Canadian songs turning 20 this year: Tegan and Sara, Kardinal Offishall, Feist, more

The early 2000s ushered in a new generation of Canadian musicians. Pop-punk was flourishing, with important contributions being made by Avril Lavigne and Sum 41; hip-hop artists like Kardinal Offishall and k-os were carving out their own lane; late ’90s chart-toppers Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette were continuing their reign into the new millennium. 

But Canada’s biggest musical dominance of that time was in indie-rock. As Michael Barclay, author of Hearts on Fire, a book that looks back at Canadian music’s boom between 2000-2005, explained to CBC Books in 2022: “This is a time when the weirdos won in Canadian music. Canadians have always been very good at making superstars who worked very hard at breaking out beyond Canadian borders. And this was a transformative time in technology when a lot of traditional gate-keeping was no longer as important and there were ways to leapfrog over it to reach an international audience.” 

It’s a testament to the talent of this new wave of artists that many of them are still front and centre on the Canadian and international stages: Feist, Broken Social Scene, Chromeo, Tegan and Sara and more. While some acts got an earlier start, 2004 was part of this peak, marking game-changing debuts by some of these artists and breakthrough hits by others who finally found success in the U.S. and beyond. 

Below are 15 songs turning 20 in 2024. What was your favourite song from 2004?

LISTEN: Pete Morey hosts a three-hour radio special titled 2023 Unwrapped, about the musical highlights of 2023 and what 2024 has in store. 

CBC Radio Specials2:42:492023 UNWRAPPED: with Pete Morey

Joined by friends and special guests, host Pete Morey rewinds the musical highlights of 2023 and cues up what 2024 has in store. The 23 best Canadian albums of 2023 at 00:00:00 The breakout stars of 2022 at 55:50:00 Albums to look forward to in 2024 at 1:21:15 Songs turning 20 in 2024 at 1:33:54 The top 10 Canadian songs of 2023 at 1:50:13

‘My Happy Ending,’ Avril Lavigne

Avril Lavigne has always possessed a knack for delivering sardonic lyrics about scummy ex-boyfriends. When it came time to craft her second album, Under My Skin, she created “My Happy Ending,” an anthemic breakup song that’s deliciously scathing. “You were everything, everything that I wanted/ we were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it,” she sings, as sadness and rage collide. The wailing guitars demonstrated faithfulness to Let Go’s pop-punk roots, but the melancholy lyrics were indicative of Lavigne’s development as a songwriter. “My Happy Ending” was symbolic of her transition from a fearless teen to a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, accurately capturing the crushing pain of heartbreak in all of its messiness. — Natalie Harmsen

‘Crabbuckit,’ k-os

K-os’s rap-fusion song “Crabbuckit” uses an upbeat melody to contrast cynical lyricism about the competitive nature of the music industry: “No time to get down ’cause I’m moving up/ check out the crabs in the bucket,” he sings, using the crab bucket metaphor to shade the peers attempting to drag him back. The genius lies in that juxtaposition, which makes the handclap-heavy song a spoonful of sugar to help the truth go down. The track was a fitting choice to put on an album titled Joyful Rebellion, and it would go on to win the Juno Award for single of the year in 2005. Whether you’re a Torontonian “walking down Yonge Street on a Friday” or not, the catchy tune still resonates with many Canadians and continues to be one of k-os’s most-loved tracks. — NH

‘Mushaboom,’ Feist

Before the eclipsing success of “1234,” Leslie Feist’s most notable hit was “Mushaboom,” off her 2004 album, Let it Die. A gentle pop melody marked by acoustic plucks and handclaps, the airy anthem was an idyllic slice of life wedged into an album that was otherwise in the trenches of heartbreak. She sang of daydreams of children who haven’t been born yet, settling into a home with a partner, and a piecemeal mindset that “we’ll collect the moments one by one/ I guess that’s how the future’s done.” Feist told Pitchfork in 2017 that she wrote the song “thinking it wasn’t conceivable that I could ever attain those things, it was like the mirage that runs in front of your face about adulthood.” Whether the future unfolds the exact way one imagines, that childlike wonder swirls throughout this track to remind us to never let go of that optimism. Twenty years later, “Mushaboom” is still as magically uplifting as the first time we heard it. — Melody Lau

‘Walking With a Ghost,’ Tegan and Sara

The lead single from Tegan and Sara’s fourth album, So Jealous, “Walking With a Ghost” helped the Quin sisters reach their largest fanbase in their nearly 10-year career so far. Sara took the vocal lead on the track built solely on a pre-chorus and chorus, repeating, “No matter which way you go/ no matter which way you stay/ you’re out of my mind” over an earworm mix of acoustic and electric guitar, as she tried to exorcise the spirit haunting her. Sara wrote the song after moving to Montreal from Vancouver, and away from Tegan for the first time. Instead of signalling the end of their band, Sara’s move reinvigorated them: the resulting album garnered the sisters their first Juno nomination, and the White Stripes appreciatively covered “Walking With a Ghost” for an EP a year after the single was released. — Holly Gordon

‘Spider-Man Theme,’ Michael Bublé

The iconic theme song for the animated TV series Spider-Man, dating from the late 1960s, has a surprising Canadian connection: it was recorded at RCA Studios in Toronto (where the cartoon was produced) and includes vocalists drawn from two singing groups based at the CBC. It’s fitting, then, that a Canadian singer would record a dramatic new version of the song for the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man 2, which came out in 2004 and starred Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco. It was among the very first songs ever released commercially by the then barely known Michael Bublé, to whom cinema-goers were introduced during the movie’s closing credits. The song is a perfect vehicle for Bublé, who’s right at home with the arrangement’s big-band brass and rat-pack swagger. The song was not included on the soundtrack, so the version that’s become best known is a re-recording, released as a “Junkie XL Remix.” — Robert Rowat

‘Bad Boy,’ Keshia Chanté

Keisha Chanté has been quite busy the past twenty years — releasing four albums, hosting  BET’s 106 and Park and Entertainment Tonight Canada and delving into philanthropy  — but in 2004 she was new on the scene, with a self-titled debut that put her on the map as an artist-to-watch. “Unpredictable,” an early single released in 2003, showed off her vocal chops, and second single “Bad Boy” showed audiences she had a bit of grit. On it, she wonders why her man has gone soft and lovey-dovey, when she fell for a tough bad boy: “Bring back the thug, or this thing is dead.” If only the 15-year-old Chanté knew how valuable a sweet guy who buys you flowers and sings you love songs really is. The writing team included Shawn Desman, a friend of Chanté’s and fellow emerging R&B talent in his own right. “Bad Boy” fits right into that pocket of R&B-pop that was de rigueur in the early aughts: danceable beats, radio-friendly choruses and shiny production. The music video was directed by Director X and it’s full of the colourful backgrounds and dance sequences that would become his calling card. — Kelsey Adams

‘Bang Bang,’ Kardinal Offishall

Kardinal Offishall had a bone to pick with his old music label, MCA Records, after his album Firestarter Vol. 2: The F-Word Theory was shelved in 2003. He eventually left, and the following year he released a fiery independent mixtape called Kill Bloodclott Bill, which he recorded in only three weeks. The mixtape earned a Juno nomination for rap recording of the year in 2005, and “Bang Bang” was one of the standout tracks: Offishall cleverly used the song to air out his grievances, laying into how the execs left him “out in the cold to die.” The sample of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” on the chorus — an unexpected choice that shouldn’t work but somehow does —  elevated his message of “going for the jugular” of those who had wronged him. — NH

‘Needy Girl,’ Chromeo

All the foundational elements of Chromeo’s signature sound are present on “Needy Girl,” one of the Montreal duo’s earliest breakout hits: ’80s-inspired synths, a funky bassline and that robotic talk box vocal effect. It’s a testament to Chromeo’s golden melodic senses that this combination never sounded cold or mechanical; instead, their music perfectly channeled the likes of Hall & Oates and Prince while infusing it with their own playboy woes. While Chromeo’s sound has evolved in the two decades since “Needy Girl,” this song provides a potent evergreen formula that Dave 1 and P-Thugg continue to go back to time and time again. — ML 

‘We’re All to Blame,’ Sum 41

Sum 41’s early years projected the band as a group of pop-punk youngsters who hung out at skate parks, parodied other bands and occasionally dressed up as their metal band alter egos, Pain for Pleasure. But the band’s third album, 2004’s Chuck, kicked off with a more serious lead single. While the music video for “We’re All to Blame” was a light-hearted spoof of the ’80s television series Solid Gold, the track itself showed off a darker, more political side of the band. “And we’re all to blame/ we’ve gone too far, from pride to shame,” Deryck Whibley sings on the chorus, an indictment of Western culture and its greed and complicity in the midst of the Iraq war. In many ways, the song’s central message remains eerily pertinent 20 years later. — ML 

‘Your Ex-Lover is Dead,’ Stars

“When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.”

This fateful line, read by Torquil Campbell’s father before the strings begin, sets the tone for a song that would land in many perfectly matched melodramas: Season 2 of The O.C.; the Season 5 finale of Degrassi: The Next Generation; the soundtrack of twee film Daydream Nation. The lead track on Stars’ third album, Set Yourself on Fire, “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” is overflowing with feelings. The strings, the brass, the twining of Campbell and Amy Millan’s voices as they sing “live through this, and you won’t look back” — it all added up to a soundtrack for heartbreak in the early aughts, set squarely in Montreal. As CBC Music’s Melody Lau wrote on the song’s 15th anniversary: “It’s a song that both reflects a hyper-specific time and place — a burgeoning Montreal music scene that was on the cusp of breaking through to a worldwide audience — but at the same time, it’s such a timeless song.” — HG

‘When the Night Feels My Song,’ Bedouin Soundclash

“When the Night Feels My Song” remains Bedouin Soundclash’s most popular song, 20 years after its release. Sometimes it’s difficult to know the impact a song will have, but in hindsight, the signs were all there that this would be a lasting classic. The formulation of the track is so simple, with a meandering ska bassline, offbeat guitar and a rhythm that is impossible not to bop your head to. Like a lot of reggae and ska music, it deals in universal themes that stay ever-relevant: the lyrics are a reminder that whatever trials and tribulations life throws your way, a new day will always come — which is maybe cheesy, but welcome when you need it. Seriously, try not to smile when lead singer Jay Malinowski sings: “Hey, hey, hey/ Hey beautiful day.” “When The Night…” was also a commercial success: it went platinum in Canada, got played in commercials in Canada and the U.K. and even became the theme song for CBC Kids from 2007 to 2013. The new attention the band received from the song led to them touring with No Doubt, Coldplay and the Roots. In a 2011 interview with Pique News, bassist Eon Sinclair spoke about the song’s staying power: “The fact that you’re hearing it on the radio seven years after we wrote it while a lot of people that we’ve played with in the past have had singles come and go, is [also] meaningful.” — KA

‘Le métronome,’ Malajube

“Le métronome nous a vaincu,” Julien Mineau sings in the opening moments of “Le métronome,” a standout on Malajube’s debut album, Le compte complet. This acknowledgement of being defeated by a metronome is an early admission of the Montreal band’s off-kilter indie-rock style, one that lined up well with fellow up-and-comers from that city like Wolf Parade and the Unicorns. There’s a jagged, DIY nature to Malajube’s music, but the band never sacrificed a good melody to the cacophony that surrounded it. Songs like “Le métronome” would provide the foundation that Malajube would later build off of on its 2006 Polaris Music Prize-nominated breakthrough, Trompe l’oeil. — ML 

‘Don’t Go (Girls and Boys),’ Fefe Dobson

Twenty years after “Don’t Go (Girls and Boys)” was released, we’re experiencing a Fefe Dobson comeback — and listening to this hidden track off the reissue of the singer’s self-titled debut album, it’s easy to hear why. A songwriter who “love[s] love,” as she recently told CBC Music, Dobson’s titular plea is buoyant instead of heartbroken, a hopeful thread running through the chorus as she sings: “Girls and boys should be together/ don’t go/ girls and boys can rule the world/ don’t go/ boys and boys should be together/ don’t go/ girls and girls can rule the world.” It’s an inclusive pop jam that hits the spot no matter what year it is — and further proof that Dobson should’ve ranked up there with the Avril Lavignes of the early aughts. — HG

‘Awake in a Dream,’ Kalan Porter 

When Kalan Porter won the second season of Canadian Idol, “Awake in a Dream” was the song synonymous with his coronation. He performed it when it was announced he’d become the new idol, and it was everything a song for a celebratory moment should be: soaring, heartfelt and the right amount of cheesy. Although on the surface it was a love ballad, the lyrics “Open my eyes and it’s amazing/ how my world has changed when I look around,” articulated the euphoric rush of his win. “Awake in a Dream” became the first single from Porter’s debut album, 219 Days, which went double platinum. — NH

‘Tangled Up in Me,’ Skye Sweetnam

Anyone who watched MuchMusic in the early aughts will immediately recognize the opening guitar riffs from Skye Sweetnam’s “Tangled Up in Me.” The highly stylized video was inescapable on the channel, playing constantly after the single dropped in March 2004. “Tangled Up in Me” followed the success of 2003’s “Billy S.” and was a more fulsome introduction to the artist whose angsty rasp and irreverent lyricism fit right in with Avril Lavigne and Fefe Dobson. The song is a perfect encapsulation of teenage courting — playing mind games, acting cool and nonchalant instead of being direct, or as Sweetnam puts it, using reverse psychology: “Can’t you see I want you by the way I push you away?” Her lyrics wouldn’t be out of place on an Olivia Rodrigo or Tate McRae track nowadays, proof that times change but the challenges of teenage life remain the same. — KA