t’s no secret that mainstream music award shows tend to be narrow-minded in their nominations and are not known for giving out awards based on artistic innovation and variety. What’s played off as an all-out celebration of the finest and most talented heads in the music industry new and old has often been ridiculed for being more like a select club for those who are able to pull off a double-platinum and decide to pat each other on the back while sipping champagne. Look at any Internet thread concerning the Grammys or, in the case of Canadian music, the Junos, and you’re likely to catch the derogatory term “circle jerk” once or twice. However, looking back at this year’s 56th Grammy awards, there has been progress made in recognizing independent music. Independent hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis took home the award for Best New Artist, and Vampire Weekend won Best Alternative Music Album for their third LP, Modern Vampires of the City.
Now, with the nominations list released for the 43rd annual Juno awards, while there are a good number of independent artists, 80 first-time Juno nominees in fact, being recognized by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), it’s already apparent that some of the nominated artists are not exactly innovative nor wide reaching in the Canadian music community. Understandably, we couldn’t nominate all those involved in Canadian music, from the stadium headliners to the cover bands playing at your corner street bar; there must be a degree of selection. But when the choices in artist recognition become so limited that we’re only celebrating a small assortment of musicians and not the current breadth of Canadian music, we’re at a loss for noticing those who still produce admirable work but don’t have the means of promoting it.
Montreal’s indie powerhouse Arcade Fire lead the Juno nominees this year, with a total of six nominations for their album Reflektor, contending for Juno Fan Choice, Single of the Year, Album of the Year, Group of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Alternative Album of the Year. Other multiple nominees include Michael Bublé and Serena Ryder, both with five nominations (Ryder oddly won last year for adult alternative album of the year and is now nominated for album of the year), as well as artists Drake, Tegan and Sara, Hedley, and Celine Dion, who each have received four nominations.
Discrepancies seem to be floating around like flies this year, though. Celine Dion, mentioned above as having four nominations for her album, Loved Me Back to Life, already has 20, that’s right, 20 Juno wins under her belt. Robin Thicke, a longtime Los Angeles resident who only has Canadian citizenship by way of his father, Alan Thicke, is booked to perform and nominated for three categories, including Artist of the Year. Thicke’s track “Blurred Lines” was a billboard smash hit, despite being widely criticized for promoting misogyny and rape culture.
Even some details concerning nominations for independent artists seem suspect. Toronto-based indie-rock outfit Born Ruffians have pulled in a nomination for Breakthrough Group of the Year; however, the Ruffians have been playing together for nearly 11 years now, releasing their third LP this past year, Birthmarks. A likely cause of this is the Juno’s sales requirements for major categories like Breakthrough Group and Album of the Year.
There is something to be said though for smaller artists getting major recognition by CARAS. First Nations DJ trio A Tribe Called Red have been nominated in both the Breakthrough Group of the Year and Electronic Album of the Year categories. Other independent artists nominated include indie-rock band July Talk, electronic artist Ryan Hemsworth, and art-rock collective Yamantaka // Sonic Titan.
The winners will ultimately be revealed come March 30 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man. Arcade Fire is sure to be a strong participant, as are Drake and Robin Thicke. At the end of the day, though, on a technical level, none of these artists is any bit superior over another. Neither the innovative independents nor the top-40 giants deserve more of your attention, because neither of them is technically more impressive than the other. If you disagree with the current nominees and who Canada’s best current artists are, it’s important that you voice your opinion and share new music rather than being passive. Instead of basing our ideas on the best musicians and artists in Canada as judged by a select panel, why don’t we explore what Canada’s music scene has to offer and decide for ourselves?