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review

Drake participating in the star-studded Stronger Together broadcast on Sunday, April 26, 2020.

Drake, keep our land glorious and free?

Canada’s pecking order was made crystal clear at the end of Sunday night’s star-studded Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble event in salute of health care workers and in support of Food Banks Canada. After a virtual ensemble performance of the late Bill Withers’s Lean on Me by more than two dozen singers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to close the 90-minute commercial-free national broadcast with a 12-second mini-address to the nation.

Then hip-hop superstar star Drake came on and ran out the clock for a freewheeling three and a half minutes. Sitting on a couch in a well-appointed room, the God’s Plan rapper offered platitudes and a story about a recent foot injury of his. He urged Canadians to use the self-isolation caused by COVID-19 to find a “silver lining” by bettering ourselves.

Noting the “rat race of life,” the millionaire entertainer suggested we work on a craft and get fit. “Nurture our personal relations,” he told us, or, conversely, “decide which personal connections aren’t for you.” In other words, dump that certain toxic somebody in your life.

It was a bizarre, rambling conclusion to a tightly-scripted broadcast featuring a who’s-who parade of Canadian musicians, actors, comedians, authors, athletes and delightful centenarians. The tone was earnest and patriotic, splitting the difference between Sarah McLachlan’s old humane society commercial and Molson’s I Am Canadian campaign from years ago. The “stay home and stay strong” message was repeated ad nauseam.

The many testimonials and vignettes cut into the brief musical performances pre-recorded in the homes of such artists as Céline Dion, Bryan Adams, Alessia Cara, Justin Bieber and Shania Twain. Here’s a roundup of the appearances that stood out, for good and for bad.

Hats off to Shania Twain

Outside a Las Vegas ranch, the country-pop star sang and strummed her song Up! She had a cowboy hat on, which she adjusted twice before taking it off altogether. Then it was back on, then off, on once more and then set aside. Her hair looked fabulous, unlike the unruly salon-free styles of others.

Quarantine haircuts, or lack thereof

Rick Mercer was most in need of shears. Mike Myers wore a Mountie hat, covering what he said was a head of hair cut by a knife and fork. Two of Cara’s band members conspicuously wore toques.

Best performances

McLachlan’s cover of Paul McCartney’s Blackbird was sublime, Measha Brueggergosman’s version of You’ll Never Walk Alone was beatific, and, perhaps because of Jann Arden’s many talents, sometimes we forget just how gorgeous her voice sounds.

And the trophy for the most trophies goes to …

David Foster. The Tears Are Not Enough producer performed Love Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire with his wife and a piano cluttered with Grammy Awards. For pretentiousness, he beats out John Legend, who pulled a similar trick last weekend on Global Citizen’s One World broadcast.

A rare smile or two

On a night marked by seriousness, thank goodness for comedian Howie Mandel (who hid under a bed) and singer-songwriter Cara, who actually seemed to be enjoying herself during a jaunty cover of Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend in Me.

We are Canadian

A lot of flag-waving took place – literally (by comedian Myers) and otherwise. By the time Robbie Robertson read off an index card that "We have diversity as great as anywhere on the planet,” the patriotism card was long played out.

We are Canadian (by birth anyway)

Many of the Canadian passport holders who told us how great a country this is don’t actually live here.

Ready for their close-up

This wasn’t a slick production. The go-to camera move was the toggling of the smartphone’s 1x and 2x settings.

Best moment

It wasn’t Randy Bachman’s COVID-19 reworking of the lyrics to Takin’ Care of Business. Neither was it the show-starting cyber collaboration of Michael Bublé, Barenaked Ladies and Sofia Reyes. No, it was Nova Scotian Anne Murray addressing the pandemic and the mass shooting in her home province, before introducing a virtual choir of female physicians who sang the anthem Rise Again.

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