Céline Dion is writhing on the floor, her reptilian impulses activated by a second-skin emerald-green dress with matching thigh-high sock boots. “I’m a chameleon, whoa oh oh oh,” she’d sung to the tune of Donna Summer’s “On the Radio” during her brief walk between the dressing room and now the studio floor of her ELLE photo shoot. This is the Céline Dion that memes are made of.
For suburban teens in the ’90s, Céline was a regular amid car visor CD sleeves—as likely to be sandwiched between Shania Twain and Mariah Carey as she was, more covertly, between the Fugees and Radiohead. Even the most pretentious music snobs had to admit her octaves-spanning vocal range was pretty impressive. But was it cool to love her? Let’s put it this way: That Céline CD was often “my mom’s.” Now, though…now, loving Céline Dion is undeniably cool.
Twentysomethings have latched onto the five-time Grammy Award winner as an icon to “stan” (to obsess over, to idolize; origin: stalker plus fan). Credit for this newfound fandom is owed in part to her shameless love of fashion (“Some people do drugs, I buy shoes,” she told journalist John Heilpern in 2012); and in part to Law Roach, the self-described “image architect” who’s cultivated that obsession into Instagram catnip.
The singer discovered Roach via the stylist’s work with Zendaya. Céline’s twin boys Eddy and Nelson, now 8½ years old, were fans of the former Disney star’s show K.C. Undercover. In 2016, Roach presented Céline with an oversize $885 Vetements hoodie printed with an image from Titanic. In case you’re not of this planet, Céline’s “My Heart Will Go On” is as central to the film as the boat itself. On a more self-conscious star, the hypebeast look could have landed with a “What was she thinking?” thud. But paired with Céline’s skinny jeans and gold Gucci heels, it was, to put it in internet terms, straight fire.
She’s only upped the sartorial ante since then. Behold her as a futuristic flight attendant in a plunging V-neck jumpsuit and a veiled military cap, and a mod Mary Poppins engulfed by a Marc Jacobs coat and wide-brim hat on steroids. Last July, a photo of her wearing a banana-yellow power suit and sunglasses went viral. In it, she defies gravity, perching on a windowsill, legs spread in a nearly 180-degree power stance. “My Heart Will Go Off,” “A New Slay Has Come,” “It’s All Coming Back to Memes,” declared Twitter. I would’ve given it a “Big Dion Energy.” Whatever the caption, Céline projects the very now notion of women doing whatever the fuck they want.
With this spike in her cross-generational appeal comes her new gig as global spokesperson for L’Oréal Paris. It’s what brings us together at a Las Vegas studio one chilly Saturday last February. After the shoot wraps, Céline changes into an Alexandre Vauthier couture minidress—blush, belted, sparkling (you know, casual)—to talk about her first-ever beauty contract. She does two interviews, one in French with ELLE France and one in English, with me. Both are punctuated by Céline’s sudden outbursts of singing, which is arguably her native tongue. With a net worth estimated at $430 million according to Forbes, she hardly needs the money, but L’Oréal Paris’s “I’m Worth It” tagline really resonated with her. “Telling other women that they, too, have self-worth, that they are strong, is obviously really important. You cannot limit yourself. My life started over at 50; I feel happy, I feel beautiful. I thought, ‘I must have done something right for this to be happening.’” I ask if she tracks her Instagram likes and comments. “Free your mind, and the rest will follow!” she sings, waving her finger in the air. “Be color-blind, don’t be so shallow!” Translation: No, she does not. Her team does, though, and she’s thankful to them for helping her be the best version of herself.
Céline living her fabulous life is a field day for her 3 million followers, who comment, “SLAYYYYYY,” and “Omfg bitch, Je T’aime.” But make no mistake: It’s Céline who’s having the most fun. “I am like a one-year-old!” she says. “I’m not saying that I don’t care what people think of me, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I can let myself make my own decisions and choices.” For years, she says, her vocal cords were the boss. All she did was practice. “Now I am discovering myself more and more. I am a woman assuming her own destiny, full of energy and in love with life. It’s never too late to start. At 51, I have the sense that I am at my pinnacle!”
Still, she’s hesitant to fully embrace her style-icon status. “I love fashion a lot, definitely. For me, fashion is art. It’s a way of expressing yourself. When I put something on, I play. I don’t take myself seriously. I kind of, like, borrow a character. But to be considered a fashion icon?” She throws her hands up. “I don’t know, I just do one day at a time, do the best I can, feel the way that I want to feel. That’s the most important thing.”
Céline’s feelings were a highlight of the spring 2019 couture season in Paris where fashion editors spotted, and socialed, her weeping front row at Valentino. She was, as they say, shook. “It was not clothes—it was magic, a fairy tale,” she recalls. But there was a more profound trigger. “The first song was ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,’ which was part of my wedding.” Céline’s husband and longtime manager, René Angélil, the father of her three sons, passed away in 2016. “The music starts and this dream comes, a lady, a beautiful rose. All you saw was her face in this amazing pink gown.” She starts to sing the Roberta Flack ballad. “It was so emotional; I was speechless. I didn’t want to cry. I was worried Mr. Valentino was looking at my reaction. To be honest, it felt like I was making a scene, but I was overwhelmed.” So, too, were bloggers, who raced to distill the moment.
What’s muted in Céline’s meme-ification, though, what her devoted fans know by heart, is her origin story. Like any headliner worth her triple-digit ticket price, there’s a certain mythology to her tale. It begins in Charlemagne, Quebec, where she was born the youngest of 14, “even though my dad didn’t want to have children,” she pauses, “but baby I’m worth it!” (See what she did there?) “My mom put all her dreams aside because we needed her at home.” Music was the family’s lifeblood. They performed Von Trapp–style when Céline was still a baby. At 12, she recorded a French song cowritten by her mom and brother Jacques. Her mother then sent the tape to Angélil, already an established manager in Quebec, who immediately registered Céline’s potential. Hers wasn’t just any other voice. It was a voice so promising, Angélil famously mortgaged his home to ensure it reached the masses. A voice so powerful it would drive sales of over 245 million albums worldwide. And a voice so astonishing and singular it would inspire the building of its own $95 million, 4,298-seat, state-of-the-art arena.
The Colosseum at Caesars Palace was specifically constructed for Céline’s first Vegas outing, A New Day. The show opened in March 2003, ran for nearly five years, and remains the city’s most successful residency to date, cashing in at over $385 million. When it was first announced, however, “people thought we were absolutely bazooka for performing here!” Céline says. At the time, long runs in Vegas were considered a death knell to relevancy, the fast track to early retirement. “I was supposed to be here for two months, maybe two years? I don’t know, I don’t count. I’ve been here a while.” She took a four-year break from performing to have her twins and care for her husband before returning to the stage in March 2011 with her current eponymous show. This month, on June 8 to be exact, she’ll take her final bow. In the 16 years since everyone bet against her, she’s not only obliterated their expectations but, most importantly, ushered in a new era of music’s most relevant artists—Lady Gaga, Cardi B, and Drake—settling into Sin City for extended stays.
I tell Céline she is basically the mayor of this town. “You think so?” she asks. A rare cold snap has just hit Vegas. “I’m starting to believe it, because it snowed a lot!” She laughs, hard, then pretends to be a local. “ ‘Céline Dion, Canadian! Quebecois! You’re bringing snow to Vegas! What are you doing to us?’ They’re blaming me!” Then again, Las Vegans can’t complain too much. Céline also makes it rain. Millions upon millions of dollars have poured into the city since she set up shop.
What Mickey Mouse is to Disney World, Céline Dion is to Vegas. Hear her echoing through McCarran International Airport. See her plastered tens of stories high, gazing upon all as they Uber onto the Strip. “What brings you to Vegas?” I overhear a receptionist at Caesars Palace ask a German woman checking into the hotel. “Céline!” she nearly shouts. “I came all this way to see Céline!”
It’s Tuesday, three days after our interview and Céline’s first night back at the Colosseum after a monthlong hiatus. I meet the show’s technical director, Bob Sandon, in the theater’s wings around 5:30 p.m. Céline is center stage, mid–sound check. “I get wings to fly, I feel like I’m alive,” she sings, her pitch so perfect I just assume it’s a recorded track. It’s not. The show starts in two hours, and Sandon is preternaturally calm. He’s been with the Colosseum since before the venue was built and has overseen its slate of productions (Elton John, Cher, and Mariah Carey, among others) ever since. A New Day was complicated, he explains. It was more Céline–meets–Cirque du Soleil, with 40-plus dancers and acrobats on a tricky inclined stage. By comparison, Céline is a relatively stripped-down affair. Apart from the enormous LED screens (the largest of their kind when the space opened), it’s just the singer flanked by a full orchestra and a few backup singers. Much better for showcasing the main draw, which is, of course…
“That voice, really,” says Zowie from Dublin. She and her friend Fiona, both 23, are sitting next to me for the show. I’ve asked them what they love so much about Céline. “Everyone loves her, don’t they?” Fiona asks rhetorically. “She’s brilliant.” Zowie’s fondness began when she “listened to her music with me mam.” Dressed in Kardashian-esque biker shorts and stacked wedge heels, they’re among the younger members of the audience, not counting a few kids in princess dresses.
For many, if not most, people here Céline is a bucket-list item. A night they’ve been saving and planning for for months—years, even—a once-in-a-lifetime event they’ll never forget. Photographers clad in usher uniforms make sure of that. They flatter couples, friends, mothers, and daughters into posing for pictures available for purchase. In the lobby, fruity “Beauty and the Beast” and “Encore Un Soir” cocktails sell for $28 each. (Zowie and Fiona opted for the “I’m Your Angel”). Want a program? That’ll be $30, please. This is all part of the Céline Experience. I consider all of the livelihoods that are dependent upon this one woman, and another meme comes to mind: Get that money.
About the show: Opening with “I’m Your Lady” (naturally), and for roughly 100 minutes thereafter, Céline gives the audience exactly what they came for, one greatest hit after another. She briefly stumps for Vegas, touting its shopping and various shows and “Did I mention shopping?,” and thanks the crowd, so much, for choosing her. She clocks miles of her swaggering, sashaying, and salsa-ing across the stage. What Céline lacks in choreography, it more than makes up for in the sheer physicality and facial expressions of its star. Céline shoulder-presses key changes. She lunges, backbends, and squats—so many deep squats—into crescendos. She whips and twirls her microphone cord, a delightfully analog dance partner. And she pounds her chest—a signature move—fist-pumping her pipes to their full capacity. (“By the way, don’t do that, okay?” she tells the crowd. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and look what happened to me!,” she gestures to her nonexistent cleavage.) At one point, during a cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” she actually sings a guitar solo. The whole production builds up to the show’s, er, splashiest number. Céline, standing high on a pedestal above the stage, performs “My Heart Will Go On,” enclosed by a curtain of water—two thousand gallons of it raining down around her. This is the Céline Dion that dreams are made of.
Back on the night of our interview, it was late—11:30 p.m.—when we sat down to talk. She runs on Vegas time. Surely she needs a reset. Nope. “Céline Dion is work work work work work,” she sang. She’s in the process of recording a new album. “I have about 675 songs, and I want to sing them all!” she told me. “I had a great time when I recorded 20 years ago, but now I really feel like I can speak up. If I’m not part of my own project, what am I doing here? Crying at Valentino and spending money on clothes?” Last November, she launched Celinununu, a line of gender-neutral children’s clothing in partnership with Nununu. Her aim is to help “young kids to be who they are, express themselves.” And, according to her, the clothes smell great. “They have a scent! I don’t know, go to the store—they smell amazing.” Her oldest, René-Charles, is 18 now. He’s protective of her, as she is of all three of her boys. “I want them to be good kids, good men,” she said. “Later in life, maybe they’ll come to me and say, How am I going to find my right woman? Well, who are you? Do you respect yourself? Are you generous? Are you kind? Are you aware?”
Two movies about Céline’s life are currently in development. And on September 18, she’ll kick off her Courage World Tour. The lights will have barely cooled at the Colosseum before she’s back in front of her adoring fans. Still, she says that the end of Céline is “bittersweet, because it is a closure. This whole project started as a dream for René and me, but you know what? It’s a book. And in life, there are many books. So maybe we’ll meet again and talk about the next book, I hope?” For now, she has no plans to relocate. “I’m not even thinking about leaving. I think I can stay as long as I want, if Las Vegas will want me to stay. I’ll ask them.” The answer is obvious. Vegas needs the rain—and baby, she’s worth it.
Green Swarovski dress at top, Alexandre Vauthier Couture. Dress on the cover, Valentino Haute Couture.
Hair by Stephane Lancien for L’Oréal Paris; makeup by Val Garland for L’Oréal Paris; manicure by Tiffany Walker; produced by Ben Bonnet at Westy Productions.