‘It’s been…’

For those of a certain age and/or certain geographic range, that partial lyric was almost certainly read in the voice of Steven Page, the former co-front man of Canadian band Barenaked Ladies (from now BNL). Though Page has since become both a solo artist and part of the Trans-Canadian Highwaymen supergroup and the iconic initial lyric is now sung as a duet between BNL’s multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn and drummer Tyler Stewart in most live performances, ‘One Week’ is still one of the most recognisable songs of the late 1990s.

By this point, one may well wonder why exactly I am discussing music on a television blog (my editors almost certainly are). My goal in this blog is to illustrate how the music video for ‘One Week,’ which aired regularly on the American VH1 and Canadian More Music channels and is still easily available on the YouTube channels of BNL and Warner Brothers Music, constructs and represents Canadianness to a transnational audience. While both VH1 and its predecessor MTV have long since abandoned showing music videos as part of their regular schedule (Banks, 2018) the presence of music videos on YouTube still gives them relevance and allows them to be analysed similarly to how videos were analysed when they were terrestrially broadcast (Delmont, 2015; Sedeño Valdellós et al, 2016). Kompare (2005) argues that reruns help construct national identity; I would argue that the omnipresence of music videos which are textually and/or paratextually connected to a national identity – as BNL are to Canadianness – can function in much the same way. To that end, I shall now engage in a bit of a textual analysis to illustrate how the video is engaging with, constructing and representing discourses of Canadianness.

(Everyone should probably watch this before reading further).

When I teach, I occasionally play this video before class because it is energetic, frenetic and its three parts which are differently but equally surreal in engaging students’ attention and often their analytical skills, particularly for media courses. The lyrics beyond the chorus are stream-of-consciousness freestyle poetry or rap, albeit sung rather than spoken by songwriter and frontman Ed Robertson. While they do not show semiotic drift exactly, they do incorporate wordplay, particularly with regard to contradictions, as well as references from Canadian, American and British cultures, all sung in a strong Canadian accent from a band which is, again, paratextually positioned as Canadian. As Delmont (2015) points out in his review of various scholarly work about music videos, the music and images work together to create meaning – in other words, with all due respect to the Buggles, video did not kill the radio star so much as providing them an additional means of expression. We see this particularly when we analyse the three parts of this video in the context of Canadian national identity.

Acland (2003) argues that Canadian national identity has always existed in the context of international relationships, particularly with its former coloniser Britain and its geopolitically powerful southern neighbour, the US. The first part of the video, featuring a surrealist, stylised and almost Lewis Carroll-esque iteration of a royal court can be read as a version of Britishness or Europeanness, particularly associated with conservativeness, hence the fear of sexualised devil women who allow the band to escape.[1] This can be interpreted as subverting the engagement with Britishness that is part of discursive Canadian national identity (Acland, 2003; Jackson, 2018; Beattie, 2020) and also playfully subverts the fallacious associations between rock and roll and satanism most associated with British bands the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (Swash, 2010; Hopper, 2022). Thus, the first part of the video can be read as breaking away from those historical ties in order to develop a distinctive Canadian identity which has British antecedents that it has grown beyond.

The second part of the video, the escape, features two main aspects: escaping in two cars, including Robertson sliding over the hood of one of them, and a woman wearing stars and stripes engaging in a motorcycle jump. The connection to stunts can simply be a reference to the album title, Stunt, upon which ‘One Week’ appears, but there are two elements which illustrate not just engagement with Americanness but also its conscious subversion and arguable appropriation. The motorcyclist is a surrealistic, exaggeratedly sexualised woman who can clearly be read as an embodiment of the US, complete with attracting the Hearn and bassist Jim Creeggan’s attention as they pass by in their car without stopping.[2] It is the car that Robertson is driving, however, which is relevant as it obviously supposed to be the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard (CBS, 1979-1985). The key difference is that, unlike in the television series, the video’s version of the car does not have the Confederate flag on its roof. The omission of that flag, which is associated with white supremacy and slavery, coupled with the fact that it is being driven by the Canadian Robertson, could be seen as referencing or even appropriating American popular culture but in such a way as to reject racist elements; arguably, as Dukes of Hazzard is an explicit iteration of the English Robin Hood legend, this appropriation can also imply Hall’s (1995) point that postcolonial countries can develop quite differently to one another (i.e., that a Canadian Robin Hood story would avoid such racist or other problematic symbols). While Canadian social justice is more an ideal than a reality in many cases (Beattie, 2020), this subversive appropriation also illustrates a distinctive Canadianness which can incorporate American elements but does so critically.

The final part of the video is the shortest but shows the band performing in front of a large bus with a clearly handmade banner on the bus’s side. This can be seen as representing a moderate performance space in which BNL are neither compelled to perform, as in the first part of the video, nor are they having to escape from anyone as in the second. The American motorcyclist attempts to jump the bus, but overreaches, and the stunt ends with her unhurt but stuck in a tree whereas Robertson’s more moderate yet clearly Dukes of Hazzard inflected hood-sliding stunt succeeds. This can then be read as establishing a distinct Canadian identity through the parasocial positioning of the band as well as the engagements with both British and American identities seen in the earlier two parts.

What this brief exercise shows is not only the density of these videos but also their utility in relation to representation. Intentionally or otherwise, in less than three minutes, BNL illustrate and playfully subvert two major international interactions that impact the development of Canadian national identity and, in so doing, construct and represent Canadianness for a transnational audience. As the song goes: ‘Can’t understand what I mean? Well, you soon will’ which it does through the alignment of music and images without dialogue or a complicated plot.[3]  The lyrics of the song are so abstract that a literal interpretation expressed in a music video would be impossible. But such abstraction is ideal for introducing a complex, mutable concept such as a discursively constructed national identity. ‘O Canada’ may be the official Canadian national anthem, but the video for ‘One Week’ surely encapsulates the interactions, engagements and soft power subversiveness that have helped construct Canadian national identity for millions of viewers across the globe.


Dr Melissa Beattie is a recovering Classicist who was awarded a PhD in Theatre, Film and TV Studies from Aberystwyth University where she studied Torchwood and national identity through fan/audience research as well as textual analysis. She has published and presented several papers relating to transnational television, audience research and/or national identity. She is currently an adjunct with Southern New Hampshire University and is under contract with Lexington for an academic book on fictitious countries.  She has previously worked at universities in the US, Korea, Pakistan, Armenia, Ethiopia and for a brief time in Cambodia.  She can be contacted at tritogeneia@aol.com . Her ORCiD: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1466-8338.



[1]     In some shots of the royal court section, Hearn is not at his keyboard; this is because he was undergoing treatment for leukaemia at the time. This adds additional polysemy to the fact that it seems to be Hearn transforming the angels to devils, allowing the band to escape as it gives him a supernatural or other magical connotation associated with salvation or survival.

[2]     Creeggan’s wife is American so this may also be an extradiegetic reference.

[3]     Other BNL videos that may be of interest to media scholars include ‘Too Little, Too Late,’ which is a music video about making a music video, ‘Another Postcard,’ which is an extended King Kong homage set in Toronto and ‘Odds Are’ which mimics news coverage.



Acland S (2003) Screen Traffic: Movies, Multiplexes and Global Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.

Banks J (2018) Monopoly Television: MTV’s Quest to Control the Music. London: Routledge.

Beattie M (2020) ‘Like an American but without a gun’?: Canadian national identity and the Kids in the Hall. Participations 17(2): 3-24

Delmont M (2015) Music on television. In Alvarado M et al (eds). The Sage Handbook of Television Studies. London: Sage, pp. 287-296.

Hall, S. (1995) ‘When was the post-colonial?’ [online] available from http://readingtheperiphery.org/hall/ . (accessed 20/11/22).

Hopper A (2022) Behind the Meaning of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil”.

American Songwriter. [online] available from https://americansongwriter.com/behind-the-meaning-rolling-stones-sympathy-for-the-devil/ (accessed 23/2/24) .

Jackson S (2018) Constructing National Identity in Canadian and Australian Classrooms: The Crown of Education. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kompare D (2005) Rerun nation: How repeats invented American television. London: Routledge.

Sedeño Valdellós A et al (2016) The post-television music video. A methodological proposal and aesthetic analysis. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social 71: 332-348.

Swash H (2010) Vatican forgives Beatles for ‘Satanic’ messages. The Guardian, 12 April. [online] available from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/apr/12/vatican-beatles-john-lennon (accessed 23/2/24).