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Canadian Pop Stars: They’re Not Like Us

Justin Bieber and Drake have conquered America's Top 40 in the name of the holy maple leaf

Let me begin with sincere honesty: I am Canadian.

I live in Canada, I grew up in Canada, and I was raised in a city about 35 minutes from where Justin Bieber took his first steps. I’m sure this makes you jealous. I bet you’re wondering if I’ve ever seen Drake perched atop the CN Tower (I’ll never tell). And I’m positive you feel almost relieved in having figured out what it was that made me so different, and so great.

This is because Canadians, you precious treasures, are special. And deep down, you’ve known it all along.

Need more proof? Take a quick look at the ladies and gentlemen who populate the current English-speaking pop universe. Drake, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, Alessia Cara, Grimes, and Shawn Mendes are just a handful of the artists defining everything you hold dear by staking their claim on both the charts and your souls. With their willingness to emote, their penchant for normalcy, and their lust for sexless nudity, Canadian pop stars are not just like us. They’re also not like whatever caricature you’ve dreamed up in your beautiful American minds. Instead, Canadian pop stars are like ... themselves. They are unique, fearless, and endearing in ways none of us knew possible. And because I care about you in the way only a deeply considerate Canadian can, I’m going to explain why this is.

Behold: the anatomy of a Canadian pop star. According to me, a person who lives there.

1. Apologies

Justin Bieber asked it best: "Is it too late now to say sorry?" And I’ll tell you the truth: No. Not even a little bit. It’s never too late, it’s never too much, and we as a nation pride ourselves on our capacity for apologies so much that our golden prodigal son staged an apology tour pre-Purpose and all of us just said, "Well, of course." And he’s not the only one.

Now, ironically, I don’t have access to this video because I’m typing this within the northern motherland, and I respect the geotag laws of the US of A. But I trust that it features one (1) Aubrey Drake Graham in all his SNL monologue glory, begging the masses not to make him a meme. Even though he allowed the creation of a website exclusively for that, and you know he loves any/all attention, including this piece, I bet. (Hi Drizzy!)

Is it an apology? Technically, no. But the man is singing his demands. He’s asking us to leave him alone in the same contrite way I reserve for rolling into Tim Hortons and politely demanding an entire box of chocolate Timbits, which I usually follow up with a quick, "If that’s OK." (And it always is, because there are no less than 6,000 chocolate Timbits on hand at all times at every Tim Hortons location, so help me 6ix God.) We Canadians have to actively train ourselves out of saying "sorry" for merely standing in a public street. Justin trained himself right into a Comedy Central roast as a means of well-earned penance for acts he previously committed. Now we see Drake, who is kind of apologizing via song for asking not to be meme-ified. Even though he’s totally lying. Bringing me to my next point.

2. Self-depreciation

But not in an embarrassing way. No one on this list is crying in the shower after verbally beating themselves up. Especially since, as a Canadian, you’re used to being made fun of (and you’re kind of into it, but only as long as it seems like said mockery is coming from a place of love -- like Bryan La Croix on Kroll Show, R.I.P.).

Drake's SNL gig revolved around his capacity to laugh at everything from his reputation as a living meme to his tendency to make everyone his No. 1 enemy.

Again, I can’t physically view the above video (#RESPECT #GEOTAGS), but history has proven it’s a sketch defined by Drake’s self-awareness and understanding that he’s an emotional, self-serious, sweet, sweet treasure. I mean, you’d have to be self-aware to pose for the album art accompanying Views. Dude didn’t even shoot one of his photos in Toronto -- he went to my hometown and posed in front of a historical landmark/hotel and pretended it was his house. I’ve taken my mom to tea there, you guys. And I’d take you too, Aubrey. Which reminds me.

3. Every(wo)man Charm

You know who hates parties? A lot of us. But also, especially, Alessia Cara. We know this from "Here," the introverts’ anthem of 2015 which appealed to everyone’s tendency to feel like leaving gatherings immediately upon arrival and returning to wherever the Netflix is. So relatable! And so Canadian.

Meanwhile, Shawn Mendes engages with fans in a way that eclipses even young Bieber, with constant tweets, Snapchat updates, and declarations that he (just like you!!!) adores The Vampire Diaries. Canadian pop stars are your friends. And every other pop star who attempts the same is just copying us.

4. Vulnerability

Admittedly, vulnerability is hip in pop right now. The more you share, the more fans you gain, and the more sensational your songs, the more we fans will bare our own souls as a way of relating. But nobody -- nobody -- shares feelings the way Canadian pop stars do. Think about it: The Weeknd opened his last album with the declaration that he’s "not worth the misery." (Single tear.) Tegan and Sara opened up in a great recent interview about plenty — their youth, early days in music, anxiety, inter-band disputes, relationships, and who they are now — as only a pair of siblings from Calgary could. Grimes has helped create a space in which it’s safe to talk about being sexually harassed/propositioned/discriminated against by men, and Carly Rae Jepsen recently earned accolades for wearing her heart on her sleeve (in the appropriately titled E•MO•TION, so how do you like that).

What I’m saying is this: Canadian pop stars are so in touch with their feelings and life stories, it puts all other human beings to shame. And do you know where they (and everybody else) learned it from?

5. Céline Dion or Shania Twain (Or: Just Be a Diva -- Whatever)

All hail the queens.

Let me paint you a picture. The year was 1996, "Because You Loved Me" dictated the sound of our middle school dances, and the only singer who mattered was Céline Dion. She had the voice. She had the French accent. She’d sung themes for Sleepless in Seattle, Beauty and the Beast, and eventually Titanic. She was in the original lineup for VH1 Divas Live, and she sang about love in a way I believed I’d never understand. (And I still don’t. In retrospect, if I dated a dude as intense as the man in her songs, I’d be stressed out 24/7. But that’s beside the point.)

Meanwhile, Shania Twain was waiting in the wings, delivering The Woman in Me (1995) and then Come on Over (1997), cementing the decade o' diva with "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" And boy, did I ever. (Just kidding: I was 12, and combating how not to turn red upon any boy talking to me.) It laid the foundation for what was to come: Drake, our Diva King; Bieber, our Diva Prince; The Weeknd, our Diva Duke. At no point did Céline nor Shania apologize for their assertion of self or their bold declarations — a bold reversal of Canadian pop star rule No. 1. They emoted fearlessly, and with Shania’s embracement of denim, she told us she was just like us.

But that’s where the union between past and present Canadiana ends. Céline and Shania may have once set the tone for what Canadian pop stars were, but today's Canadian pop stars have taken that foundation and built on it a shinier, even more Canadian identity that weaves our affinity for apologies with our vulnerability, and our pal-next-door approach with public relations.

For, you see, Canadians are rare, sneaky birds. First we let everyone think we can be underestimated with our apologies and our friendliness. Then we take over charts, SNL, and social media platforms without real fanfare, making it too late before you realize you’ve fallen in love with us.

Like this piece? Right now? You thought it was just about the current state of Canadian pop. But no: Instead, I’ve made you listen to Céline Dion and Shania Twain, all after making you google the word "Timbits." And as you were doing that, Bryan La Croix finally made it into the charts, bringing "Ottawanna Go to Bed" into your hearts -- or at least into your heads, where it will be stuck forever.

O Canada, indeed.