“When I sang ‘C’est Zéro’ for the first time during one of my shows,” Safia Nolin reminisces, “it was crazy, the venue was on fire. It’s the type of song everyone sings along to in a karaoke bar, y’know?”

Do we ever. As did all the people gathered in the intimate and welcoming venue that is the Moulin du Portage de Lotbinière, in September of 2016, when Nolin sang a stripped-down version of the cult hit – written by Manuel Tadros and popularized by Julie Masse. She didn’t hesitate for a second, and recorded the song – which was written in 1990 – on her album Reprises Vol. 1. “What? That song was written 30 years ago?” says the young singer-songwriter. “Come on! I wasn’t even born in 1990!”

Perpetual Actualization

So is this SOCAN Classic, since 2012, still relevant today? Aside from Nolin’s gorgeous cover, New Brunswick’s Mia Martina offered us an electro-dance version in 2014. That same year, Julie Masse herself sang it during the finale of the TV music-contest show La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice) to an utterly ecstatic crowd.

In 2019, a podcast called “Pourquoi Julie?” (“Why Julie?”), dedicated to the singer’s career, was named one of the best podcasts of the year by Apple. On Google, the name “Julie Masse” is among the most searched in Québec. The 30-year-old song obviously benefitted from this exposure, and inspired many T-shirts worn proudly by those unafraid of “bitter, colourless mornings” (a freely translated line from the song, in French: “des matins amers, sans couleur”).

Birth of a Hit

“You want me to tell you about ‘C’est zero’? Is there really anything that hasn’t been said already?” says Manuel Tadros, jokingly. Indeed, the songwriter, actor, and jack-of-all-trades regularly gets the opportunity to talk about the birth of his hit. Here it is in a nutshell. The year is 1990, the same year that Laurence Jalbert scored with “Tomber (en amour)” (“Falling  (in Love)”), while Jean Leloup was adamant that “L’amour est sans pitié” (“Love is Merciless”), and Gerry Boulet moved us to tears with “Pour une dernière fois” (“One Last Time”). The charts could hardly have more diversity: Philippe Fontaine, Les B. B., Kashtin — take your pick!

Enter a young singer from Témiscamingue, who reached out to Tadros to ask him to write a repertoire for her. They met for the first time near Saint-Hilaire, and Tadros was struck with inspiration immediately after getting behind the wheel to drive home. “Remember, there were no cellphones back then,” says Tadros. “I know I have an awesome melody and powerful words, so I have to memorize them while I’m driving.” As soon as he got home, he quickly kissed his girlfriend and their baby, one Xavier Dolan, who was barely one at the time, and ran into his office to write everything down and record a demo.

Manuel Tadros

Manuel Tadros

However, upon hearing that demo, the singer will turn it down saying it’s “too old” for her. Tadros is discombobulated, until manager and producer Serge Brouillette contacts him. He’s just taken on a young backing vocalist with the makings of a star: at 19, Julie Masse already possessed an undeniably powerful voice and stage presence. Would Tadros have a few songs for her?

As soon as Brouillette and Masse hear “C’est zéro,” the deal is sealed. The only condition Tadros has is that he be given the task of coaching the young singer in the studio and the production duties of the song. Granted.

“Julie had never recorded anything before,” says the songwriter, “and initially, we considered making people believe she wasn’t from Québec. We really wanted the song to sound as ‘international French’ as possible. I’m really picky about pronunciation, phrasing, and word stress.”

Lest we forget, “C’est zero” was indeed distributed in France then, but it was in Québec, and in Canada, that the power ballad became extraordinarily popular as soon as it was released, on March 19, 1990. So much so that shortly after, Serge Brouillette founded Disques Victoire in order to produce Julie Masse’s albums. Trophies, No. 1 on the charts, the highest-rotation video (that was suggestive but in good taste)… It hit the jackpot. Masse even sang “C’est zero” live on the French CBC New Year’s Eve variety show as 1991 became 1992!

No Mouse

Let’s get back to the recording of the future-but-not-yet hit. Says Tadros: “My arranging partner Pierre Laurendeau and I set up at Harmonie Studio in Longueuil. Imagine this, we worked with a software called Voyetra – no one used Apple yet, back then, and we didn’t even have a mouse, it was all keyboard-based!” he remembers with a laugh.

“I’ll tell you something no one knows,” he continues. “I’m the one playing those electronic drum fills on the track! It was supposed to be Julie’s boyfriend, but he was too stiff! I told him: ‘Gimme those sticks!’

“I think one of the things that explains the continued success of this song is also its structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse… and then, Boom! There’s the bridge, 33 seconds before the song ends, with a new chord and a few new words: ‘espérer ton retour, c’est zéro’ (‘hoping you’ll come back, that’s a zero’). It’s unexpected, you know? As were the words ‘un coup de couteau dans la peau’ (‘a knife stab in the flesh’). Everyone thought that image was violent, especially when uttered by a young woman. But that’s precisely what struck people, such an extreme expression of heartbreak! People still talk to me about ‘that stabbing song!’

“I can still picture myself in that brown, two-door Chevy Malibu that I’d inherited from my father,” says Tadros, repeating those words and the melody over and over. “That car didn’t look like much, it was kind of a jalopy, but it had quite a powerful engine.”

Just as “C’est zéro” probably looked like just another pop ballad, initially. Wrong! It’s propelled by a powerful engine, according to Safia Nolin: “It reminds you, with genuine beauty, that the pain of a lost love is eternal and timeless.”


Tarun Nayar’s career takes place on and off the stage. A founding member of the outfit Delhi 2 Dublin, co-founder (with Asad Khan) of the digital label Snakes x Ladders, and artist manager, in 2019 he became the Executive Director of 5XFest, after serving as its artistic director since 2016.

Once known as City of Bhangra, the Vancouver-based festival had successfully put traditional Punjabi music and culture on the map in Vancouver, but waning numbers and interest signaled that it was time for a change. 5XFest, a South Asian millennial festival inspired by the SXSW and Afropunk fests, officially launched in 2018.

Over his 15 years as a performer, tabla player Nayar – who’s trained in Indian classical music, and later developed a love for creating genre-less sounds in Delhi 2 Dublin, by fusing beats from all over the world – noticed an unmistakable absence in the faces to which he performed.

“So many [South Asian] kids grow up playing music, and music is so much a part of the culture,” says Nayar. “And yet at all of these festivals we were playing – largely in non-South Asian spaces, everything from Burning Man to some crazy festival in Bali – you just wouldn’t see any Indian people, either onstage or in the crowd. And I was like, there’s a disjoint here, especially in Canada.”

5XFest was created to address that disconnect. “Young South Asians have to decide whether to go to the wedding reception to listen to South Asian music, or to the club to listen to Drake,” says Nayar. “There’s no place where they can be the totality of themselves. We’re the only festival of our kind in North America, and possibly the world. I’ve gone to a lot of festivals in India and Asia, and we’re the only ones really championing this South Asian youth culture in a meaningful way, and actually connecting with young people.”

When not working from his home office, Nayar connects with the 5X Festival team. It’s a “super-tight” team of four, primarily young women, that expands to more than 100 (including volunteers, and skilled volunteers they call “special ops”) as the festival draws near, as well as the digital marketing team Skyrocket. The festival has also formed a team dedicated to 5X Press, a new initiative that fosters year-round engagement, reaching 10,000 subscribers weekly. “[It] talks about all the great and interesting things happening in the South Asian world, globally,” he says.

Nayar believes all these initiatives will help South Asian youths connect with their global family. ““There’s a bunch of really cool kids doing awesome stuff, and they’re not getting opportunities,” he says. “In my experience, by giving [them] those opportunities, it’s pretty mind-blowing what they can do.”

Tarun’s Tips to Prep for Success

Know what you want: “It helps when there are strong goals, a sound business sense, and realistic expectations. I provide advice and guidance for a lot of people, [but] the artist I decided to manage, Khanvict, is someone who has a track record of connecting with people. There’s not the initial three years of wondering if people will like what this guy does, because he’s been killing it in the South Asian world for years. He came to me with a specific goal: ‘I really want to do mainstream festivals and events.’ That’s a very defined problem, and we’ve been working really hard.”

Be Ready: “So many questions come to us. Kids hit us up by e-mail, like, ‘Yo, I want you to manage me.’ Alright, send us your links. And they don’t have any music up. They don’t have any social media presence. What do you want me to manage here?”

The right manager-artist fit matters: “There’s so much time invested into building someone’s career and taking them from one level to the next. It really has to be someone that I’m in love with as an artist, and person.”

For the soon-to-come follow-up to his major label debut on 604 Records, The Fifth, Mathew V says he’s much more likely to show up to the studio with “a few chords and melodies” to develop with others, rather than his own full songs.

Singles Going Steadily

The prolific Mr. V releases a lot – 14 in the past four years:

“This Christmas Day”
“Stay By You”
“Catching Feelings”

“The Coast”
“Let Me Go”

“Always Be My Baby”
“Tell me Smooth”

“In the Bleak Midwinter”
“The Day I Die”
“If I’m Enough”
“No Bad News”

“Typically, I have a really heavy hand in writing my own music,” the Vancouver-based pop/soul artist explains. “When I was younger, I thought I was untouchable and knew everything. I had my artistic vision and trusted myself, only, to execute that.”

More recently, he’s come to embrace the energy and possibilities collaboration brings to his work as a singer and songwriter. “There’s so much power in ideas that don’t stem from my instincts, because my instincts only go so far,” says V. “There’s been many times recently in the studio where someone will hum a melody with phrasing I’d have never come up with, but that compliments my voice quite nicely. So 2020 is going to be a year of collaborations with other artists, producers, and writers.”

Not that he wasn’t doing well on his own.  The Fifth’s lead single, “Tell Me Smooth,” spent 18 weeks on Canadian Top 40 Hot AC/AC charts. He’s opened for the likes of Ria Mae, Hanson, and MAGIC!, and earned critical acclaim from press outlets such as Nylon and Billboard. His catalogue is approaching 10 million online streams. With strong roots in the LGBTQ+ community, V took the cover of Spotify’s Global Pride playlist during Pride 2018.

But now, by way of collaboration, and what he terms “cognitive listening,” V’s looking to expand his musical toolkit. “I’m pushing myself to throw on playlists with music I don’t know and, if I like it, to understand what aspects resonate with me. Or, if I don’t like it, what’s putting a bad taste in my mouth. That process, when I’m writing, allows me to go into my taste bank, so to speak, and call on some of those patterns I’m noticing.”

“I’m pushing myself to throw on playlists with music I don’t know.”

 Over time, V’s allowed himself increasingly more creative freedom, beginning early by singing along to “emotive, powerful” artists like Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and Mariah Carey – a definite departure from the rigorous classical, operatic vocal training he undertook for 10 years. It continued when he packed up at age 17 and moved to London, England, to study at the European Institute of Contemporary Music. “I learned so much in that time, as a human being and artist,” he says. “And I had the freedom, for the first time in my life, to sing what I wanted, to start writing, and to realize what my own sound was like.”

In his current writing and recording sessions, V’s determined to allow himself even more latitude. “I’m trying to see pop music as a wider umbrella, where my vocal delivery, my style of writing, and the branding of the product ties it all together,” he says. “But with the songs, pushing myself, showcasing more diversity, doing things I haven’t tried before.”

To some extent, V’s cover of Britney Spears’ “Lucky” (just released on Jan. 10, 2020) will present his audience with an opportunity for some “cognitive listening” of their own. Produced by one of V’s regular collaborators, Luca Fogale, it’s a dramatic and beautiful re-interpretation, informed heavily by V’s soulful pop style, and a welcome challenge: “To take a beloved and, I think, unbelievably well-written song, and present it in an entirely different way,” says V. “To take the artistic journey of production and arrangement, flex my creative muscles, and make [it] into a Mathew V song.”

Just what a Mathew V song is, however, is evolving swiftly. V would prefer not to “piggyback” on his earlier success with, as he puts it, “Tell Me Smooth 2.0.”

“The fun part of music, for me, is being able to change, adapt, and re-invent myself, so I’m trying to push the boundaries of how broad the pop music umbrella is for me,” he says. “In the past I was strict about an album having a certain sound, but I have way more freedom to change it up. And I’d rather try that, and say that I did, than sit back and wonder, what if I strayed a bit more?”