It was a big weekend for my not-so-secret secret girlfriend, Leslie Feist. Not only did she wipe the floor with everyone else at the Juno Awards with a killer performance of “Sealion,” she went 5/5 sweeping the evening’s biggest categories, from Artist and Single of the Year, to the coup-de-grace, Album of the Year.
And it’s all a huge mistake.
No, it’s not that she doesn’t deserve the awards – hell, she’s the most deserving big winner at the Junos since Sam Roberts cleaned up four years ago. But Roberts and Feist both share a dark secret in common: their biggest awards were only made possible because someone fucked up.
I’ve blogged about this before, but to recap: the nominations for several of the biggest Juno Awards categories are partially or wholly determined by record sales. These include Artist of the Year, Group of the Year and the big one, Album of the Year. I’m not a fan of this system in the slightest, but at least it’s clear cut and hard to screw up…or so you’d think.
Flash back four years ago to 2004. Sam Roberts’ excellent full-length debut We Were Born in a Flame was nominated alongside the latest albums from Canadian music superstars Celine Dion, Nelly Furtado, Michael Buble and Sarah McLachlan. It was strange to see Roberts alongside such massive heavyweights, especially considering one of the heavyweights left off the list: Chad “Lead Foot” Kroger and his fellow members of Nickelback. The official line from the Juno committee was that there was a screw-up in the counting, but since they really couldn’t take away Roberts’ nomination after it was announced, they added Nickelback as a sixth contender.
Roberts won, because We Were Born in a Flame was a solid album. But under the Juno rules, he should never have been nominated in the first place. A great vote of confidence in their system, eh?
You’d think such a mistake wouldn’t happen again, but this year déjà vu struck: after the nominees for were announced, the Juno committee had to send out a big press release adding nominees a whole wack of categories, most notably Album of the Year. Anne Murray’s Duets album should have been one of the five nominees, and now became a sixth wheel alongside Michael Buble, Avril Lavigne, Leslie Feist, and two records from Celine Dion,.
So the burning question: who, according to the Junos’ sales-based formula, was wrongly in the running? The Juno committee hasn’t said, but I’ve gone back through the CRIA certification records and I can pretty safely say that Ms. Feist is probably the culprit.
So for the second time in four years, an album inadvertently placed into the category by mistake has walked home with the Junos’ top prize. I’d be tempted to call “conspiracy” on this, but they didn’t pull this stunt the year TWO Canadian Idol albums and Diana Krall’s Christmas album made the list (if there was ever a year to screw up the ballot, that would have been it).
But whatever the reason for the poor math skills of the Juno committee, hopefully this incident will finally convince the CRIA to abandon their system of sales-based nominations. The connection between artistic merit and sales has always been tenuous, and to build a system where nominees are decided by sales but winners are voted on artistic merit really doesn’t make much sense. That link between commercial success and artistic success is being further weakened by the tectonic shakeups going on in the music industry this century. In an audience-driven media environment turning every band niche, only established superstars will rack up the types of sales that earn Juno Awards, leaving the true breadth of this country’s musical talent off the nominees list.
When your two best winners in recent years were nominated by mistake, it’s time to rethink the gameplan.
Watch: Feist – “Sealion” (live at the 2008 Juno Awards)