Woman Crush Wednesday: Celine Dion

Introducing our blog’s new segment: Woman Crush Wednesdays! On select Wednesdays, we will highlight trailblazing women musicians featured in our 33 1/3 series. What better way to kick off than to write about Hollywood’s most glamorous meme queen: Celine Dion.

Suffice it to say, Celine Dion is a contentious figure. Naysayers decry Dion as phony and kitsch, arguing that her music is overflowing with sugar-sweet sentimentality. Fans claim that Dion’s emotional candor elevates her to the status of a musical deity, one with mass popular appeal. In Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk about Love, music critic Carl Wilson uses Dion’s background to ask questions about race, class, and problems of aesthetics.  He also delves into Dion’s polarizing appeal by complicating the very notion of taste. In a scholarly and yet accessible account, this book grapples with riveting questions, namely, what renders music “good” or “bad”? Wilson writes, “what is more laudable about excess in the name of rage and resentment than immoderation in thrall to love and connection?” This book asks if anyone can claim moral high ground over musical taste, leaving us with an answer that is both compelling and inconclusive. Somewhere in the divide between mass-marketed pop music and the music critics who scoff at it, Celine Dion has emerged as a figure who is equally beloved and despised.

A pop star whose career spans several decades, Dion occupies various spaces in the collective, musical imagination. From Vegas show queen, to gay icon, to cultural afterthought, Dion’s most recent resurgence stems from her role as a fashion pioneer.

The theme of this year’s Met Gala was “camp,” an aesthetic sensibility that is slippery and hard to define. Critics remained skeptical that America’s cultural powerbrokers could successfully embody a mode that is equal parts vulgar, high art, and ironic. Yet, when Celine Dion showed up in a golden headpiece of peacock feathers and a 22-pound body suit draped in thousands of silver sequins, she became an internet sensation. Paying homage to everything from Old Hollywood allure to Vegas showgirl extravagance, New York magazine’s The Cut went as far to refer to her new influence as a “Dionnaissance.” Reportedly, Dion admitted that she didn’t understand the theme. Maybe there’s nothing intentionally artful about Dion’s music either, but as Wilson writes, this could be at the heart of her music’s populist appeal.

Whether you feel delight or contempt for Celine Dion, her love of artifice and theatricality makes you talk about her anyway. Perhaps that’s why Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk about Love is our most popular 33 1/3 book to date. 

Stay tuned, because every other Wednesday, we’ll have another WCW post!

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