MONTREAL — Charlotte Cardin doesn't need to explain why she's beaming as she sits down at the piano in her Montreal studio ahead of the Juno Awards.
There's plenty to smile about these days, considering she holds a leading six nominations at Canada's most prestigious music awards show this weekend, including artist of the year and single of the year for "Meaningless."
That puts her ahead of Justin Bieber and the Weeknd, who each have five nominations heading into an industry show Saturday, when the bulk of trophies will be handed out. The televised bash for marquee categories airs Sunday on CBC.
"I'm still trying to process it," she says, freely gesticulating near the keyboard — almost teasing that she might improvise and turn the conversation into a private concert.
"It's rare that female artists from Quebec receive as many nominations and are able to get that platform across Canada."
In 2021, Cardin's debut album, "Phoenix," made her the first Canadian female artist to spend two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Canadian album chart since Quebec's renowned diva Céline Dion, in September 2016.
"When I was three years old, I was trying to sing like Céline Dion, to mimic her," the 27-year-old says.
"She really has been my biggest idol throughout my life. So, it's crazy to see that we have certain milestones in common."
Cardin started to make her way across the music industry in 2013 after landing in the top four of Quebec's version of the singing competition series "The Voice."
She then quit her modelling career, which had provided her paycheque since she was 15, and went full force into discovering herself as an artist.
Her first EP "Big Boy," released in 2016, was a six-track record with a slow and soulful vibe. It was followed a year later by another four-track EP "Main Girl" infused with pop and jazz influences, before a stretch of relative silence.
She doesn't hesitate to explain why it took four years to release "Phoenix."
"The mantra I chose for the album was that for the first time, I wanted to create music that would be 100 per cent for me," Cardin says. "I wanted to go through the process without thinking about what would people want to hear."
While her first two EPs offered dark ballads, "Phoenix" comes in as a more mature, but vulnerable pop display of Cardin's talent with 12 tracks in English and one in French. It's a mix of danceable, sensual beats that are intertwined with piano and guitar notes that seductively bring the listener in.
She says the songs on the aptly named "Phoenix," which also features the hit "Anyone Who Loves Me," are drawn from painful emotions and memories she wanted to liberate herself from, including love and toxic relationships.
She describes the experience as a roller-coaster.
"It's a deeply personal album. I dug into stuff that wasn't easy for me to explore," she says. "But it was easier to do it because I was doing it for myself. I left the expectation behind."
On the intimate, stripped-down track "Sun Goes Down," she sings: "I've been wishin' for angels to come down here to save ya, you said that the good guy never wins, and I haven't recognized you ever since drugs and love and friendships."
With only guitar to support her euphonious voice, the song recalls a difficult friendship with someone who battled with depression and addiction.
Ironically, Cardin says creating music for herself, rather than to please an audience, brought her closer to her fans — who'll be quieter during vulnerable performances, but will eagerly sing along to her sassier songs.
Cardin's "Passive Aggressive" features the lyrics, "It took a week or two getting over you, but I love myself too much, to waste good years on bad love." The single quickly became an anthem for the broken-hearted last summer.
Unlike her first two EPs, which she wrote alone, Cardin co-wrote "Phoenix" with Jason Brando, her producer, manager and owner of her record label, Cult Nation.
"It was a true revelation for me," Cardin says. "I think it was my ego that wanted to keep everything for myself. I thought nobody would be able to understand my work and help me express what belonged to me."
"But at the end, it was the absolute opposite."
Cardin's minimalist grace reflects her silvery, seductive voice which she masters in both languages.
She doesn't shy away from the fact singing in English always came more naturally, even though she grew up in a francophone province.
"I grew up in a very bilingual environment," says Cardin, whose grandmother is from Alberta. "I'll always have a strong sense of belonging toward Quebec, but I really want to expand my project elsewhere."
The Junos, where she was nominated as breakthrough artist four years ago, is certain to introduce her to a whole new audience. Already, most of the stops on her 2022 international tour are sold out. "It makes me so proud to represent a female project, from Quebec but in English," she says.
"It's something a bit taboo and I understand why."
On Sunday, she'll perform at the Junos, which airs live from Budweiser Stage in Toronto, with actor Simu Liu as host and performers that include Arcade Fire, Mustafa and Avril Lavigne.
Cardin will also find out how many of those Junos trophies she'll be taking home. Her other nominations include album and pop album of the year for "Phoenix," fan choice, and music video of the year for "Meaningless."
"I'm nominated among artists I greatly admire and listen to that have certainly inspired me on many levels in my career," she says.
"I've often released songs and done things that I'm proud of ... but with this album, because of the personal journey it forced me to take and where it now stands, and how much I can see people were able to relate to it ... it's a project I'm really proud of."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press