One thing we learned early on in our JUNOS experience is that there’s a lot more going on than just an award show.
The broadcast, hosted by Sarah McLachlan, took place on Sunday, March 17, while absolutely the biggest & flashiest of the weekend’s events, represents only about 6 award categories. The other 36 categories and 50+ musical performances took place in Gala ballrooms, museum galleries, downtown pop-ups and shopping malls around London, ON over the course of three jam-packed days.
Frequent bouts of rain & snow didn’t stop thousands of music fans from roaming across 15 downtown London venues for JunoFest, which saw bars, breweries, and arcades transformed into side stages for Canada’s best in established & up-and-coming musical talent.
Acts like Thunder Bay’s The Honest Heart Collective had the crowd opening up half a mosh pit at Union Ten Distillery until well past 2 am, while vocalist Sally Shaar of Toronto’s Monowhales danced, flexed, and worked the crowd at Toboggan Brewing as if she was Arkells frontman Max Kerman on a 50-foot catwalk at the heart of an arena tour.
Speaking of Max, Canada’s favourite rock band Arkells unsurprisingly took home the awards for Group of the Year and Rock Album of the year for Rally Cry, which also picked up a music production award honouring People’s Champ and Relentless mastermind Eric Ratz. Ratz spoke backstage about the band’s hook-y “anthemic” sound mirroring their new identity as an arena rock band and how there’s no limit to how far they can go.
Dance Recording of the Year winners Loud Luxury opened the broadcast with an energetic performance of their mega-hit ‘Body’ and as any proud Western University alumni should, they brought the entire Western U marching band & cheerleaders on stage to accompany them. It was a show of pride in their hometown that was commonplace across the weekend, as London turned out and turned up to welcome the JUNOS to their city for the very first time.
The broadcast also featured the triumphant return of Corey Hart, 80s teen superstar, who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He performed a medley of classic hits including Sunglasses at Night and was clearly touched by the crowd’s standing ovation. A mirror of Corey’s 80’s teen success, 20-year-old Pickering dreamboat Shawn Mendes nearly swept his 6 nominated categories with 5 wins, to end up with the most awards of the weekend (including ‘Artist of the Year’, ‘Songwriter of the Year’, and ‘Single of the Year’).
Like so many mainstream award shows, the JUNOS has in the past been accused of being ‘JunosSoWhite’, with most of the major awards scooped up by cisgender white males, but this year, there were some serious bright spots during the gala and broadcast that showcased the incredible diversity of Canadian music.
Milk & Bone, a Montreal-based electropop duo, picked up a JUNO honouring their sophomore album Deception Bay. Since winning ‘Breakthrough Group of the Year’ in 2016, they’ve learned how to trust their instincts and say “fuck it, let’s try things”. Delighted to be winning in a category (Electronic Album of the Year) historically dominated by men, they commented backstage on how amazing it is to see “more and more women writing and producing music”.
Non-Binary/Trans director, musician, and puppeteer Ali Eisner’s enthusiastic acceptance speech for Best Music Video shed light on what picking up a JUNO trophy means to a “small trans person” like themself. Unusually, even the classical and jazz categories were dominated by women in 2019, with jazz vocalist Laila Biali and classical composers Barbara Hannigan and Ana Sokolović picking up honours.
Newcomer bülow picked up an award for ‘Breakthrough Artist of the Year’ and showed the JUNOS crowd her particular brand of vocal-driven alternative pop with a performance of her hit songs Two Punks in Love and Not a Love Song. Jessie Reyez’s Being Human in Public picked up R&B/Soul Recording of the Year and she spoke backstage about how grateful she was that her parents chose Canada and allowed her to embrace her identity: “In Canada, you wave your parents’ flag and you wave the Canadian flag”.
In the Adult Alternative category, Oshawa foursome Dizzy picked up a JUNO for their début Baby Teeth before heading to the Union Ten Distillery for a JunoFest set. Despite having been awake for a reported 22 hours (they flew in Saturday morning from Washington DC where they’re touring with fellow JUNO nominees Tokyo Police Club), they showcased their dreamy electro-rock sound to unceasing shouting and applause worthy of newly-minted JUNO winners.
Dave Merheje, whose raucous stand-up comedy highlights the experience of growing up with immigrant parents, took home the award for Comedy Album of the Year. Back for just the second year after a 30-year absence, the JUNOS Comedy Album Award saw nominees, including Chanty Marostica, a proud queer & trans comedian fresh off a win as Canada’s Funniest Person, bring the London Music Hall Comedy Showcase crowd to their knees with laughter. On the red carpet, Canadian comedy icon & presenter Rick Mercer mused on how “Canadian comedians are a great resource just like Canadian music is a great resource.”
Classically-trained tenor Jeremy Dutcher wowed the audience with a stunning performance in his traditional Wolastoq language during the JUNO broadcast and took home the award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year at Saturday’s gala. Dutcher used his acceptance moment to highlight the importance of truth & reconciliation, before being played off early by the Gala music.
In response to his early dismissal, the most meaningful moment of the weekend happened as Rock Album of the Year winners Arkells brought Jeremy Dutcher on stage to accept with them. Rather than using the moment themselves, they turned the mic over to Dutcher to close out the gala evening by finishing his poignant speech.
Dutcher wondered why, in a category as sonically diverse as “Indigenous Music of the Year’ which features rap, rock, classical and traditional Aboriginal music, nominees aren’t being recognized in their respective genre categories: “We are not to be siloed”.
He highlighted how far there is to go in reconciliation, with unceded territories still occupied and boil water advisories in effect on reserves across the country. As an indigenous artist, it was clear how meaningful it was to Dutcher “to have a spotlight and a platform to share truths and to talk about the difficult dream we have in this country, to work together”.
Just as Dutcher had the last word during the Gala, we’ll give him the last word here. When it comes to truth & reconciliation in Canadian music, “We can all do better”, but to see queer, indigenous performers on the main stage at the JUNOS, “It feels like possibilities”, he says. “I didn’t have this when I was growing up. Representation”.