On Monday, in front of 200 people (including former Prime Minister Joe Clark), Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau broke into song. For most, public singing is relegated to the territory of their subconscious that produces anxiety dreams. But, in this case, the “where” was a Martin Luther King Day celebration at Ottawa’s City Hall. According to Grégoire-Trudeau — who was not the first of the day’s musical guest speakers — she penned the song, entitled “Smile Back At Me,” for her daughter, Ella-Grace, during a “difficult time” in her own life.
Cynics have noses well-trained for shows of vulnerability, so media outlets and commenters immediately pounced, writing off Grégoire-Trudeau’s impromptu ditty as a self-serving distraction from the country’s bumpy economy. Toronto Star music columnist Ben Rayner even parsed Grégoire-Trudeau’s musical prowess, saying she “failed to present any evidence that the song, such as it was, had any sort of formal structure or coherence.” The serenade comes a mere two days after the New York Times condescendingly christened Canada “hip” — the most compelling reason for which was the election of Grégoire-Trudeau’s husband, Justin Trudeau, better known as our congenial “world leader with a heart.”
Some will worry that we risk the Times revoking our cool card in light of Grégoire-Trudeau’s MLK Day performance, demoting us, once again, to “hopelessly unstylish” status. Others will continue to deride her hyper-earnest Earth Mother persona. In fairness, she did compare Canadians to snowflakes in the same speech. But what do we gain from shaming a woman for divulging an intimate intergenerational moment with her daughter on a day intended to celebrate human rights? Also, anyone who’s ever been a kid in a Christmas concert can attest to the blind terror of singing for an audience, and, as such, should be able to acknowledge Grégoire-Trudeau’s move as a gutsy one.
Seeing as we’ve become so allergic to emotional exposure — in politics; in general — maybe Grégoire-Trudeau’s is the kind of necessary, if saccharine, correction to the fearful and divisive Canadian political landscape that fuelled Stephen Harper’s final campaign. (And, lest we forget, the last PM also fronted a band.) For every deeply cool Cohen, Bieber and Drake that Canada’s produced, remember that there is also a Dion, a Bublé and a Glass Tiger — all torchbearers of our country’s penchant for naked effusiveness. So let Sophie have her moment in the spotlight — or at least give this dance remix a listen.