Celine Dion just finished her world tour with three concerts at Auckland’s Spark Arena. Huge fan Madeleine Chapman was there to experience the magic.
In 2015, I flew to Las Vegas, the last place I’d choose to holiday, and spent a lot of money so that I could see Celine Dion’s show at Caesar’s Palace. It had been something I’d wanted to do since I read about her first Vegas show in the back pages of the Dominion Post in 2003. Yes, I was a nine year old Celine fan. As I sat, fresh off a hive-filled allergic reaction, and watched Celine perform in Vegas, it felt not quite right. I was by myself, in a city I hated, halfway across the world, and my face was itchy. So when she announced her New Zealand shows earlier this year, I knew I had to go. And yet I hesitated in buying a ticket because wow they weren’t cheap. Was she worth $150?
I forgot about all the Celine moments in my life and instead focused on the cost. I forgot about Relay for Life 2012, when I requested ‘I’m Alive’ (despite a lot of friends’ protests) to the DJ at 4 pm and the whole team listened out for TWELVE HOURS until they finally played it at 4 am and I was at the one station where you couldn’t hear the sound system. Did I well up when I got back to the team base and found out that I had missed it? Maybe. But it was 4 am and I was running around in pigtails so it could have been anything. I forgot about being the only person in the whole world who loves that the first song kids learn on the recorder is ‘My Heart Will Go On’. I forgot that I once drove to Auckland with Mum and the only music on my iPod that she wouldn’t hate was Celine Dion so we listened to an eight song playlist on repeat for ten consecutive hours. I forgot about trying to sing along to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and not knowing how to sing, let alone harmonise, so trying to sing both parts at once or choosing one then realising it’s too high so switching to the other and realising it’s too low, then subsequently realising I must have a range of half an octave at best.
I forgot what it takes to be a young Celine Dion fan. I could be absolutely killing it on the aux cord for five hours but if I dare play a little ‘Power of Love’, suddenly I’m that wedding DJ with the lisp from Love Actually.
I forgot all of this and didn’t set an alarm to buy a ticket the moment they were released. Instead, I paid the price for my hesitation by buying the last tickets still left and spending more money on two concert tickets than I ever will again. Ever. Here is a short list of things I could’ve bought with that money instead of two tickets to see Celine Dion.
200 KFC snack boxes
100 pints of Lion Red at a reasonable price
Two-thirds of a root canal
0.1% of a two bedroom home in Sandringham
I took my sister. We bought the merch (of course we bought the merch) and walked out onto the floor of Spark Arena, feeling richer than we’ve ever felt. As we sat in our incredibly good seats, I was still stewing over how much I’d paid to be there. Then a lovely young pair sat next to us and the man leaned over to cheerily announce “we got our tickets today. Paid $1500 for them.” I stopped stewing.
The sold out arena was the quietest concert venue I’ve ever experienced. Everyone was seated and ready well before the opener even began her set. A woman in front of us was reading her Kindle. Celine Dion knows how to put on a show. And she also knows what her fans want. So instead of a lesser known artist (could’ve been literally anyone, to be fair), she had Veronic Diclaire, a singer impersonator, perform and sing classics by Shakira, Adele, Tina Turner etc. It was a genius move. The Celine Dion demographic is a Venn diagram of The Breeze FM and Coast FM. Veronic sang the most played songs on The Breeze since the year 2000 and people loved it. It was like hearing your Aunt Karen’s party playlist sung live. When she finished with an emotional ‘I Will Always Love You’, she received a long standing ovation, genuinely the warmest reception to an opening act I’ve ever heard.
When Celine made her entrance, singing ‘The Power of Love’ in a sparkly gold suit… oh to have the confidence to wear a sparkly gold suit unironically. Her voice was somehow more impressive than I remembered. Anyone who’s foolishly tried to sing ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now’ at karaoke will know that it is the hardest song to sing in its entirety. But cracking highs in the privacy of a darkened room, surrounded by sticky floor, is one thing. Cracking those same highs while hearing someone absolutely nail them is an exercise in extreme ego downsizing. In hindsight, the entire night was a playlist of Songs Not To Attempt At Karaoke.
I hate to bring back a short-lived and long-dead internet trope, but Celine Dion is Big Dick Energy. Only someone oozing BDE could get away with unironically saying “Boom boom dynamite” on multiple occasions accompanied by some strange hand gestures. Only the Biggest of Dicks Energy could pull off a fifteen-minute story about a fake Ryan Reynolds Deadpool 2 scenario (she didn’t actually pull it off but no one cared and that’s the same thing). She changed outfits a bunch of times, did a strange choreographed-but-not-really dance with an actual dancer (is that his only job on tour? Cool), and sang five (5) covers that everyone loved. Huge. Dick. Energy.
She sang all the hits (well, as many as she could fit in the allocated time). If I had to search for a criticism it would be that she sang shortened versions of all her songs. Most skipped out a verse and a bridge for time, which is fair enough considering most of her songs are at least five minutes. But imagine a three hour concert of hearing all of her hits sung in full. I’d pay my imaginary home deposit once again for that experience. It didn’t really matter what songs she sang – she did a few Prince numbers in the middle – because everything she sang sounded good. Her rendition of “You’re The Voice” was one of the most exciting tracks of the night.
Once again, Celine Dion proved to be the master of confused crowds. Everyone had seats and there were certainly songs that called for quiet, seated reflection, but there was a real reluctance to stand, let alone dance. In fairness, almost everyone around us was old, but still, it felt weird to sit politely while one of the greatest voices of the 20th century did her thing. At one point Celine asked everyone to turn their phone torches on. I have an old phone and it had already died but no one around us put up a flare. Instead, they all looked around in amazement at the spots of lights coming from the cheap(er) seats. It was an eerily pleasant concert experience. At the end of the night, the man sitting next to us said “thanks for being great concert neighbours!” And as we wished him well, we could hear people all around us saying goodbye to the people they were sitting next to. Celine Dion unites.
She, of course, finished with ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and it was of course incredible. But then she stuck around and talked for another ten minutes about her team and their kids and some other stuff (she talked a lot), and then properly ended with… ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ (yes, the Elvis song). Only Celine Dion could get away with ending her concert on a cover. She didn’t sing ‘Immortality’, which I consider to be her greatest song but I didn’t care too much. No one cared, really. We were all just happy to hear her sing one more time.
P.S. Here’s my favourite video of Celine (or an explainer for my favourite video). It’s her going up against the mighty Aretha Franklin. Enjoy.