Let's be real for a second: the world of entertainment is now locked in an unstoppable and infinite 20-year feedback loop. I don't remember asking for this, but given the opportunity I'm almost always happy to turn off my brain like I just got home from school and fill up on childhood nostalgia. Dunkaroos and Bagel Bites optional.
But when I try to remember my own early teens in a mostly pre-internet era, I can't help thinking these latest reboots of Full House, Ghostbusters, Power Rangers and other perfectly mass-marketable franchises don't reflect the weird experience I had turning on a television in the 90s. I like to think that's because I was in Canada, a place where shitty consumer products got thrown in a fiery pit, brothers with the world's worst hair/tans sang about blow jobs, and teens stiffly talked about abortion as if it were a math exam. Only here could these enigmas coexist.
In many ways we have CanCon funding and protections to thank for the strange ghetto of 90s teen stardom that tolerated such healthy doses of amateurishness alongside inexplicable greatness. While some Canadian ephemera got popular south of the border, most didn't, yet this never seemed especially dependent on quality; those songs, shows and movies inevitably contained more meaning in Canada, anyway. Perhaps because of this, Canadians love telling stories of being served at a bar by that-guy-from-that-band, or moving in next door to one of their first TV crushes.
Many of these kids have doubled in age since we last obsessed about their hair, clothes, and/or fictional life choices. Some have lived entirely new lives since. Because I care, I won't make you guess who ended up reading weather forecasts, who signs bands for EMI, and who heals animals with reiki. So, you're welcome.
Lani Billard, Thornhill
Famous for: Ready or Not
Lani Billard was 14 years old when she first became Elizabeth "Busy" Ramone, the tomboy half of the BFF duo in Ready or Not. Busy rocked frumpy flannel and denim overalls, played sports and drums, and briefly joined a band called Neon Vomit. She was an obvious hero for girls keen to reject boring femininity. Predictably most teen fixation revolved around whether she was a lesbian.
Billard doesn't have too many post-90s acting credits, but she's somewhat recently dropped vocals on hip-hop tracks for a guy named O.Zee Grossman and a group called "iLLvibe." Her Twitter bio lists acting, singing, drumming and her own reiki healing practice for animals.
To explain the animal healing thing I defer to her website: "Having always been curious about the spiritual side of life, once she discovered reiki, she instantly knew that this would be the perfect way for her to work with animals," it reads. "She believes that reiki plus animals is an ideal synergistic blend."
Ross Hull, Montreal
Famous for: Student Bodies, Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Ross Hull was not the trademarked "cute one" on Student Bodies—that title obviously went to the lead dude who liked to draw, played by Jamie Elman. Before that, Hull was the long-time leader of the Midnight Society on Are You Afraid of the Dark? at a time when paranormal spooky shit was also cool for adults.
Now Hull is a meteorologist for Global News, having spent more than a decade reading forecasts all over Canada. On Twitter he'll tell you all about Toronto's spooky weather with the hashtag #whereisspring.
Liane Balaban, Cape Breton
Famous for: New Waterford Girl
OK Liane Balaban isn't actually from Cape Breton—more like Toronto by way of New York—but it's the place we'll always remember her being a badass as Mooney Pottie. I'm certain this film has sparked hundreds of harebrained plots to leave small Canadian towns in favour of big arty ambitions elsewhere. No regrets, girls.
Balaban is still in the acting biz, making bit appearances on shows like Saving Hope, Supernatural and Republic of Doyle. She also started a menstruation advocacy organization called CRANKYTOWN and it's kind of the best.
Siluck Saysanasy, Toronto
Famous for: Yick Yu on Degrassi High
I wasn't a huge Degrassi fan but I'm in full support of the theory that Yick Yu, played by Siluck Saysanasy, was one of the most underrated characters on Degrassi High. He skipped class, wore an earring, smoked, and inexplicably wore tie-dye—which was enough to fill out a character on that show.
Saysanasy now works on the other side of the camera, recently as an assistant director on Degrassi: The Next Generation and Pacific Rim. He detailed his transition from bartending to this work in a poorly recorded sit-down interview with his real-life best friend Pat Mastroianni, who played Joey Jeremiah on the show.
Martha MacIsaac, Charlottetown
Famous for: Emily of New Moon
Martha MacIsaac was the 14-year-old star of another show that could only ever exist in Canada. After Road to Avonlea ran out of steam in the mid-90s, the geniuses at CBC decided to plunder even lesser known works of PEI novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery—this one being a series about an orphan that mostly just endures pain and horror without complaining.
MacIsaac played Becca in Superbad in 2007, and has now returned to her historical costume drama roots as America's first woman detective in a series called The Pinkertons. The more you know.
Amanda Walsh, Hudson, Quebec
Famous for: MuchMusic VJ
Of course you can't talk about teen pop culture without mention of the endless hours of MuchMusic that not-so-discretely barraged us with enough CanCon to make us unwillingly memorize Serial Joe lyrics. Amanda Walsh holds the title for the youngest ever VJ, so we'll include her here.
Walsh has since made cameos on a bunch of primetime-y sitcoms and dramas including Smallville, Veronica Mars, and Two and a Half Men—plus a never-aired pilot for The Big Bang Theory. According to her Twitter she's now writing for the second season of Schitt's Creek on CBC.
Ryan Dennis, Newmarket, Ontario
Famous for: lead singer of Serial Joe
Keshia Chanté, Ottawa
Famous for: R&B/hip-hop singles "Shook" and "Bad Boy"
Here was another CanCon burner of the early aughts—outside the 90s bubble but still firmly within in the midriff-baring era of pop culture. I remember knowing intuitively she was Canadian because she appeared so much smaller than everyone else (as all Canadians inexplicably do: see above).
Since her early teen chart-topping days, she has done philanthropy work for AIDS foundations and appeared on Hockey Wives Season 2. Wikipedia page highlight: a 2009 Drake song references her mom. She also has serious Instagram game.
Devon Sawa, Vancouver
Famous for: Casper, Now and Then, SLC Punk
Oh man, Devon Sawa. He was right up there with Jonathan Taylor Thomas in those garbage Tiger Beat centrefolds I assume most of us used for makeout practice. He first made us jealous of Christina Ricci in Casper and then made dropping acid seem like the biggest deal ever in SLC Punk.
It seems Sawa has taken his progressive Vancouver roots with him to Hollywood, where he recently starred in an SLC Punk sequel. His Twitter bio links to a charity fighting animal cruelty, and just last week he got in a public spat about this existence of climate change that ended with Scott Baio and Matt Hughes blocking him. He is voting for Bernie Sanders.
Stéphane Moraille, Montreal
Famous for: singing Bran Van 3000's "Drinking in LA"
How this song made it to the pantheon of timeless Canadiana is still a mystery to most of us. What's not a mystery is vocalist Stéphane Moraille's post-Bran Van 3000 career as a Montreal lawyer and her recent run for the NDP in a Bourassa byelection.
Sharon and Marc Costanzo, Toronto
Famous for: Len's "Steal My Sunshine"
Were they brother and sister? Were they a couple? I guess these two weren't the only people in music to capitalize on such an awkward ambiguity. Brother Marc went on to become an A&R rep for EMI that signed Deryck Whibley of Sum 41. Then Len put out a new album in 2012 called It's Easy if You Try.