In less troubled circumstances, the 50th anniversary edition of the Juno Awards would have been a loud and celebratory party in a sold-out arena featuring performances from the cream of the crop of Canadian music.
Covid may have robbed us of that live experience, but last night’s two-hour show still managed to do a superb job of showcasing our talent, past and present.
The bulk (41 of 47) of the Juno Awards had been handed out on Friday night, with Sunday’s presentations confined to six major categories, plus the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year award, an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Humanitarian Award.
The biggest winner on both nights was The Weeknd. He took home three Junos on Friday, plus two more last night – for Album of The Year (After Hours) and Artist of the Year. This moves him up to 6th place on the top 100 all-time Juno winners with 15, though it was unfortunate that no acceptance message could be obtained from him.
Fellow global superstar Justin Bieber won for Pop Album of the Year (Changes) and he led off the Sunday show with a strong performance. Other victors on the night were fast-rising young stars JP Saxe (Breakthrough Artist of the Year) and Savannah Ré (Traditional R&B/Soul Recording of the Year, for Solid).
As was to be expected, a large part of the show took us down memory lane, reflecting upon the five decades of Junos past. Interspersed with footage of previous show highlights were Juno reminiscences from the likes of Anne Murray, Robbie Robertson, Maestro Fresh-Wes, Jully Black, Alan Doyle, Corey Hart, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Celine Dion, kd lang, Shania Twain, Jann Arden, and more.
Nicely balancing the nostalgia were performances from younger talents making a big splash, both domestically and internationally. These included Jessie Reyez, JP Saxe and US singer/songwriter Julia Michaels on their smash hit If The World was Ending, and Ali Gatie and Tate McRae on their hit collaboration, Lie To Me.
Last night’s performances were, in fact, dominated by duet performances. Kardinal Offishall and Jully Black partnered for a dynamite take on Ol’ Time Killing, and Serena Ryder teamed up with Indigenous roots singer/songwriter William Prince for a compelling version of his song The Spark.
The evening concluded with Feist joining The Tragically Hip for a fresh take on It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken. Of note is the fact that their performance gave us a preview peek at the Allan Slaight Stage of the currently under renovation Massey Hall. They were introduced by Gordon Lightfoot, who expressed a desire to return to his favourite venue as soon as possible.
As promised, last night’s broadcast paid homage to notable music venues across Canada, many of which are struggling to stay afloat in the era of the lockdown. Michael Buble fondly recalled his many nights spent at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom.
A significant aspect of last night’s Junos was the generous, yet fully justified, allocation of time to the black and Indigenous music genres and communities. 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Juno's introduction of a Rap Recording of the Year category, and the leading lights of Canadian hip-hop since then were all acknowledged.
Joining Black and Offishall in performing in a 30th Anniversary Tribute to Rap at the Junos were Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh-Wes (winner of the first Juno rap award), NAV, and Haviah Mighty, filmed in locales as distant as Saint John, NB, Toronto, and Los Angeles .
Buffy Sainte-Marie was a key force in having the Junos introduce an Aboriginal music category back in 1995, and she took the opportunity last night to announce that a new Juno category, for Traditional Indigenous Recording, will premiere at the 2022 Juno Awards.
The 2021 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, Presented by Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation, was given by Susan Aglulark to Mary Piercey-Lewis, of Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, Nunavut. A press release states that “Piercey-Lewis holds a PhD in ethnomusicology and her commitment to the Inuit music community has spanned over two decades. By using music as a means to explore culture, heritage, and identity, Piercey-Lewis' education practice is dedicated towards building a stronger community.” She is the recipient of a $10,000 cash prize, a significant contribution towards the music program of Inuksuk High School, and a Juno statuette.
An undoubted highlight of last night's show was the induction of Jann Arden into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. It was fitting that doing the honours for the induction was another Canadian sweetheart, Anne Murray. She laughingly recalled inviting Arden to play golf with her once – “Jann showed up in jeans, a lumberjack shirt and boots, and they weren’t going to let her play. I had to buy her a complete new outfit! She lies about me onstage, but Jann is a fine human being. She is warm, witty, kind and compassionate, and I’m proud to call her a friend.” Rick Mercer dubbed her “St. Jann of Alberta,” and Michael Buble declared “I just fuckin’ love you!”
In her acceptance speech, Arden was typically witty, warm, and moving. She led off with “I’m far too young for this, don’t you think?,” then talked about the way music saved her as a youngster, sharing a house with an alcoholic father. “I escaped to the basement to play records. Music was my solace, my joy, my whole world. Music is magic, and just so important to human life.”
Arden then dazzled with her performance of Good Mother, fittingly performed at Calgary’s National Music Centre, home of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Closing out the 2021 Juno Awards broadcast, The Tragically Hip received the 2021 Humanitarian Award Presented by Music Canada. Introducing them and speaking eloquently of the group’s career-long commitment to humanitarian causes were Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, while such luminaries as Samantha Nutt (War Child Canada), Indigenous leader Perry Bellegarde, and the Mayor of Kingston outlined the huge impact The Hip’s good works have had on so many charitable organisations. “Without the contributions of the band, War Child would not exist,” stressed Nutt.
Lifeson explained that "The bigger the band got, the more they gave back. The Hip’s philanthropic pursuits have raised millions of dollars for so many deserving social and environmental causes, including Camp Trillium, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Sunnybrook Foundation, War Child, the Special Olympics, Unison, and many more. They know that when you help those in need, it benefits all.”
Lee noted that "During their final tour, the band used their enormous spotlight to bring an important light to the attention of Canadians – the country’s systemic mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, or, as Gord put it, 'the people way up north we were trained our entire lives to ignore.' Gord’s brother Mike continues to expand the important work of the Gord Downie Chanie Wenjack Fund, which strives to bring reconciliation.”
The remaining members of The Tragically Hip all made brief acceptance remarks, and Rob Baker eloquently explained the band’s philosophy this way: “The spotlight that has been so generously focused upon our band over the last 30 plus years has provided us with a myriad of opportunities. We have always felt it was our responsibility to reflect that light back and bring some illumination to where it might be needed.”
Mike Downie noted that “when my brother died, none of us here could imagine a world without him. We are still here very much feeling the loss of Gord, and we draw strength and solace, not just from his words, but the way in which he lived his life. His big heart served him well.”
The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS) and all involved in producing the two Juno Awards broadcasts over the weekend deserve credit for a fine job in tough circumstances. The Junos return to Toronto in 2022, and a far more party-hearty celebration is eagerly anticipated by all.
Here is a list of Sunday night's Juno Awards winners
ARTIST OF THE YEAR (PRESENTED BY SIRIUSXM CANADA)
The Weeknd The Weeknd XO/Republic/Universal
JUNO FAN CHOICE (PRESENTED BY FREEDOM MOBILE)
TRADITIONAL R&B/SOUL RECORDING OF THE YEAR (PRESENTED BY ADVANCE, CANADA’S BLACK MUSIC BUSINESS COLLECTIVE)
Solid Savannah Ré 1Music/Universal
BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST OF THE YEAR (PRESENTED BY FACTOR, THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA AND CANADA'S PRIVATE RADIO BROADCASTERS)
JP Saxe Arista*Sony
POP ALBUM OF THE YEAR (PRESENTED BY CBC MUSIC)
Changes Justin Bieber Def Jam*Universal
ALBUM OF THE YEAR (PRESENTED BY MUSIC CANADA)
After Hours The Weeknd The Weeknd XO/Republic/Universal
MUSICOUNTS TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Mary Piercey-Lewis Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, Nunavut
Read a full list of Friday night's Juno winners here