When Céline Dion released her 12th English-language studio album Courage early Friday morning, two things transpired that would have been damned near unthinkable when its predecessor, Loved Me Back to Life, came out six years ago. First, the “My Heart Will Go On” singer celebrated her new record’s debut by showing up at drag bar Lips NYC and cavorting gamely with the (other) queens there. She went so far as to perform a karaoke version of one of her recent songs, fearless of any blowback from the kinds of skeptics who would have slagged her as a “glorified karaoke singer” in her 1990s power-ballad heyday. Second, she was revealed to curse on an official recording for what I feel confident is the first time in her nearly four-decade career, purring “this shit is perfect” on the chorus of closer “Perfect Goodbye.” What must her 92-year-old Maman Dion think?
On that previous 2013 album, as well as 2007’s Taking Chances, she flirted more conservatively with the electronic-dance production touches and very un-Céline vocal effects (Auto-Tune filters on those pipes? Blasphemy! Except sometimes it works!) that abound here, now with collaborators such as David Guetta, repeat partner Sia, Stephan Moccio (Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and the Weeknd’s “Earned It”), Sam Smith, Bruno Mars associates the Stereotypes, and others—with nary a Diane Warren nor David Foster track in sight.
But finding Dion at once so foul-mouthed and so publicly intimate with her longtime queer fan base is the most blatant evidence of what’s been called either the Dionaissance or the Celinaissance (the patrons of this new golden age have yet to reach a consensus). From the cocoon of the oft-derided kitschy pop belter of old, Dion in her early 50s has sprung forth as a flamboyantly winged icon of both haute couture and just plain human existence. Consider (and pardon my mixed entomological metaphors) her bejeweled-arachnid Oscar de la Renta outfit at this year’s Met Gala, which fully incarnated the event’s “camp” theme even as Dion, exquisitely, confessed to imagining at first that it meant everyone was going to sleep over in tents. Or her justification of the existence of James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” schtick in the moment that she wailed out a Céline-ified version of the kiddy musical virus “Baby Shark” while the two cruised through the streets of Las Vegas, before performing a self-parodying mini-enactment of the Titanic theme song in the Bellagio lagoon. Let alone that Dion is often credited with singlehandedly recharging the casino capital itself by making it a respectable place for not just aging lounge lizards but viable contemporary artists to mount multimillion-earning revue shows since she took up residency in 2003.
By CARL WILSON