From Drake to Justin Bieber, 2016 was the year of Canadian music

The Weeknd and Drake perform at separate concerts in 2016. Getty Images

It’s not a new phenomenon. Canadians have been dominating the music charts for decades, but rarely do we witness what happened in 2016: multiple Canadian artists practically owned the scene, taking up prime real estate on the charts and racking up nominations and awards across multiple genres.

This year, it wasn’t just about accolades either; Canadian musicians like Drake, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber were fully ingrained in pop culture, setting the tone rather than following it.


It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard to remember when Drake (a.k.a Aubrey Graham) “started at the bottom.” He’s so entrenched at the top we all must look like specks down here.

Drake, 'Views' cover

This has been a banner year for Drake, and he’s catapulted to fame on the world stage, bringing his hometown of Toronto along with him.

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Big wins in 2016:

Office of Mayor John Tory / Handout

  • He may already serve as the Global Ambassador for the Toronto Raptors, but he was also appointed coach of Canada’s team at the 2016 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.
  • Along with Bieber, Drake received five Juno Award nominations for Juno Fan Choice, Single of the Year, Album of the Year, Artist of the Year and Rap Recording of the Year; he lost four of five to Bieber and The Weeknd, but won Rap Recording of the Year for If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.
  • In addition to debuting at No. 1 on Billboard and selling more than 600,000 copies on its first day, Views became the first album ever to achieve one billion streams on Apple Music.
  • He’s the most-streamed artist of 2016 on Spotify with a whopping 4.7 billion individual plays.
  • Breaking a Michael Jackson record should be regarded as the gold standard, and Drake did that with his 13 American Music Award nominations, two more than Jackson’s 11 nominations in 1984; he won four of those awards.
  • He received the most BET Award nominations in 2016 with 14, and he took home the trophies for Best Male Hip-Hop Artist and Best Collaboration (with Rihanna, see below).
  • Drake’s single with Rihanna (who he dated for a brief period in 2016), Work, was the #1 song in over a dozen countries at the time of its release, and has been nominated for multiple awards.
  • Alongside singer Céline Dion, he topped Google’s list of the Top Trending Canadians for the year.

READ MORE: Drake cancels remaining Summer Sixteen Tour dates due to ankle injury

Justin Bieber

A year packed with success isn’t really anything new for Justin Bieber, who virtually took over the world in 2016 with the release of his latest album, Purpose, in November of 2015. He toured the globe, made headlines, found a new girlfriend (at least temporarily) and absolutely dominated music award shows across the board.

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Big wins in 2016:

  • Bieber was the first male artist in almost 10 years to have three #1 hits (Sorry, What Do You Mean?, Love Yourself) from one album — the last artist to achieve that goal was Justin Timberlake with 2005’s Future Sex/Love Sounds.
  • Hard to believe, but Biebs won his first Grammy in 2016 for Where Are U Now, his collaboration with Diplo and Skrillex, and celebrated with a Carpool Karaoke session.
  • While his series of outbursts at concerts made headlines, his Purpose tour continued across the world, earning him millions of dollars and tons of attention.
  • He became the first artist — ever — to reach 10 billion views on YouTube.
  • The Canadian crooner broke eight Guinness World Records, including most Twitter followers (as of this writing, 90.5 million) and most-streamed track on Spotify in one week (What Do You Mean?, 30,723,708 times).
  • In his home country, he was nominated for five Juno Awards, winning the Juno Fan Choice Award and Pop Album of the Year.
  • He’s slated to win a boatload of Grammys at the 2017 ceremony, and he’s closing out this year with four nominations: Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Solo Performance, Album of the Year and Song of the Year.

READ MORE: Justin Bieber croons Toronto pub crowd with surprise performance

The Weeknd

The Weeknd‘s rise over the past couple of years has been nothing short of amazing. Ever since late 2010, it has been a meteoric ascent into fame for the Scarborough, Ont. native. His latest release, Starboy, is both a critical and fan favourite, and it debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200.

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Big wins in 2016:

  • A generous soul, he donated $50,000 to the University of Toronto for an Ethiopic Studies program and $250,000 to Black Lives Matter.
  • He was featured on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo (FML) and Beyoncé’s Lemonade (6 Inch).
  • The Weeknd cleaned up at this year’s Juno Awards, taking home five awards: Album of the Year for Beauty Behind the Madness, Single of the Year (Can’t Feel My Face), Songwriter of the Year, R&B/Soul Recording of the Year, and the big prize, Artist of the Year.
  • Being nominated for an Academy Award isn’t something many musicians can claim, especially so early into a career, but The Weeknd can; his song from Fifty Shades of Grey, Earned It, was nominated, but unfortunately he lost to Sam Smith.
  • At the 2016 MTV European Music Awards, he beat out Beyoncé for Best Video for Starboy.
  • Lest we forget his performance of Starboy at this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, debuting his newly shorn locks.

Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara has emerged in 2016 as a force to be reckoned with. A former YouTube star, Cara released her debut album, Know-It-All, in mid-2015, and the first single, Here, became a sleeper hit both in Canada and in the U.S. At only 20 years old, her career is just starting.

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Big wins in 2016:

  • She won Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2016 Juno Awards, defeating the other four nominees.
  • Cara was selected as one of the opening acts for the European and North American legs of Coldplay’s current tour, which runs through almost all of 2017.
  • Disney’s animated film Moana used Cara’s How Far I’ll Go as one of its marquee songs (and it’s arguably the most catchy of the movie’s soundtrack).
  • At the 2016 iHeart Radio Much Music Video Awards, she took home the Best New Canadian Artist award, quite a feat considering she started out a mere year ago.

Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes is another example of Canadian ingenuity, his career started on the video app Vine in 2013. Over the past three years, he’s become one of the top-performing pop-rock acts, and his name frequently appears on the Billboard Hot 100 and Top 40 lists. In 2016 he released his sophomore album, Illuminate, and went on his second world tour.

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Big wins in 2016:

  • Not just a pretty voice, Mendes was signed to Wilhelmina Models earlier in the year.
  • For the first time, he was selected by Forbes magazine as one of the Top 30 under 30.
Click to play video: 'Shawn Mendes wins Best Male, The Weeknd takes Best Video at MTV Europe Awards' Shawn Mendes wins Best Male, The Weeknd takes Best Video at MTV Europe Awards
Shawn Mendes wins Best Male, The Weeknd takes Best Video at MTV Europe Awards – Nov 7, 2016
  • His debut single from Illuminate, Treat You Better, easily reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 200.
  • He’s racked up the awards this year too, receiving the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Breakout Artist, the MTV Europe Music Award for Best New Male (an honour bestowed on Bieber in 2015), the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Worldwide Act and the MuchMusic Video Award for Pop Video of the Year (I Know What You Did Last Summer).

WATCH: Shawn Mendes talks Illuminate

The Tragically Hip

By far the band with the most experience on this list, The Tragically Hip roared back into the public consciousness in 2016 (though some would argue they never left). After lead singer Gord Downie announced that he has terminal cancer, the band embarked on a Canada-only tour to coincide with the release of their latest album, Man Machine Poem.

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Big wins in 2016:

  • The band’s final tour triggered a nostalgic wave, and their 15 sold-out concerts were raved about by fans and newbies alike.
  • A week after the final show in Kingston, Ont., all 17 of The Hip’s albums were on the Billboard Canadian Albums Chart, quite a feat considering the band formed in 1983.
  • The Hip’s tour phenomenon raised awareness of Canadian music around the world, and Downie shone a spotlight on his particular form of cancer.
  • Although it appears like the band as it’s known has now disbanded, Downie announced his own solo album, Secret Path, released in October.

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