Illustration: Jennifer Vo
Of course the Junos matter
The Juno Awards are one of the few times when Canadian musicians are given the credit they deserve.
Countless talented artists have roots in our home and native land, but it can be hard to break through the glass ceiling of the U.S.-dominated music industry. Award shows like the Junos give up-and-coming Canadian acts a much-needed boost in profile, while also recognizing the achievements of established artists who—by virtue of their nationality—may not fall under the Grammys’ radar.
Furthermore, in terms of sheer entertainment value, the Junos are one of the better award shows to watch. The ceremony tends to move along at a brisk pace and consistently features solid humour and impressive musical performances. The announced line-up for this year includes Hedley and Arkells—one of the best live rock acts around—which should be enough to convince anyone that the Juno Awards are as relevant as ever.
So what’s with all the hostility?
A common gripe about the Juno Awards is that many of the winners reside outside of Canada. Scandalous, right? However, the eligibility requirements are fairly specific as to what constitutes a Canadian musical act.
Clearly defined citizenship and residency requirements must be met by 50 per cent of a group’s members in order to be eligible. These guidelines ensure the Juno Awards remain Canadian while giving enough leeway to prevent made-in-Canada artists such as Neil Young, who lives in California, from being shafted due to geographical location.
Controversy also surrounds sales requirements for some of the major awards, including Album of the Year. However, these concerns are similarly misplaced. Taking sales into consideration for some of the big awards only ensures that the nominees reflect, to an extent, what Canadians actually listened to in the past year.
So it turns out the procedures aren’t inherently flawed, but still many people complain about the quality of the nominees.
Arguing about the “artistic merit” of individual nominees is futile, because art is so subjective in the first place. Canadian acts that some would dismiss as “obscure” or “C-list” are often harbingers of brilliant music worthy of acclaim, and the Junos are the one stage where they get to shine bright.
With that in mind, how could anyone who purports to respect the arts declare that any particular artist is “unworthy?” The performers honoured by the Junos every year—musicians that span a variety of cultures, generations, and genres—are part of our national heritage and they deserve to be recognized.
Whether you agree with the field of winners, honouring Canadian achievements is still an inherently worthy enterprise.
The Junos need to wake up and face the music
These days it seems like Canadian culture is less about what defines us as a nation as it is about desperately trying to differentiate ourselves from our neighbours to the south. In this sense, the Juno Awards are truly a Canadian creation, since they mostly exist as a futile effort to prove the country’s cultural exports can stand up to the United States.
The biggest problem with the Junos is the idea that Canadian music needs its own yearly awards show. Comparatively speaking, many of the country’s top musicians have already found success at the Grammy Awards, considered one of the highest honours in the industry. Recent years have seen Canadian Grammy wins by artists like Arcade Fire, Drake, and Michael Bublé.
It is undeniable that there is quality music coming from Canada, but when greater recognition exists, why settle for an award that lacks prestige?
The integrity of the Junos also starts to break down when you look at the categories in which—all too often—the same artists are nominated every time they release a new album. In many cases the nominations are not based on merit, but simply because there isn’t enough deserving talent to fill out the category. Multiple artists considered to be well out of their prime—Bryan Adams and Sarah McLachlan, for example—have nominations at this year’s awards. Other nominations go out to Canada’s premier acts like Drake, The Weeknd, and Bublé, despite the fact that they did not even release a studio album in 2014.
From a broadcasting standpoint, television ratings are illustrative of the lack of national interest in these awards. While the 2014 Junos pulled in 1.4 million viewers, it was the second-most-watched show that night, falling about half a million viewers short of an episode of The Amazing Race. In January 2014, the Grammy Awards pulled in 28.5 million total viewers, good enough for the highest ratings in both the U.S. and Canada.
Appealing to the public is always a tough fight for the Junos, since most of their performers are C-list at best, hardly making it worth anyone’s while to tune in. The Grammys, on the other hand, have a system that is successful: they award those who deserve to win regardless of their country of origin, and they book the best acts to perform. An award show live from Hamilton, Ont., where the biggest preforming act is Hedley, simply will not cut it for the average viewer.
It might be time for the Junos to stop pretending to be something they’re not. They will never become relevant until they stop pushing away international music and instead look to it for help.