Pop: Schmaltz from the heart

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The Independent Culture
A MARKED transformation occurs in Celine Dion when she sings. Her eyebrows become earnestly upturned, her face crinkles up and her eyes mist over as though she is overwhelmed by her own sensitivity. Just in case we haven't got the full force of her feeling, a matrix of giant video screens depict the diva with her head quite literally in the clouds. At the end of each song there is a brief pause as Celine takes a deep breath and visibly floats back down to earth. Earth in her case being a huge, heart-shaped stage.

The scariest thing about all this is that to Celine, it is quite real. When the Bee Gees appear on the screen and ask how the show is going, you get the feeling that she really believes that they are there, despite the fact that she has been acting out the same charade for the past five nights. When she gently pats the heads of her band, positioned like expectant pets at her feet, it might be seen as a display of arrogance except that she seems genuinely grateful for their contributions, and they seem equally appreciative of her praise.

In Dion's eyes, music is about tugging the heartstrings of her devotees, creating a romantic ambience so that punters will return home with a warm glow in their stomachs, their marital difficulties rendered a distant memory.

But it is also about sharing her own feelings. She laboriously expresses the pain of being parted from her husband Renee, who is at home recovering from cancer surgery but thanks to a satellite link-up is "here with us". Later on, she rounds off their special song with a sidelong wink at the camera. But lest we are offended by her desire to be elsewhere Dion collectively embraces the crowd, referring to us as her "second family".

There is no denying the force of Dion's lungs. Indeed, if credibility was measured in terms of volume and the ability to hold a note, she has no competition. But like her predilection for spilling her guts to complete strangers, her singing similarly lacks subtlety. The only detectable nuances between numbers is that each seems more schmaltzy than the one before.

Looking at the crowd, it is as if all 70,000 of us are engaged in some sort of group hug. This lot aren't your average gig-goers - they are all grown-ups with jobs, cars and children, who have come with the sole intention of "letting it all out". As Dion's doe-eyed face looks down from the clouds and her fans look back with beatific smiles, the mutual admiration is overwhelming. Dion's performance may not be the most original, but as therapy, it's revolutionary.