Tuesday, February 14, 2012

OPINION: The Juno Awards Don't Matter

by Mark Gillis

Since 1970 the Juno Awards have been honoring the best in Canadian music. The nominees for the 2012 Juno Awards were announced recently, and to me at least it, shows how blatantly irrelevant the awards are. While I think the nominees are actually better than I’ve seen in previous years, there still seems to be a real disconnect between what the Juno awards represent and what Canadian music is really about.

I’ll start with the most puzzling of all categories, Best New Group. The Merriam-Webster definition of new is as follows: having recently come into existence. Now let’s look at the nominees for Best new Group.
  • The Sheepdogs: Released 3 studio albums, the first in 2006.
  • The Rural Alberta Advantage: Released 2 studio albums, the first in 2008
  • Mother Mother: Released 4 studio albums, the first in 2005
  • Hey Rosetta!: Released 3 studio albums, the first in 2006
  • Braids: Released one studio album in 2011
As you can see, the only band that is actually new is Braids. If I wanted to get really picky I’d say that Braids but out an EP called Set Pieces back in 2008 under the name The Neighbourhood Council when the band was based in Calgary. I’ll let that fact slide though. Still, there are four Best new Group nominees that are much closer to being well seasoned veterans as opposed to being new.

I won’t get into the details, but the same thing goes for the category of best new artist this year. The majority of the nominees in this category aren’t new at all.

It’s not the first time this has happened either. Last year Caribou was nominated in the Best New Artist category. The funny thing about that is the man behind Caribou, Dan Snaith, has been releasing solo music since around 2000. I think if a band is a couple of years removed from releasing their first album, they can still be considered new. However, when an awards show seems to be this out of touch with what music is actually new, I find it impossible to take them seriously

Next up is the issue I have with the Best Album category. I think that trying to objectively judge what is “best” is a difficult task at the best of times when you’re dealing an entity that isn’t really quantifiable such as music. I still however think that it’s best to at least try to judge which album is the best, but the Juno Awards seem to want to take all judgment out of the process and make the nominees as arbitrary as possible. That’s right, the nominees for this category are decided solely on sales figures. So let’s take a look at the nominees:
  • Avril Lavigne – Goodbye Lullaby
  • Drake – Take Care
  • Justin Beiber – Under The Mistletoe
  • Michael Bubl√© – Christmas
  • Nickelback – Here And Now
My main issue with these nominations isn’t even that aside from Drake, all of these nominees represent just about everything that I think is wrong with music. My real issue is that two of these albums are actually Christmas albums. I mean, really? Christmas albums? I’m actually being told that two albums full of unoriginal material (not that these artists write most of their own material anyway) are among the best albums that Canada had produced in the past year? I think I can safely say that some kind of discretion should be used when selecting these nominees. But I guess the arbitrary process of using sales figures absolves any of the voters from actually having to listen to any of these terrible albums. If Drake doesn’t win album of the year then it will show how much of a sham these awards are.

All of this isn’t to say that I disagree with every decision the Juno Awards have made for their nominees. There are actually a large number of nominees that I adore like Hey Rosetta!, Braids, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Dan Mangan, Timber Timbre and Colin Stetson. I still find it very difficult to look past some of the downright silly choices in a few of these categories. I think with a little bit of tweaking these awards could actually become relevant again. but as things stand, I just see them as a meaningless blip on the radar of Canadian music.

One Canadian music award that I feel is is far from meaningless however is the Polaris Prize. The prize was founded in 2006 by Steve Jordan whose goal was simple, to identify the best Canadian album for a 12 month period. It’s a rigorous process to determine the winning album, but I think that makes the award a lot more meaningful. The prize isn’t based sales figures or popularity. It’s based solely on artistic merit and voted on by a cast of jurors made up mostly of music journalists. The first vote decided a long list of 40 albums, then the next vote decided a short list of 10 albums. After that 11 jurors are literally put into a room at the awards gala until they can come up with a consensus about which album should win. To me this seems like a more thorough way to choose a prize than blindly looking at sales figures.

You can follow me on twitter @Mark__Gillis

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