The fact that last Thursday’s announcement of the 2016 Polaris Prize shortlist generated significant media attention is testimony to the impact Polaris has had over its 11-year existence.
We scouted around to gauge the reaction, and found that it ranged from the thoughtful to the parochial.
Writing in The Georgia Straight, Kate Wilson declared that “The shortlist brings some great news. Four Vancouver artists—Black Mountain, White Lung, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Grimes (yes, we’re still counting Grimes as local)—are still in the running for the coveted $50,000 prize. And, even better, Justin Bieber and Purpose have been struck from the list.”
Wilson then revealed her regional bias by writing that “Toronto natives will be disappointed that Drake’s VIEWS were not insightful enough for the shortlist, and that music critics have finally realized that The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness is more mad than beautiful. (And let's be honest—neither of them needed the money anyway.)”
Over at the Winnipeg Free Press, Erin Lebar wrote that “The announcement of the Polaris Music Prize nominees is always a chance to rekindle a national conversation about music, and once again, that conversation in our part of the country starts with the question, "Where are the Manitoba artists?"
“This year’s long list was sorely and obviously lacking Prairie content, with Saskatchewan’s Andy Shauf as the sole representative of Saskatchewan or Manitoba in the collection of 40 albums from across the country. This unfortunate absence is nothing new. During Polaris’s 11-year existence, only eight records made by seven artists in this province have made the list. Eight albums out of a possible 441 long-list spots; literally less than two per cent. That’s an appallingly low number, given the vibrancy and quality of the music scene in our fair province.”
Tastemaking US site Pitchfork filed a short report that singled out Grimes, Carly Rae Jepsen and Kaytranada in its headline. They noted that “Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber were left off the shortlist, after initially making the longlist. Destroyer, Peaches, and Junior Boys are some of the other longlist nominees who were left off.” Pitchfork also mentioned that two of their contributors were on the jury of 196 Canadian music journalists.
UK music site nme.com impressed with its coverage, including a short profile of all ten shortlisters plus a video by each act. Writer Rhian Daly stated that “the shortlist contains a few surprises. For the most part, big artists like Drake, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber have been ignored, leaving the list wide open to those who may not be quite as well known. Of course, this is the awards ceremony that gave their 2014 prize to Tanya Tagaq, an Inuk throat singer, so there's a precedent for rewarding the more underrated artists at Polaris.”
The Celebuzz! site used the shortlist announcement as an excuse to declare their love of Carly Rae Jepsen. Their head ran "Carly Rae Jepsen Finally Shortlisted for Polaris Music Prize," and the story began "At long last, the pop princess is getting her due… Everyone’s favorite pop musician Carly Rae Jepsen finally made the cut. Granted, lately the music landscape is packed with talent in Canada, although the likes of Drake and Justin Bieber were notably absent this go-round. But Jepsen’s infectious brand of ear candy was destined for some Polaris love, especially for Emotion.”
In their short item, Fader singled out Jepsen, Grimes and Jessy Lanza in its head, while UK site Live4ever showed its rock bias by placing Black Mountain and White Lung in its head.
Spin named Jepsen, Grimes and Kaytranada in its headline then wrote: “Among notable names dropped from the “long list”: Drake, Justin Bieber, and The Weeknd.”
NOW magazine music scribe Carla Gillis was more outspoken in her Polaris report than most. It was entitled “Polaris Music Prize Short List Is a Litt Bit Yay And A Little Bit Meh.”
As was mentioned in other reports (including in FYI), Gillis cited the strong showing of women.
She termed that “something we loved,” but then wrote that “What we don't love is that, taken altogether, the 10 acts reflect an overwhelmingly pop-rock, white Canadian music scene at a time when Canadian rappers and R&B singer/songwriters of colour are dominating the radio airwaves throughout the continent… The short list feels especially meh in comparison to the diversity of the long list.”
Gillis also placed the fact that there were no East Coast artists represented in the “meh” category.
The Polaris Music Prize Gala will be held at The Carlu in Toronto on Monday, September 19.