The Grey Cup Halftime Show: Why it’s Important that Alessia Cara is Playing this Year

(Archive Post) This was originally written on November 23, 2018.

Chances are, you know of Alessia Cara.

The 22-year old from Mississauga, Ontario has been nominated for four Grammy Awards in her young career, and has already teamed up with both Logic, a popular rapper, and Zedd, a DJ who’s worked with Ariana Grande, among others.

More importantly, Cara’s on the radio a lot lately. “Stay,” her collaboration with Zedd, reached number one on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40, and got to number seven on their “Hot 100.” Cara has three songs that have appeared on those lists. She was even featured last month on the Billboard website, with an interview piece. She’s been one of the top pop stars in North America within the last two years.

Notice that – North America. Because while Cara is Canadian, she’s not just making an impact within Canadian charts. Billboard, the site for those charts, is American.

Really, you could make a case for her to headline a Super Bowl.

That’s why Cara’s appearance in the upcoming Grey Cup matchup between the Calgary Stampeders and the Ottawa Redblacks is very cool, and very important.

It’s no secret that the CFL has struggled to find ratings in two major markets. One is Toronto, where the league simply isn’t as popular as it is in Calgary, Ottawa, or even Hamilton. The other is, well, anywhere outside of Canada. Among Americans, specifically, the league is seen as a place to go for struggling NFL personalities.

Has he struggled for a while? Maybe he should go to the CFL for a bit.

This identity is one that the Canadian league has tried to leave behind for a while, especially since the 2016 rebrand that wanted to “show new fans what (they’re) made of.” Jeffrey Orridge, the CFL commissioner at the time, told The Globe and Mail “You shouldn’t just come to the game and support and engage in the CFL brand because it’s Canadian; you should engage because it’s fun and exciting.”

That really reads like “We’re cool to watch if you’re Canadian, but we’re also entertaining if you aren’t.” The league has been looking for ways to legitimize the brand both within NFL-focused Canadian markets (for example, Toronto), and across North America.

Looking at past CFL Halftime Shows, the list is a little strange.

The 102nd Grey Cup had American group Imagine Dragons, who, at the time, were a rock band that was popular among alternative-music fans, primarily. (Since then, they’ve become more of a pop-rock band that has a very large fanbase. In 2018, they could headline the Super Bowl. In 2014? They weren’t popular enough.)

Grey Cup #103 had another US-born band in Fall Out Boy. Popular in the US and Canada? Yes. But they’re also the owners of a pretty specific fanbase, and don’t have the wide pop-music appeal that many other popular rock groups have. Still, a very good headliner for the Grey Cup. That said, Imagine Dragons and Fall Out Boy lack any kind of Canadian connection, which, as you might imagine, didn’t go over well with many CFL fans.

The 104th Grey Cup featured OneRepublic. Copy-and-Pasting what was said about Fall Out Boy would work, although they’ve had more oh-my-gosh-this-song-is-on-the-radio-AGAIN moments. (Particularly Counting Stars, although Love Runs Out was on both the radio and the NBA 2K15 soundtrack, so there was wide appeal of them by the time they took the stage here.) Not including the recent jump in popularity by Imagine Dragons, this was the most well-known act in recent years for the CFL.

Grey Cup #105. A game that was played in the capital city of Canada. The Ottawa stage saw Shania Twain, and it went very well. Twain is extremely popular, and she’s Canadian. It was a complete success for the CFL. The only criticism that one could bring to it is that Twain is primarily a country artist, which makes the audience more limited than it could be with a genre like pop. Still though, the favourable reception to the Twain halftime show set the stage for the league to build even more off of that in 2018.

With the booking of Alessia Cara, that’s what they did. They took what worked about some of the recent shows, and booked a pop-star (which, with apologies to rock, appeals to a wider audience for a TV halftime show) that is massively popular in both Canada (because she’s both on the charts and Canadian) and the United States.

It’s a step that will most likely draw eyes to the event in both countries, which is a major step to making the CFL relevant past the loyal fanbase it holds right now.

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