Jumping for Junos
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Jumping for Junos

Arcade Fire chats with CTV’s Tanya Kim at the 2011 Juno Awards.

Canadian music is world-class stuff, that’s no secret. Unfortunately, not everything or everyone that has represented the True North Strong and Free on the global sales charts have been in tune with the tastes of listeners back home. And, even worse, the same can be said for our national music awards and accompanying ceremony.
Until this year, it seems.
Throughout their history the Juno Awards have been caught somewhere between a typical Canadian self-deprecating joke and their status as the country’s most important musical celebration. As the biggest, most star-studded event, the Junos are an important testament of attitudes towards contemporary Canadian music. On the other hand, they’ve usually been substantially more in touch with sales than merit, to the point where no one really seemed to bother paying attention anymore. Unconvinced that Nickelback’s power ballads were really that “soaring”, most of us greeted the Junos with a groan of fading patience.
But this year, the show’s fortieth, something was different. From the performers and winners to the speeches and the pre-awards events, everything had a relevant, contemporary appeal. Even, dare we say it, a sense of pride.

2011 Juno Awards host Drake on the red carpet.

In terms of winners, there were few surprises: Arcade Fire were, in fact, on fire, taking away four awards including Album of the Year, Group of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year. Other awards celebrated artists from coast to coast, with B.C.’s Said the Whale taking New Group of the Year, and K’Naan’s “Waving Flag” snagging Single of the Year. One of the few unexpected wins went to Halifax’s gobsmacked Meaghan Smith, for New Artist of the Year—beating out Hannah Georgas and Basia Bulat.
There were some other upsets (when Shad took Rap Album of the Year over Drake, for example), but they mostly took place during an un-televised gala on Saturday night—a situation that could have propelled the Junos towards the Titanic that was this year’s Oscars. But luckily a quick and smooth show, peppered with performances by Broken Social Scene, Chromeo (complete with an orchestra of fancy females), and Arcade Fire, and new categories like Electronic Album of the Year (which went to Polaris Prize–winning Caribou), made sure that we were entertained by the Canadian artists we know, love, and listen to every day. Even face time with Justin Bieber was kept to a tolerable minimum, not only because he couldn’t attend and accepted his awards through video, but because he won the awards he was supposed to—Juno Fan Choice Award and Pop Album of the Year—and no more.
And though he remains a music award bridesmaid but never a bride, our lovely host Drake was an impressive surprise, showing that the Junos can not only be fun but funny, appealing to the “Old Money” demographic. While he walked away trophy-less, there was no hint of a pout—unlike one grumpy Oscar host we won’t mention.
Comparisons to the Oscars are unavoidable, given both ceremonies’ attempts to reach a younger audience. And why not? The Junos this year were slick and professional, and whatever they lacked in moving set pieces they made up for in style. Because despite a focus on newer, younger artists and bands, Canada’s musical icons had their place as well—only instead of trotting out octogenarians close to teetering off the stage like Kirk Douglas, they were instead paid compelling homage. A rousing medley of Gordon Lightfoot, The Band, and Joni Mitchell was performed by a mix of today’s biggest names—Sarah Harmer, Jim Cuddy, Dallas Green, and Serena Ryder—and hit all the right notes. Shania Twain got her spot in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and some might say that Neil Young was the real Juno King in his first appearance at the show in twenty-nine years, receiving Humanitarian of the Year and Artist of the Year. Backstage, he told press, “It’s very unusual for me to be this exposed,” which we guess is true, but wonder why it’s taken this long: through more than fifty years in the industry, he’s never really lost a connection to today’s music.
One of the biggest achievements of this year’s Junos was paying tribute to Canadian music across genres and generations in a positive, collaborative, “of-the-moment” way, which is totally what it has always meant to do. It was by no means perfect⎯next year we hope to see the Saturday awards televised, and hip-hop integrated into the show beyond the choice of host. But using previous ceremonies as a benchmark, we’re headed in the right direction. Contrary to our natural tendencies to self-deprecation and humility, at the end of the show, it seemed that everyone—us, the artists, the audience—was full of pride.
We’ll echo Mr. Young himself, with the words he used to close his acceptance speech for Artist of the Year: “O Canada!”
Photos courtesy of CTV.