Leslie Feist is a Canadian songstress, consistently referred to with her nation of origin as a prominent identifier. This “Canadian-ness,” though, is put into question through a number of complexities arising from her artistic output as well as the cultural context in which he finds herself placed.
Feist finds her “Canadian” status problematised in a number of ways. Her inclusion into the milieu of French chanson places into question her inherent “Canadian-ness.” Feist moved to France in 2003, and though she has been featured singing in the French language, she claims that she does not speak it. In late 2004, Feist was asked to sing with the famous French singer Juliette Gréco, performing a new rendition of Gréco’s famous song, “La Javanaise,” written by Serge Gainsbourg. Feist exclaims that the live televised performance was “kind of like the old guard passing the torch to the new guard.”1 Thus, Feist suggests that she is in fact part of the cultural milieu of French chanson, a peculiar position to be in considering her uncertainty in the French language, as well as her Canadian nationality.
Another way that the “Canadian” identity of Feist is problematised is through her covering of songs like “When I was a Young Girl,” a cover of Texas Gladden’s “One Morning in May,” recorded by Alan Lomax, the compiler of the Smithsonian Folkways recordings, Anthology of American Folk Music. In doing so, Feist evokes what Richard Middleton would call “other voices”: “the singer’s . . . and that of an imaginary object which [s]he strives to imitate . . . [and] that of the object itself.” (Richard Middleton, “O Brother, Let’s Go Down Home: Loss, Nostalgia and the Blues,” Popular Music 26:1 (2007), 49) To use Middleton’s phraseology, then, in Feist’s performance of “When I was a Young Girl,” the listener experiences “desire, and lack, coursing through the gaps between the voice we acturally hear,” that is, Feist’s voice, “the voice [Feist] wants us to imagine,” perhaps that of Texas Gladden or the folk singers from Lomax’s recordings, “and the voice blotted out but which we know is there, somewhere, could we but find it,” the voice of the culture and time from which the song comes. (Ibid.)
Finally, Feist is a figure placed within a context of successful Canadian female singers, most of whom required recognition from outside of the country for their success. Feist as a commercially successful singer seems to conform to this type of Canadian, female, white, solo performer, such as Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morrisette, Shania Twain and Céline Dion. Like many of these singer, Feist left Canada in order to attain success, while maintaining precarious ties to the Canadian independent music scene by remaining a member of the band Broken Social Scene, a move which enables her to maintain a kind of credibility or “authenticity” while experiencing commercial success.
While other Canadian performers might display some or many of these complexities which in turn problematise their national labels, the case of Leslie Feist is unique in that these complexities work together to create a rich star image, imbued with a sense of history and perceived authenticity.