QUEBEC CITY — Celine Dion warned me not to sit on the couch.
An hour or so after strutting offstage to finish the first concert of her new world tour, the pop superstar had just opened the door to her dressing room in the Videotron Centre arena here, not far from where she was born in tiny Charlemagne. Among the many seating options, a boxy gray sofa seemed the most natural spot for a post-show interview.
“Oh, not there,” Dion said as I went to take a seat. “This is the hardest couch I’ve ever sat on in my life. Well, give it a try. It’s so bad. Am I being a diva? No, right? Do you agree with me?” She wasn’t being a diva; the sofa felt like a bus-stop bench. So instead we settled into two chairs next to a Pilates machine and a shriveled-up rubber ball.
What do you do with that? I asked Dion, who was dressed not at all casually in a black mesh top over a zebra-print skirt. When it’s inflated, “you lay on it and it helps you to open the chest,” she said.
And that stretching is good for singing?
“It’s good for living,” she replied with a grin.
THE SINGER’S REBIRTH
You can understand why Dion, 51, has well-being in mind. The Courage tour — scheduled to run through late 2020 and named after a new album she plans to release Nov. 15 — marks the French Canadian singer’s return to the road following the death of her husband and manager, René Angélil, who died of throat cancer in 2016. It also comes after the conclusion earlier this year of Dion’s long-term engagement at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where she began performing in 2003 (well before Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez came to town).
Not unlike Vegas, which Dion helped rid of its musty Wayne Newton vibe, pop music has changed immeasurably since then; Dion’s brand of ultra-polished uplift — as heard in chart-topping anthems like “The Power of Love,” “Because You Loved Me” and the Oscar- and Grammy-winning “My Heart Will Go On,” from “Titanic” — feels even further from today’s gloomy, hip-hop-attuned Top 40 than it did from the chipper late-’90s era of Hanson and the Spice Girls.
Yet something unexpected happened on this veteran entertainer’s path toward pastured irrelevance: Dion was reborn as a proudly avant-garde style icon known for flaunting audacious outfits on Instagram and at highly photographed events like May’s Met Gala in New York, where she was seen (and seen again) in an elaborate Oscar de la Renta get-up involving sequins, a feathered headpiece and what one fashion critic described as “sleeves draped in 3,000 strands of floor-length fringe made from micro-cut glass bugle beads.”
The Dionaissance, it’s been called, a phrase Dion herself approves of, even if she claims not to know precisely how it originated. “I always loved fashion — it’s not something new,” she said. “But my team and I decided it’s OK to go to fashion shows, then it made such an impact that they wanted me to be in the front row. And that turned out to be a big deal.”
LIVING HER BEST LIFE
Now that sense of rejuvenation — a sort of living-her-best-life quality — is creeping into her music. You can hear her having a great time on “Courage,” her first English-language album since 2013’s low-key “Loved Me Back to Life”; it’s full of glittery, happily melodramatic songs in which she’s embracing her fabulousness with refreshed vigor.
Onstage in Quebec City, she seemed to lean into the outsize idea of Celine Dion. There were adventurous outfits, of course, including one that paired crisp tuxedo pants with a silky blouse whose enormous sleeves billowed just so when she pointed skyward to accentuate a big note in “Beauty and the Beast.” But she also joked easily with the audience and did a killer medley of old classics by David Bowie, Labelle, Prince and Tina Turner.
“She’s in a really good place,” said Stephan Moccio, a songwriter and producer from Ontario, Canada, who’s known Dion for years and worked on “Courage.” “The love of her life is gone, but I think she’s found this unique confidence — this kind of emotional wisdom — that we’ve never seen before.”
The bigger, more theatrical material — disco-inflected songs in which she could display both her voice and her wit — have captured the feeling she wants to put across in her show.
“I love the spotlight — I love to be looked at,” she told me as she smoothed her hair, which was knotted in a low bun at the back of her head.
“Life is short,” she added. “Can we just have a good time?”
Before the concert, I’d walked around the arena to get a sense of who comes to a Celine Dion concert in 2019 — to find out, in other words, whether her rediscovery by young people online has translated to the real world. The answer, at least in her home province, seemed to be that it had: For every two middle-aged couples who’d probably been with Dion since the outset of her French-language career in the ’80s, I glimpsed somebody in their 20s or younger, which seemed to please Dion when I told her later.
Yet even the new fans want to hear the old songs, none more so than “My Heart Will Go On,” which drove the “Titanic” soundtrack to sales of more than 11 million copies. Dion said she didn’t like the song initially but agreed to record a demo at Angélil’s request; according to pop legend, the smash hit was built around that original vocal take, a story Dion stands by today.
Decades later, she’s come around to the song. “When I die and my children can say their mom sang ‘Titanic,’ it’s good for their heritage,” she said.