Last night we celebrated the 45th annual Juno Awards and, briefly, here’s how it went down: The Weeknd took home five trophies in total (Single of the Year for “I Can’t Feel My Face” and Album of the Year, plus three more the night before), Buffy Sainte-Marie opened the ceremony with a spoken-word ballad (and obviously slayed) and Nickelback presented Burton Cummings with a Lifetime Achievement Award, which was probably exactly how Cummings imagined receiving that honour, obviously.
Plus: Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne reunited on the red carpet (#sure), Justin Bieber’s pre-recorded acceptance speech for Fan Choice was met with boos (oof) and Taylor Swift dedicated her win to boyfriend Calvin Harris a.k.a. Adam—JK, that was at the iHeartRadio Awards, which were happening simultaneously.
But with The Weeknd’s sweep, our Juno-related cynicism was briefly put to rest and we’ve gone back to see if the Junos have (surprisingly) been getting it right all along.
The Weeknd (2015)
Well okay, then. In the wise words of Drake, The Weeknd went back to back (eh?) with Best Artist Juno awards, which were both arguably well-deserved—especially since last year he was up against deadmau5, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan and Leonardo Cohen. And while they are all very lovely and talented people, they’re indicative less of the current musical climate in which we are all currently basking, and more of the school I think the Junos are trying to politely move away from.
Serena Ryder (2014)
Serena Ryder is a talented and hard-working musician. And, when noting that in 2014 she was up against Robin Thicke (ew, no thanks), Michael Buble (shrug) and Celine Dion (a legend who does not need any more Junos), we can smile and nod and say “Okay cool, you did it, everyone.” But she was also up against Drake. And considering this nomination followed the success of Nothing Was the Same, this choice gets a stressed-out Emoji face. The problem is, they’re two entirely different musicians in two entirely different genres. And while Ryder plays her heart out, Drake’s album created an umbrella effect under which we were all united: “Started From the Bottom” wasn’t just a single, it was a way of life. Plus, let’s think about what Drake’s done in terms of international cultural legitimacy and how that’s worth a Juno in and of itself.
Leonard Cohen (2013)
See? It’s not like Leonard has always come up empty-handed. And it’s hard to argue a Cohen win when he was up against Johnny Reid, deadmau5, Carly Rae Jepsen (still just riding the wave of “Call Me Maybe”) and a circa 2013-era Bieber (a true baby-brat). Ultimately, Leonard Cohen is the Meryl Streep of Canadian music. So with every award win, just shrug and say, “Well, duh.”
Another year, another Juno winner versus Drake. So, yes, Feist was up against Drizzy. (And deadmau5, Dallas Green and Michael Buble.) But Feist’s Metals managed to eclipse even The Reminder (2007), so it’s not like anybody here’s about to argue the award away from her. Plus, while she’s taken a step away from the limelight, we’ve seen Drake go head and shoulders above who Aubrey Graham was four years ago. So we’ll say his lack of Juno added to his hustle, obviously. (Or so I assume.)
Neil Young (2011)
Can you technically argue that Neil Young should not have won a Juno? What about if Justin Bieber and Drake are included in the Artist of the Year category? Did Neil Young need a Juno? Do you remember the name of his album? What about the names of J-Biebs’ and Drizzy’s? (Yes and yes.) Do you even remember where you were in 2011? Do you even know where you are right now? (Me, I am writing this, feeling weird about Neil Young winning.)
“Waving Flag” has been in my head since 2010, so this arguably merits a Juno in and of itself. And frankly, after K’naan’s banner year—and a category accompanied by Buble, Young, Arden and Diana Krall (the Junos sure have their favourites, don’t they)—it would have been obtuse to award a trophy to an artist who hadn’t connected with the youth in a real and bankable way. Do you hear anyone walking around humming Krall songs? No shade, but probably not.
Sam Roberts (2009)
Behold: proof of the naughties’ strange musical climate. Sam Roberts defined a good part of the Canadian indie scene of the 2000s, while his category competitors (Serena Ryder, Dallas Green, Bryan Adams and k.d. Lang) didn’t so much. So, it was arguably fitting that he took home this Juno. But also, the category in general was very . . . same. So maybe the issue isn’t whether the Junos got it “right” but whether they nominated some very “adult contemporary” artists in an era defined by everything but.
The Reminder was great! It deserved a win, and it certainly deserved a win over Buble, Dion, Lavigne and the Pascale Picard Band. (Not to be mean to the other noms but Feist sold out venues, lent her song to those hugely popular iPod commercials and made 22-year-old me brag to everyone who would listen how I totally saw Feist at a festival a few years before. I was a real peach.) But it also seemed like an obvious choice: who else was going to win? And what for?
Nelly Furtado (2007)
You know what? If anyone has an issue with Nelly Furtado winning the Best Artist Juno for 2007, meet me someplace where I can play you “Promiscuous Girl” which was a straight-up jam.
Michael Buble (2006)
Well I’d say we’ve come full circle. In 10 years, we’ve gone from Michael Buble (everybody’s mom’s favourite retro crooner) taking home top spot over Diana Krall, Rex Goudie, Boom Desjardins and Kalan Porter (full disclosure: three of these acts are strangers to me) to The Weeknd cleaning house. So, in a decade, we’ve seen a safe Canadian bet give way to an artist who’s being applauded by international outlets and award ceremonies. (Also, he performed at the Oscars, so . . . .)
All of this reflection tells me the Junos are trying. They’re trying really hard. They’re paying attention and trying not to make the ceremony and its nominees seem like the soundtrack to your parents’ dinner party. They’ve still got a long way to go (Drake for Best Artist, need we say more), but there’s no denying progress.
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