is­ter of Canada. Ob­vi­ously he’s not go­ing to plug “Born in the USA” as his song of summer, and be­sides, sev­eral of the tracks in­cluded on PM MIX aren’t by Cana­dian artists, and fur­ther­more, many of them are by Cana­dian artists who have yet to hit it big; for ex­am­ple, Mar­itime rap­per Quake Matthews. A spot on such a list might give these lesser-known mu­si­cians the pub­lic­ity push they need to suc­ceed in a mu­sic busi­ness where young people hardly ever pay to lis­ten.

Fine. But why the nod to Drake, Bieber and Blue Rodeo? These are hardly artists who need a boost from the fed­eral govern­ment. And if the govern­ment is in the busi­ness of cheer­lead­ing for rock stars, where’s Nick­el­back on PM MIX? It ap­pears that Nick­el­back, a band sur­pris­ingly far more beloved in our nation than loathed, is rou­tinely shafted in the po­lit­i­cal playlist game.

Ear­lier this year, when Vice me­dia asked can­di­dates run­ning for leader of the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive party to pro­vide playlists of their own, not one can­di­date among the hand­ful who re­sponded in­cluded a Nick­el­back song; not even pop­ulist rab­ble-rouser Kel­lie Leitch, who shouted out Carly Rae Jepsen in­stead. (You’d think among the Con­ser­va­tives, there’d be at least one out and proud Nick­el­back fan, but no.)

Like Trudeau, Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­date Chris Alexan­der took the safe Can­con route in his re­sponse to Vice, cham­pi­oning Drake and the Trag­i­cally Hip, among others. Michael Chong’s list was a bit more in­ter­est­ing with nods to Ri­hanna and New Or­der, but he man­aged to sneak the Hip and Gor­don Light­foot in there too. The most in­die playlist came cour­tesy of lesser-known can­di­date Erin O’Toole, who is a fan of Aus­tralian psy­che­delic rock­ers Tame Im­pala; proof, per­haps, that the less name recog­ni­tion a leader has, the cooler his playlist will be.

Of course, it’s pos­si­ble that Cana­dian lead­ers gen­uinely love Can­con more than the av­er­age Cana­dian; that this love isn’t a po­lit­i­cal per­for­mance, but an au­then­tic sam­ple of their BBQ sound­tracks. Our nation does af­ter all pro­duce a lot of great mu­sic. But it would be nice if ev­ery now and then a Cana­dian leader re­vealed his or her true colours, even when those colours strayed from the red and white. And it would be wildly re­fresh­ing if he or she just came out one day and said it: “You know what, I’m ac­tu­ally not crazy about The Trag­i­cally Hip.” “Ar­cade Fire? Yeah, they don’t re­ally do it for me.” “Chan­tal Kre­vi­azuk? I’m sorry but I don’t know who that is.”

Alas, the re­li­gious doc­trine of Can­con lives on. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if in a last-ditch ef­fort to ab­solve him­self in the eyes of the Cana­dian pub­lic, Omar Khadr re­leased a summer mix of his own: a playlist even more fa­nat­i­cally Canuck than the Prime Min­is­ter’s. Think Stompin’ Tom Con­nors, Cé­line Dion, Our Lady Peace and, fin­gers crossed, Nick­el­back.

It’s time they got their due.

The most in­die playlist came cour­tesy of lesser­known can­di­date Erin O’Toole, who is a fan of Aus­tralian psy­che­delic rock­ers Tame Im­pala; proof, per­haps, that the less name recog­ni­tion a leader has, the cooler his playlist will be.

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