Hip Study: Carleton University Grad Student on the Songs of the Tragically Hip

Hip Study:
Carleton University Grad Student
on the Songs of the Tragically Hip

Critical Constructions of Canadianness: The Tragically Hip and Representations of Canadian Identity 
Michelle MacQueen talks about her research

Carleton University master's student Michelle MacQueen was recently listed as a top 25 finalist of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Storyteller competition. Her research subject? The songs of the Tragically Hip.
The Tragically Hip performing in Aspen, United States (16 October 2007) by Kim Pardi
At the bottom of her research is the notion of culture and identity intertwined. "It is how music develops Canadian identity," she explains.

According to Michelle, the Tragically Hip catalogue contains over 300 Canadian lyrical references. It was the nature of those references that drew her interest. "They either have a darker tone, or darker subjects," she says.

She notes songs like Wheat Kings, which talks about the real life unjust imprisonment of David Milgard, and Goodnight Attawapiskat, that touches on the troubled First Nations community. Even Bobcaygeon, which, while on the surface is a romantic love song, also contains a reference to social unrest and white supremacists, albeit in a more poetic mode.

"I wouldn't necessarily call myself a fan," Michelle says, somewhat surprisingly. As she points out, she was a generation behind the Hip's biggest demographic. "This project is actually my Master's thesis."

The Hip's Final Concert -- televised live across the nation in August 2017 -- and the surrounding mass media coverage is what convinced her to take their music on as the subject of her research. As she watched the live stream and saw the band at work on stage, as well as the connection to the fans, she understood their appeal firsthand. "I thought that was really powerful," she says. "That's what really drew me in."
Gord Downie at the Hillside Festival 2001 by Ryan Merkley
In turning her academic lens on the iconic Canadian band, however, she didn't become an uncritical fan. "There are some issues with taking them as representing all Canadians," she points out. Made up of entirely white male members, it can hardly be said to be diverse.

The massive public platform generated by their Final Concert included the Prime Minister himself, Michelle points out, adding weight to their message. "It's important to look at what they were saying," she says. She notes that their darker and more truthful message comes in contrast to many of the more celebratory songs of many artists considered to be quintessentially Canadian, such as Stompin' Tom Connors.

One of the challenges was describing her thesis in 300 words or less than 3 minutes for the Storytellers' competition. As a top 25 finalist, MacQueen will receive a cash prize of $3,000.

The next step involves joining the remaining 24 contestants to deliver live presentations of their work at the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Regina – and compete for a top five competition spot.

Here's her pitch: