Leonard doffs his hat.
Leonard doffs his hat.

Polaris Music Prize Goes Hatless

Controversy is nothing new to the Polaris Music Prize. In fact, it’s a selling point and likely a source of mirth for its august panel of adjudicators who select the contenders, pick the winners and get to write the headlines after the fact.

Toronto writer Anthony Easton sets up this evening’s gala at the tony Carlu in Toronto with a mild rebuke that appears in the latest edition of The Walrus, Canada’s equivalent to Harper’s magazine.

Easton holds two Master’s degrees and impressively has had his byline appear in the Globe & Mail and The Atlantic magazine.

His point is sharp and one shared by a corral of hat-minded fans that finds itself asking, ‘where are the country acts in this nonpartisan sweepstake?’

He holds a smoking gun.

“In Canada, you can get the indie respect of Toronto or Montreal critics, who will let you on the CBC and let you win the Polaris, or you can get the respect and sales of middle Canada,” Easton opines. Continuing: “Part of this is class—the idea that working class representations are still under-considered, and thereby under-represented in this country. Pop country is still unfashionable. The effort it takes to read the history and aesthetics of it have much less cultural capital than the effort it takes to read the grammar of Drake. Plus, too often for Canadian artists and critics, success equals American recognition—being hip in Brooklyn or Austin means something, but having modest goals of bourgeois Canadian success means much less. This lack of understanding may also reflect a general embarrassment, or a concern about being backwards or a rube.”

He doesn’t stop.

“When one awards a cash prize, and some amount of social cachet, for ‘the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label,’ the splitters can have a field day working through problems of definition. How do we define what a Canadian album is? How long is a full-length album? What about something like Drake’s playlist—is that an album? What about an EP? How do we define artistic merit? How do we rate hip-hop against classical; jazz against metal?”

No doubt tonight’s council of critics will do the right thing—but be they mindful that when they set themselves up on a such a high horse, they put themselves in the spotlight in front of an audience that is both judge and jury too.

Polaris founder and ED Steve Jordan is to be applauded for collaring a disgruntlement of critics and holding them captive to create an enviable prize, and hopefully, his hide is thick enough to take a gentle jab. After all, if one is to be in the spotlight, one must be able to take the heat.

Tonight’s Contenders:

A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Halluci Nation
BadBadNotGood – IV
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Gord Downie – Secret Path
Feist – Pleasure
Lisa LeBlanc – Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?
Lido Pimienta – La Papessa
Tanya Tagaq – Retribution
Leif Vollebekk – Twin Solitude
Weaves – Weaves

Feist, Lisa LeBlanc, Lido Pimienta, Tanya Tagaq, Leif Vollebekk and Weaves are all confirmed to perform tonight. As well, a worldwide exclusive video premiere of Leonard Cohen’s “Leaving the Table” will be screened. CBC Radio 2 Morning’s Raina Douris will host the Gala.

The Polaris Gala will be broadcast live on the CBC Music platform starting at 8 pm. ET / 5 pm PT or you can watch the entire event HERE.

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