Best Canadian Music Writing 2021

Text reads: Best Canadian Music Writing 2021. Images from albums by The Weather Station and Mustafa.

Images: Album art for Ignorance by The Weather Station & When Smoke Rises by Mustafa

compiled by Del Cowie, Invisible’s intrepid Bibliophonic editor

It’s the end of another year and for the fourth year running, I’ve decided to compile a Best Canadian Music Writing list. One of the reasons I started doing this list a few years back was because I had stopped writing about music for publications that year and had been reading and writing by other music writers more than normal. With podcasts and various other social media understandably becoming de facto ways to consume and debate music, I still wanted to highlight the written word while completely recognizing it is a completely subjective and personal list.

With full disclosure I am occasionally writing again, and I contributed to Complex and CBC Music this year. While I haven’t listed anything I’ve written myself in the 40 articles listed below, I will say I particularly enjoyed writing about Rochelle Jordan’s Play With The Changes, my personal favourite album of the year, for Complex.

True to Jordan’s album title, I’ve kind of played with the rules a bit here. There are two articles each on Mustafa (by Huda Hassan and Jordan Darville) and overlooked Canadian hip-hop pioneer Jay ‘Mr Q’ McGee (by Michael Rancic and Niel Scobie) mainly because I felt the pieces added something different to the same topic.

Another thing I should point out is that Invisible’s Bibliophonic imprint will be publishing Melody Lau’s Tegan and Sara: Modern Heartthrobs in 2022. You can pre-order the book here, but in the meantime you can check out her piece on Asian representation in pop music in the list below.

For the second year running in this list, the pandemic is an inescapable underlying theme in these pieces, whether they reflect how it impacted the creative process, cheer on the tentative return to live music that occurred a few months back, or thematically deal with the sobering and lingering reality of the surging fifth wave of the virus.

That said, the writing below highlights a mere snapshot of the interesting music and characters emerging from Canada over the past twelve months. The writing runs the gamut from critical analysis to insightful features, includes sepia-tinged longreads and the amplification of overlooked and marginalized figures and voices and issues, all the while highlighting interesting and innovative directions on music-making of the past, present and future.

A sincere thanks again to all the writers, publishers and editors involved for making these articles a reality.

Kaytranada, Canada’s Grammy-Winning Wunderkind by Kelsey Adams (Elle Canada) 

Franglais Street Slang: Quebec Rappers Build Bridges over the Language Barrier by Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo (Exclaim!)

DijahSB’s music is taking off – and it’s well deserved by Murissa Barrington (Urbanology)

25 Years of LAL by Tom Beedham (Long Winter)

The Weather Station Plants Seeds of Optimism Amid Today’s Crises by Kaelen Bell (Exclaim!)

Queering the concert hall by Gordon Bowness (Xtra)

Intersessions, Chippy Nonstop’s Gender Barrier-Busting DJ Workshop, Goes Virtual by Josephine Cruz (Complex)

Independence Day by Cadence Weapon (Substack)

Simone Schmidt: A Portrait of the Artist Mid-Pandemic by Samantha Edwards (West End Phoenix) 

The rebirth of Martha Wainwright by Holly Gordon (CBC Music)

Montreal’s Chiiild Moves from Usher Collaborator to Solo Trailblazer by A. Harmony (Exclaim!)

Shad on Family, Connection, and His Genre-Bending Seventh Album ‘TAO’  by Natalie Harmsen 

Mustafa the Poet explores loss by Huda Hussan (i-D)

Folk music was missing something. Then came Mustafa by Jordan Darville (CBC Music)

Stranger Cole’s Roots Records Shop by Nicholas Jennings (West End Phoenix)

Justin Bieber: Justice By Rawiya Kameir (Pitchfork)

The Influence of Dub Poet Lillian Allen Runs Deep by Kaie Kellough (The Walrus)

Montreal-born singer Allison Russell’s music is all about resilience  by Brendan Kelly (Montreal Gazette)

Why we need to talk about Asian representation in music right now  by Melody Lau (CBC Music)

It Took a Village to Raise Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and Now They’re Paying It Forward by Aly Laube (Exclaim!)

Luna Li: Meet the magical, musical sprite who will make you feel something even (especially) if you haven’t hugged anyone in months by Sarah Liss (Toronto Star)

How on earth does Elle Barbara, a celebrated mother of Montreal’s ballroom scene, make music while doing so much mentoring? by Jesse Locke (Xtra)

All of Drake’s Canadian References on ‘Certified Lover Boy’ by Calum Marsh and Alex Nino Gheciu  

The healing power of Zoon by Jarrett Martineau (CBC Music)

Inside the Push to Fix the Juno Awards’ Rap Category by Rick Mele (Complex)

With The Floe: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson by Brennan McCracken (Maisonneuve) 

How Canadian rock music came of age at Massey Hall in the 90s by David McPherson (NOW Toronto)

‘Nobody can gaslight us’: the rappers confronting Canada’s colonial horrors by Kyle Mullin (The Guardian)

I miss everything about live music by Morgan Mullin (The Coast)

Inside the mysterious world of Canadian chillhop by Robert Rowat (CBC Music) 

Finding Mr. Q  by Michael Rancic (Hazlitt) 

Starting at the Bottom — Recognising Jay W. McGee and his role as a Canadian Hip-hop pioneer by Niel Scobie (Medium) 

Paul Chin and Gayance on the true cost of fan-funded music by Roshanie (New Feeling)

Feist At 45: The Singer/Songwriter On New Motherhood, Losing Her Father And Returning To The Stage by Tabassum Siddiqui (Chatelaine)

Charlotte Cardin Rises from the Ashes and Finds Her Authentic Self by Laura Stanley (Exclaim!)

Fucked Up reflect on the time they could have been huge by Richard Trapunski (NOW)

Why Céline Dion is what we all need right now by Kate Underwood (Macleans)

Live music could return in 2021, but what are we trying to rebuild?  by Melissa Vincent (CBC Music)

Whatever happened to Geoff Hughes? by Andrea Warner (CBC Music)

Iconic Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie reminisces on an eventful eight decades by Brad Wheeler (The Globe and Mail)

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