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Céline Dion

The Recordbreaking Diva


17/10/2003 - 

Having reached her 35th year, Céline Dion could justifiably lounge back on her laurels and never work again. But the international diva, who has sold a staggering 150 million albums in her twenty-year career, is back in the music news with Une fille et quatre types. The album, Céline's first French CD since 1998, was written and produced by her long-term French collaborator Jean-Jacques Goldman. RFI Musique looks back at Ms. Dion's record-breaking career:

Céline, youngest of a family of 14 little Dions, has always applied the same workaholic drive to her live performances as she has to her studio work. But her gruelling tours and non-stop recording schedules have transformed the leading Francophone chanteuse into a global superstar whose career in the Anglo-Saxon world is enough to make U.S. pop divas green with envy. Under the guiding hand of her husband manager, René Angélil, the singing prodigy from Charleville, Quebec, has taken on the giants of American and British music - and come out on top!

The French public's first contact with the future superstar came in 1983 when the young prodigy from Charleville was just 15 years old. Céline was invited on to Michel Drucker's prime time TV show Champs-Elysées and went on to score a huge hit with the single D'amour et d'amitié (which sold 700,000 copies in France and 200,000 back home in Quebec). Music fans in Quebec took Céline to their hearts right from the start, supporting her from the release of her very first album released in 1981. Boosted by the success of the single Ce n'était qu'un rêve (written by her mother), Céline's debut album La Voix du Bon Dieu went on to rack up sales of over 100,000 in Quebec. And following the success of her Christmas album, Celine Dion chante Noël, Céline's second album Tellement j'ai d'amour fared even better in her homeland, selling an impressive 125,000 copies.

While developing her career in Canada with three new albums (plus a second Christmas album) released between 1984 and 1986, Céline set her sights on Europe once more. Returning in 1987 with a more consciously pop image, Ms. Dion went on to make a major impact with her ninth album, Incognito. The album, written by her compatriot Luc Plamondon, proved a big hit and sales rapidly topped the 200,000 mark. In 1988 the young diva went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest (for Switzerland), wowing 600 million TV viewers with her entry Ne partez pas sans moi. The Eurovision winner went on to sell 300,000 copies in Europe.

However, Céline's career in the French-speaking world began flagging soon afterwards. No matter, her dynamic manager René Angélil was already beavering away backstage, preparing a concerted onslaught on America. Céline re-emerged in 1990 at the age of 22 with a new look and a new album, Unison – recorded, for the very first time, in English. The single Where Does My Heart Beat Now broke straight into the U.S. charts, shooting to no. 4 in Billboard's Hot 100. Unison established Céline as a major new star in the U.S. (selling a staggering 1 million copies) and Canada (300,000). In fact, Unison proved to be such an international hit that it even won the Charleville prodigy new fans in Japan.

Angélil attempted to relaunch Céline's career in the French-speaking world at this point, but the attempt ended in relative failure. A French album entitled Des mots qui sonnent was released in November 1991. But while the album proved successful in Quebec (selling 125,000 copies), it did not fare so well in France where the record-buying public had more or less ignored Céline since her brief brush with fame there in the mid-80s. Undeterred, Céline turned her attention to the States once more where her fanbase was growing at an incredible rate. Céline Dion, her second album in English, sold a phenomenal 2 million copies in 1992. But two years later Céline surpassed her personal record, selling 6 million copies of The Colour of My Love which established her as an undisputed international star.

Meanwhile, Céline set out to conquer France again with a cover of Ziggy (a song from Michel Berger and Luc Plamondon's hit rock opera Starmania). The single scored a huge hit in the French charts in the summer of '93 and that was only the start of her French comeback. Céline’s new superstar status ensured sturdier promotion campaigns for her subsequent recordings and from now on the albums she recorded in French went on to break international sales records. As fans eagerly awaited the release of new material, Des mots qui sonnent was re-released in France and finally took off in the charts, selling 300,000 copies. This gave French fans the chance to discover a new side to the diva who had previously been seen as an "American" star. (Released in the U.S., Des mots qui sonnent was marketed as Dion sings Plamondon and went on to sell 100,000 copies).

Céline's major breakthrough on the French market came with the beginning of her collaboration with Jean-Jacques Goldman on the album D'Eux, however. The album, which spawned a whole series of chart-toppers including Je sais pas and Pour que tu m'aimes encore, went on to sell over 7 million copies worldwide (including 200,000 in the U.S. and over 100,000 in the U.K.), becoming the best-selling French album of all time. Céline and Goldman embarked upon another successful collaboration in 1998 for the album S'il suffisait d'aimer which went on to clock up sales of 4 million.

Happily established as a singer with a double Francophone/Anglophone identity (just like her native Canada), Céline profited from her new position to launch a double-pronged attack on the music world. As sales of her French album D'Eux continued to rise steadily, Céline released a new album in English entitled Falling Into You. The effect was global Dion-mania. Falling Into You went on to sell an incredible 26 million copies worldwide, including 11 million in the U.S. and 7 million in Europe.

1998 proved to be even more of a record year for Diva Dion. Boosted by the phenomenal international success of My Heart Will Go On (the theme song to Titanic), Céline's new album Let's Talk About Love smashed all her previous sales records, selling a staggering 30 million copies worldwide. Céline ended the year on a high note with the release of her first Christmas album in English. The album, entitled These Are Special Times, racked up sales of 12 million. In 1999 sales of Céline's greatest hits compilation, All The Way – A Decade of Song, equalled the record set by Let's Talk About Love. And while sales of subsequent albums have been below that, these are far from being negligible. (A New Day Has Come, released in 2001, sold 12 million copies and One Heart, released in 2002, 5 million).

While Céline would never have achieved her superstar status without the support of the media and the record-buying public in the U.S. and the U.K., she has done her bit for French music over the years, assuring the success of French songs which would probably never have got beyond Francophone borders without her. Of the 150 million albums Diva Dion has sold in the world to date, 20 million of them have been in French. Some might say that's a lot, some might say that's a little – but one thing’s for sure, without Céline French record sales would be dramatically lower!

Céline Dion 1 fille & 4 types (Columbia) 2003

Céline Dion D’elles (Columbia) 2007
In concert at Bercy Stadium, in Paris, from 20 May 2008

Gilles  Rio

Translation : Julie  Street