Putting spot­light on city’s glam­our

Some­times see­ing lo­cal haunts in music videos re­minds us to look at T.O. with new eyes

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO AREA - Ed­ward Keenan

Thinking of beau­ti­ful places — en­chant­ing places, sexy places — when’s the last time the Toronto Ref­er­ence Li­brary came to mind? Or the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Scar­bor­ough cam­pus?

I’d bet that for a large num­ber of Toron­to­ni­ans, the an­swer to that ques­tion is never. Those places ex­ist in our minds, most of us, along­side words like “use­ful” — maybe as­so­ci­ated with ed­u­ca­tional re­search we did at some point. But fab­u­lous?

Yes, fab­u­lous. As they ap­pear in Scar­bor­ough-raised, glob­ally ac­claimed singer The Weeknd’s new video — re­leased this week — those two venues look like they are set­tings from a Bond film: the un­du­lat­ing lay­ers and stark red-and-white con­trasts, along­side the glass el­e­va­tor and spi­ral stair­case, of the li­brary, the cold ge­om­e­try of the con­crete at UTSC. Play­ing along­side the Star­boy’s R&B voice, they look like places you might pay a lot to visit if you had the money, and the con­nec­tions, to get into them.

The song is called “Se­crets,” and it feels like he is re­veal­ing some about his home­town of Toronto — even to many lo­cals. There is, of course, a sub­set of ar­chi­tec­ture geeks who have long ap­pre­ci­ated ar­chi­tect Ray­mond Moriyama’s cathe­dral of knowl­edge at the Ref­er­ence Li­brary and even some who have mar­velled at UTSC’s bru­tal­ism.

But many of the rest of us have lived with Toronto as the worka­day back­drop of our unglam­orous lives long enough that we don’t even see how gor­geous some of it is. Not just the ob­vi­ous post­card spots at the is­lands or the Scar­bor­ough Bluffs or the gleam­ing glass of the sky­line, but the places where we work and go to school.

Some­times you need some­thing like a music video to make you look at your own city with new eyes. See the glam­our of your home.

There’s been a bit of that go­ing on lately, with the rise of a gen­er­a­tion of home­town-proud Toronto mu­si­cians to the top of the in­ter­na­tional Bill­board charts. Af­ter Drake and Ri­hanna shot the video for “Work” at the Real Jerk in the east end, sud­denly what was a lo­cal is­land food in­sti­tu­tion be­came a tourist spot — a place you could imag­ine an en­counter on the dance floor wor­thy of the movies.

Alessia Cara’s “Wild Things” showed her and a group of friends hang­ing around the sub­ur­ban streets of the GTA — she is from Bramp­ton — mythol­o­giz­ing the teenaged wild rum­pus through the cul-de-sacs and mall parking lots (“we’ll rab­ble-rouse and sing aloud”) many of us grew up liv­ing and also showed them ven­tur­ing down to Chi­na­town, the Beaches, look­ing on the night sky­line from Riverdale Park.

I imag­ine that for Toronto teenagers Cara’s age, see­ing her in a music video viewed around the world, glam­or­iz­ing the el­e­ments of their lives, in the same places they live them, is a mag­i­cal thing.

See­ing your places, your fa­mil­iar haunts, as a set­ting for larger sto­ries can help trans­form them in your mind. On­screen, they look ev­ery bit as wor­thy of dra­ma­tiz­ing as New York and Los An­ge­les and Paris and New Or­leans, all those other fa­mous places mythol­o­gized by Hol­ly­wood, can make your own home feel to you like a place worth cel­e­brat­ing and ap­pre­ci­at­ing.

I re­mem­ber when I was a teenager liv­ing in Scar­bor­ough, the Bare­naked Ladies filmed the video for “Lovers in a Dan­ger­ous Time” from the back of a pickup truck in the neigh­bour­hoods my friends and I knocked around in — a neigh­bour­hood of bun­ga­lows and strip malls and apart­ment tow­ers we didn’t think any­one out­side of it even re­ally knew ex­isted. It was val­i­dat­ing to see it on MuchMu­sic, even if at the time the band seemed mostly like a lo­cal phe­nom­e­non, pop­u­lar­iz­ing our scenery to a mostly lo­cal au­di­ence.

Sim­i­larly, even ear­lier, the Shuf­fle De­mons’ “Spad­ina Bus,” li­on­ized the 77B and the crowds wait­ing for it in Chi­na­town so long ago be­fore the street­car re­placed it, be­com­ing al­most an in-joke re­frain long af­ter the song it­self had out­lived its ra­dio­play mo­ment.

Those ear­lier videos were made by mu­si­cians with smaller au­di­ences and bud­gets and the Toronto they por­trayed looked shakier and scrap­pier — more like home videos for the family re­u­nion than Bond films. They re­flected an im­age of the city as it felt to many peo­ple then. A gen­er­a­tion later, more glob­ally cel­e­brated artists are show­ing a look at the city that maybe has a more global ap­peal, a more jet-set es­thet- ic. It’s still Toronto, but it feels dif­fer­ent, looks fresh.

Right down to the li­braries and the con­crete sub­ur­ban school build­ings. It’s a good look. Es­pe­cially if it gives us oc­ca­sion to revisit places we’ve taken for granted and look at them again through a new lens, re­boot them in our imag­i­na­tions.

To see the se­crets of this place we didn’t even know we were keep­ing. Beau­ti­ful. En­chant­ing. Sexy. Home. Ed­ward Keenan writes on city is­sues ekeenan@thes­tar.ca. Follow: @the­keenan­wire

NINA WESTERVELT/THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Weeknd’s new video for “Se­crets” — re­leased this week — was filmed in Toronto.

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