From Shang-Chi’s Simu Liu to TikTok’s Jessia: The Canadians Who Shaped Culture in 2021

In a year defined by COVID anxiety and reduced expectations, it can be difficult to recognize success. But despite massive business closings, delayed releases, and an incredibly difficult time for the arts in general, artists in television, music, and film were not only able to survive 2021, but also break records, relaunch franchises and even help reinvent the conventional path to fame.

And from superstars like Simu Liu and The Weeknd to lesser-known young talent adjusting to a new kind of industry, Canadians have helped lead that charge. Here, CBC News highlights some of the Canadian artists who made headlines and set times in 2021.

Deer Tracey

Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer made her directorial debut with the coming-of-age film Beans in 2021. The film is partially inspired by events in the own life of Deer, who grew up in the midst of the Oka crisis in 1990. (Dory Chamoun / Photo illustration / CBC)

In his first feature film Beans, Mohawk director Tracey Deer revisits his education during the Oka Crisis of 1990, a 78-day standoff that arose between the Kanien’kehá: ka (Mohawk) community of Kanesatake, the provincial police of the Sûrete du Québec and the Canadian army. For his powerful take on this period – cropped as a fictional coming-of-age story – Deer won Best First Feature at the Canadian Screen Awards.

It’s a new era for the director, known for her documentaries Mohawk Girls and Native Club. But with Beans, she solidifies her place among a new wave of Indigenous filmmakers bringing authentic stories to life.

Bilal Baig

Bilal Baig is the creator, star and co-writer of Sort Of, a CBC / HBO show about a sexist millennium that learns to navigate his identity. Pakistani-Canadian talent is a champion of representation, both on-screen and off-screen. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press / Photo illustration / CBC)

Not a lot of people make history twice with just one project. But Bilal Baig did it, with their CBC / HBO comedy-drama Kind of: Canadian television now has its first non-binary protagonist and its first queer Muslim, South Asian actor in a leading role.

The talent born in Mississauga, Ontario, embodies Sabi Mehboob, a fluid genre millennial straddling family, work and big dreams. In his heart, Kind of tells the story of the quirks and confusions of an evolving identity – and who better to tell that story than Baig (also series creator and co-writer), a champion of representation in front of and behind the screen.

Elliot Page

Oscar-nominated actor Elliot Page turned trans earlier this year, telling TIME magazine he was “really excited to act” now that he’s fully who he is. The Halifax-born artist stars in Umbrella Academy, a Netflix show filmed in Toronto. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters / Photo illustration / CBC)

Page has been seducing audiences for years, indie darling Juno to the mega blockbuster Creation. So when the Halifax-born actor stepped out as a trans man this year, it was clear the world had only seen a fraction of what he was capable of: “I’m really excited to act, now that I am fully who I am, in this body, “he Recount Time magazine. For his advocacy, Page received a Prize of excellence Outfest, a major LGBTQ film festival.

In addition to her main role in Netflix Umbrella Academy, the actor signed an agreement to develop scripted and unscripted projects for Universal.

Sasha ruddock

Sasha Ruddock recently won $ 100,000 to design a new clothing line with fast fashion company Shein. The Brampton, Ontario-born fashion designer makes plus size clothing with her Flaws of Couture brand. (Noam Galai / Stringer / Getty / Photo Illustration / CBC)

Ruddock, the designer born in Brampton, Ont., Who started a clothing line Seam defects, won a $ 100,000 award from fast fashion company Shein in September – and beat 30 designers from around the world to design a new line in collaboration with the online retailer. This is Ruddock’s second collaboration with Shein, and it stays true to her values: All styles include size, a solution to what she sees as the exclusion of plus-size women in fashion. Khloé Kardashian is among his fans.

“I just want the people wearing my clothes to feel comfortable but uplifted,” she told CBC News.

Justin bieber

Justin Bieber is one of the country’s most famous pop stars. The 27-year-old has had a busy year, releasing a new studio album, documentary, racking up awards – and ditching his Timbiebs donut collaboration with Tim Hortons. (Evan Agostini / The Canadian Press / Invision / AP / Photo illustration / CBC)

Bieber got busy this year. After rebuilding after a series of personal problems, born in Stratford, Ont., 27, has once again established himself as one of the most important stars in modern pop music.

For hit singles Peaches and Anybody (the two tracks from his sixth studio album, Justice), Bieber reached a career high eight Grammy nominations and won the Artist of the Year award at the MTV Video Music Awards. A new documentary, Justin Bieber: Our World, explored her first live show from the COVID era. But he splashed all the babies with his Tim Hortons Collaboration: Timbiebs, a variation of the iconic Timbits from the donut chain.

Michelle Good

Cree writer Michelle Good won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-Language Fiction this year for her first novel, Five Little Indians. Good, a lawyer by training, is a strong advocate for the rights of residential school survivors. (Candice Camille / Photo Illustration / CBC)

Cree writer Michelle Good’s debut novel, Five little indians, released in 2020 – and she received a litany of accolades this year, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction and the Amazon Canada First Novel Prize.

A lawyer by training, Good is a passionate advocate for the rights of residential school survivors, which she channeled into her remarkable novel. The book was inspired by the experiences of her mother, aunt and cousins ​​at various residential schools, following five survivors as they grappled with the consequences of the abuse they suffered in those residential schools. institutions.

The Weeknd & Wassim (Sal) Slaiby

With co-manager Wassim (Sal) Slaiby behind him, The Weeknd won big at the Junos and Billboards for their 2020 album After Hours and hit track Blinding Lights, and became the first Canadian to perform the mid-performance show. -time of the SuperBowl. Slaiby is not doing too badly either: the Lebanese-Canadian music executive has just launched an Arab music label. (Richard Shotwell / The Canadian Press / Invision / AP, Mike Coppola / Getty, Photo illustration / CBC)

The Weeknd had an important year, becoming the first canadian solo act to headline a Superbowl halftime show and clean up at every big awards show (while, notoriously, boycott the Grammys). But the man behind him too: co-manager Wassim (Sal) Slaiby, who emigrated from Lebanon at the age of 15 and has become one of the main leaders of the music industry in Canada.

The duo are an unstoppable force. As The Weeknd ends 2021 with a host of hits (including the title track from their album Blinding lights crowned the # 1 Billboard Hot 100 song of all time), XO Records co-founder Sal a Just Launched a new Arab music label with Universal.


From left to right, the Canadians who made their name on TikTok: Tesher, Akintoye, Jessia, Lubalin, ElyOtto. (Neha Sharma, Adit Dixit, Riley Stewart, Gaëlle Leroyer, Sam Drasin, Photo illustration / CBC)

While Canadian musicians have performed well in traditional venues, they have also enjoyed tremendous success on the latest pipeline to fame: TikTok. Artists like Alberta’s ElyOtto created tracks that topped the charts: his song SugarCrash! finished at # 4 worldwide tracks on the app and helped define the hyperpop genre. Jessia from Vancouver was ranked by Rolling Stone as one of their fastest emerging artists after unreleased song went viral on the app, and Montreal’s Lubalin took the internet – and talk shows – by storm with his Internet drama series.

Meanwhile, Tesher from Saskatchewan formed a “Bollywood Hollywood duo” with none other than superstar Jason Derulo after finding his own viral success. And finally, Toronto rapper Akintoye has emerged as one of the country’s great little-known talents. His account soared to over 2 million subscribers in 2021, placing him seventh on the list of fastest growing Canadians, just behind The Weeknd.

Denis Villeneuve

Montreal director Denis Villeneuve released his long-awaited adaptation of Dune this fall. The 1965 novel was called “infilmable” due to its massive scale and intricate detail, but Villeneuve’s film won the box office, guaranteeing a sequel. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press / Photo illustration / CBC)

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has achieved the impossible in 2021 – adapting the “impossible to film” novel Dune for the screen, and people actually like it.

The last time Frank Herbert’s space opera hit the big screen, it was criticized almost universally by critics, largely due to the fact that the novel – which is over 180,000 words in length – contains far too many words. information to fit comfortably in a conventional runtime. that of Villeneuve Dune solved this problem by dividing the story in half; a strategy that has been successful enough to ensure a the rest will be done, and for it to gross over $ 390 million at the box office.

Simu liu

Simu Liu made a smooth transition from Kim’s Convenience to Marvel in 2021, landing the starring role in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The film was a smash hit, rocking box office numbers and catapulting the Mississauga-born actor to worldwide fame. (George Pimentel / The Canadian Press / Photo illustration / CBC)

Moving from Kim’s convenience to Shang Chi with a tweet, Canadian Simu Liu was able to dominate 2021 – and potentially save the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the process.

Liu took on the lead role in 2021 Shang Chi and the legend of the ten rings – the first MCU Phase 4 movie to introduce a new character. While critics viewed the film as a critical testing ground for the industry juggernaut, Liu managed to get him out of the park. The film exceeded all expectations – Shattering stagnant COVID box office figures – proving that audiences still care about the MCU and want to see more diverse faces on screen.

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