By and large, Canadians don’t give two shits about the Juno Awards. In fact, for all their commercials and promotion, it seems that CTV doesn’t give much of a shit about them either. It has so little confidence in the Junos as a ratings-grabber that it was planning on giving the awards show the shaft this year, airing it in all sorts of crazy times across the country to make sure that the two-hour episode of The Amazing Race gets the best prime-time real estate (they have since changed their plans due to the outrage and will be starting the show earlier so it can air before the Race in the Eastern half of the country).
I’d like to suggest that the blame for this irrelevance can be placed at the award show organizers themselves, and believe me, I do not absolve them of my scorn and indignation. But there’s a bigger problem going on in our public perception of the Juno Awards and of Canadian music in general: an inferiority complex that limits our appreciation for the music happening within our own borders.
Many countries across the world have been able to find a balance between allowing “international” (well…mostly just American) bands and artists to becomea huge part of their music scene while still supporting and sustaining their own domestic music industry (I’d argue that England has probably achieved this balance better than anyone else). But most of them don’t have the same media climate that we do here in Canada, where the television and multimedia arms of the money-driven American music industry reach well above the 49th parallel.
This is why the CRTC has established Canadian Content rules (referred to as CanCon) that establishes a certain percentage of content aired on Canadian radio or television that must be at least party written, produced, performed or contributed to by Canadians. Currently, for example, 35 per cent of most radio content needs to be Canadian-made. Those who support the regulations argue that they’re necessary to prevent an independent Canadian culture by being swallowed up by American media domination. Opponents – which famously included Bryan Adams when his Waking up the Neighbours album was determined to be not Canadian enough, in spite of its spelling – argue that CanCon amounts to nothing more than cultural protectionism and gives Canadian art its inferiority complex.
I don’t want to get all “OMG AMERICAN MEDIA WILL EAT US ALIVE!” here, but I’m definitely on the “CanCon is necessary” side of the fence. Having said that, Bryan Adams isn’t wrong in his assessment (and it’s one that others have made) that Canadians tend to have an inferiority/disinterest in Canadian-produced art of all stripes, music included; I just don’t think that CanCon is the cause of it. Hell, most people probably don’t even know that CanCon exists, or at least they aren’t thinking about it when they’re in their local record store trying to decide what to buy (or on Limewire deciding what to download).
No, instead our proximity to a big, loud and expensive American music market has led many Canadians feeling ambivalent and underwhelmed (if that’s a word / I know it’s not cause I looked it up) by our domestic creations. This doesn’t mean that we’re incapable of occasionally forming a solid homegrown scene (the late-1990s alternative rock scene with bands like Our Lady Peace, Moist and the Matthew Good Band was pretty ubiquitous for their time). But the vast majority of the time, the only Canadian artists that are given *superstar* status north of the border are those who achieve it south of the border at the same time.
Take this year’s Queen of the Homecoming Dance: Nelly Furtado. Not only is she hosting, but most likely she’ll be going home with multiple awards at the ceremony on Sunday night. And yet the reason we’re championing her is because, after the mature Folklore was a commercial disappointment, she left her Canadian producer for a famous American one (that would be Gerald Eaton replaced by Timbaland) and created a hip-hop influenced album tailor-made for the American market. And thus, became friggin’ huge.
Or how about the resurgent Canadian alternative music scene, with hotbeds in Montreal and Toronto? That genre’s success is being largely driven by American interest and attention; hell, its most successful band – Arcade Fire – aren’t even signed to a Canadian label. Now, mainstream rock tends to weather this “quest for American appreciation” far better than most, which is why bands like the Tragically Hip have been able to make themselves a career. But look at any interview the band has done over the past decade and the same old question is asked: why aren’t you guys bigger in the States?
What we’re getting at here is a foundation of Canadian nationalism: big brother issues. Molson Canadian has built a wildly successful brand image off of this entire concept – Joe’s infamous “I Am Canadian” rant was really a thinly-veiled way of saying “I Am Not American but I’d Like to Be Noticed!” At the same time that we want to distinguish ourselves from our neighbours to the South, we also want to impress them and make sure that they recognize us. Given that our entire national culture and our politics is often a tension between these two ideas, is it any wonder that our music industry is the same way?
Now, there’s no doubting that the Juno Awards do can a hell of a lot to improve themselves. Their biggest shortcoming is their asinine system of using sales as the sole determiner of several of their biggest categories (Album, Artist and Group of the Year), a decision which robs the show of any semblance of credibility and has allowed far more Canadian Idol winners than reasonable to end up nominated for key awards. They can give more stage-time to up-and-coming artists and present awards in genres like rap and alternative on the air ( areas where the show has been making small but notable strides in recent years).
But until Canadians as a whole get over our national identity issues and realize that an album sold in Canada means just as much as an album sold in the States, then the Juno Awards are going to continue to be neglected in favour of American interests. Amazing Race, anyone?
What to Watch For (if you watch) at the Junos on Sunday: (below the fold)
Performances: Nelly Furtado, Alexisonfire, Billy Talent, City and Colour, DJ Champion, Gregory Charles, k-os, Patrick Watson, Tragically Hip and Three Days Grace.
Juno Fan Choice Award
Who will win – Who gives a shit? Democracy sucks.
Last year’s winner – Simple Plan
Single of the Year
Billy Talent – “Devil in a Midnight Mass”
Chantal Kreviazuk – “All I Can Do”
Jim Cuddy – “Pull Me Through”
k-os – “Sunday Morning”
Nelly Furtado – “Promiscuous feat. Timbaland”
Who will win – Most likely Furtado
Last year’s winner – Michael Buble – “Home”
Album of the Year (nominees determined by sales)
Billy Talent – Billy Talent II
Gregory Charles – I Think of You
Hedley – Hedley
Nelly Furtado – Loose
Three Days Grace – ONE-X
Who will win – Furtado, but although I’m not a fan, seeing Quebec-sensation Charles take it would be a welcome surprise
Last year’s winner – Michael Buble – It’s Time
Artist of the Year (nominees determined by sales)
Who will win – Furtado again, but watch out for Charles, especially if the Junos decide to make amends for their lack of appreciation towards Quebecois music over the years
Last year’s winner – Michael Buble
Group of the Year (nominees determined by sales)
The Tragically Hip
Three Days Grace
Who will win – Billy Talent if the Junos judged on quality, but I think that the Hedley sensation will be hard for them to ignore.
Last year’s winner – Nickelback
New Artist of the Year (sales a co-determiner for nominations)
Neverending White Lights
Who will win – Completely up in the air. I say that Idols split the votes and Watson wins.
Last year’s winner – Daniel Powter
New Group of the Year (sales a co-determiner for nominations)
Who will win – it’s either Mobile or Stabilo; I pick the latter.
Last year’s winner – Bedouin Soundclash
Songwriter of the Year
Who will win – I’m thinking Harmer, but Sampson did win a Grammy, so if we throw American acceptance into the mix, he wins.
Last year’s winner – Arcade Fire
Alternative Album of the Year
Chad VanGaalen – Skelliconnection
City and Colour – Sometimes
Islands – Return to the Sea
Malajuba – Trompe-l’Oeil
Shout Out Out Out Out – Not Saying/Just Saying
Who will win – perhaps the least mainstream the category has been in quite a few years; City and Colour will win for being the most recognizable.
Last year’s winner – Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
Pop Album of the Year
Chantal Kreviazuk – Ghost Stories
k-os – Atlantis: Hymns for Disco
Nelly Furtado – Loose
Sarah McLachlan – Wintersong
Tomi Swick – Stalled Out in the Doorway
Who will win: Furtado, easily.
Last year’s winner: Michael Buble – It’s Time
Rock Album of the Year
Billy Talent – Billy Talent II
Mobile – Tomorrow Starts Today
Sam Roberts – Chemical City
Sloan – Never Hear the End of It
The Tragically Hip – World Container
Who will win: Billy Talent, most likely, but the Junos did love Sam Roberts three years ago…
Last year’s winner: Nickelback – All The Right Reasons