Canadian-U.S relations have been rocky lately with President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau debating the former's tariffs on Canada's aluminum and steel. It's been tense on a political and economic level, but our neighbours down South have also been a great source of collaboration over the years. In music, for example, many of our greatest artists have teamed up with American artists, directors, producers and more to create amazing art, and vice-versa.
To prove that there is still plenty of neighbourly love in this arduous time, we've rounded up some of the best U.S.-Canadian collaborations in music this year to prove that we can totally get along — even if our leaders are butting heads.
Janelle Monae and Grimes
Canadian artist/producer Grimes is always open to musical experimentation, and that has paired her with some unlikely musicians over the years. But, her partnership with American R&B star Janelle Monae has produced some of the best music from both artists. In 2015, Monae jumped on Grimes’ Art Angels standout, “Venus Fly,” and this year, Grimes returned the favour by working on Monae’s Dirty Computer single, “PYNK.” Both songs sound entirely different — though they share similar, powerfully feminist messages — and hint at a larger, more exciting range for both; something we hope the two continue exploring in the years to come.
— Melody Lau
Viano String Quartet
Nowhere is synergy more vital to a group’s success than among the members of a string quartet, a.k.a. classical music’s mini democracy. The Viano String Quartet have put that concept into practice this year, with strong showings at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition (third prize and the Sydney Griller Award) and the Fischoff Competition (silver medal). Comprised of two Canadians (violinist Lucy Wang and cellist Tate Zawadiuk) and two Americans (violinist Hao Zhou and violist Aiden Kane), the Viano Quartet is based at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. Their next performances in Canada will be in Montreal at the McGill International String Quartet Academy in August. Catch them if you can.
Check out their performance of Beethoven’s Op. 135 in the semifinal of Wigmore Hall Competition beginning at 9:20 in the video below.
— Robert Rowat
John Mayer, Charlotte Day Wilson and BADBADNOTGOOD
If you didn’t follow BADBADNOTGOOD or Charlotte Day Wilson closely on social media, you might have missed that, together, the Toronto band and artist were sampled on John Mayer’s 2018 hit, “New Light.” Frequent collaborators BBNG and CDW, who both just played live sets at Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton debut in Paris (no big deal), made quick mention of their involvement in Mayer’s retro-rock bop on Instagram, but didn’t mention which song of theirs was sampled. Their shared management has since confirmed to CBC Music that the sample heard on “New Light" is actually unreleased — so, maybe we’ve got more Toronto-infused Mayer to look forward to in the future.
— Jess Huddleston
Frank Dukes and... everybody
Frank Dukes — where to begin? If anyone is deserving of household-name-status in Canada, it’s Dukes — one of the game’s hardest-working producers who has production credits listed at every turn. Crafting beats and compositions for music’s biggest names, there’s no way the Grammy Award-winning Toronto producer has gotten a wink of sleep since 2013, when he started collaborating with the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Lorde, Kanye West, Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello, Frank Ocean, Cardi B and so many more. Dukes’ eclectic, homemade samples boast an original flare that outshines all of his competition right now, helping to further put Toronto on the map while bridging gaps between genres (and countries).
Drake and Migos
Toronto rapper Drake’s collaborative history with Atlanta hip-hop trio Migos dates all the way back to 2013 when he hopped on a remix of their song “Versace” to proclaim, “Born in Toronto but sometimes I feel like Atlanta adopted us.” This year, the two acts linked up again on Migos’ Culture II cut, and song of the summer contender, “Walk It Talk It.” Here, Drake’s verse effortlessly fits into the track’s mid-tempo beat as he makes references to his many beefs, while shouting out those who have stood by him (like the guys in Migos). Now, they’re taking that friendship one step further by embarking on a stadium tour together this summer.
Shawn Mendes and Julia Michaels
For Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes’ latest self-titled album, he called in some of pop’s biggest behind-the-scenes names to help him: Ed Sheeran, Ryan Tedder, Ian Kirkpatrick and Joel Little. He also teamed up with Julia Michaels, a songwriter who is only 24-years-old but has already penned dozens of hits for Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and Nick Jonas, on top of building her own solo career in recent years. For Mendes, whom she opened for on his 2017 world tour, she helped co-write two tracks: the fun and flirty “Nervous” and the sweet duet “Like to Be You.”
Wondagurl, Rich The Kid and Khalid
What were you doing when you were 9-years-old? Brampton producer Wondagurl was producing beats at home on her keyboard, honing the craft that would eventually nab her credits on albums by Jay Z, Travis Scott, Drake and more. A protege of accomplished (and equally connected) beatsmith Boi-1da, Wondagurl did her part as a hip hop ambassador this year by producing the song “Too Gone," off American rapper Rich The Kid’s anticipated debut album The World is Yours. Combined with pop heavy hitter Khalid’s crooning, Wondagurl’s clap beat and menacing xylophone add a semi-sweet, melodic allure to an otherwise unemotional album.
Neko Case and Carl Newman
Neko Case’s role in the band the New Pornographers has long confused fans about her citizenship. (She was born in Virginia, but spent many years in Vancouver attending school and performing in bands.) Regardless, Case’s list of collaborators over the years has included many Canadians (the Sadies, Sarah Harmer, k.d. Lang) and on her latest album, Hell-On, she teamed up with New Pornographers frontman Carl Newman once again to co-write “Gumball Blue.”
Kyle and Alessia Cara
We’re not going to lie, we were bad Canadians and hadn’t heard this collaboration prior to compiling this list. However, once we got our ears on it, we were hooked. Kyle, one of last year’s buzziest pop-R&B artists, recruited Grammy-winning Brampton favourite Cara for this coming-of-age ballad, which preaches, "We don’t have to know/ And maybe, we’re still babies/ We got time to grow.” The pair trade velvety verses on this slow burner, proving that American and Canadian kids can not only get along, but maybe even navigate this crazy world together in harmony.
Karena Evans and SZA
Director Karena Evans appeared on many people’s radars this year when she put together not one, but three Drake music videos: “God’s Plan,” “Nice For What” and “I’m Upset” — each one more viral than the last. When she’s not busy garnering millions of video views for Toronto’s biggest rapper, she's also found time to direct R&B artist SZA’s video for “Garden (Say It Like Dat).” It’s a clip that’s as visually stunning as her other work, and features a cameo from Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) as well as SZA’s mother.
More to explore: