Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Should We Care About the Junos?

This past Sunday, the Juno Awards came and went with only a minor stir. Canada's best-known awards ceremony was hosted in Edmonton this year, its 33rd year. Ho hum, so what?

Although I certainly recognize that the Junos are meant to be an important venue for appreciating and recognizing the underdog Canadian music industry, which still struggles to keep its head above water against the riptide of the American music labels, I can't help but think that it's missing its mark. Over and over and over again.

From the evidence shown minutes before this year's show even started, the Junos are a joke. Once again, Ben Mulroney (simpering fool extraordinaire) made everyone on the red carpet look like a complete imbecile. This year, it was someone's bright idea to encourage artists to dance around like little trained monkeys to a tune that we can only assume was running through their heads. They danced badly, treating us to long awkward moments of shocking silence and appallingly poor dance moves that seemed to go on forever. The one redeeming virtue of this horrifying display was that Mulroney didn't join in. I began to think that the Junos exist for the sole purpose of making our artists look like inexcusable morons.

Who's idea was it to make musicians the hosts? Yes, they're entertainers, but being a master of ceremonies takes a lot more than being able to sing songs real pretty. Engaging an audience as a host takes timing, delivery, judgment, a little bit of ad-lib, and a whole lot of the gift o' gab. And they just can't get that overnight. Frankly, I just don't see it ever coming from the average musician, superstar or not, and the last few years' offerings support that. The closest match may have been the Barenaked Ladies in 2002, but really, only two of the group members, Ed and Steven, have any ability with a mic whatsoever (well, maybe Tyler, but all he has going for him is that he's a little strange). And even then, many of their jokes still went sour.

Does anyone else see a problem with the host winning a mantle full of awards at the same show they were hosting (Shania Twain, 2003, with three awards)? I can't think of any other awards show where this might be the case. Presenters of awards might, as happens all the time at the Oscars or The Golden Globes, but a host? Something about that seems in poor taste to me. As are the incessant plugs for albums, tours, and charities that we're treated to over the course of the evening.

In the last three years, the Junos have become the Nickelback show. Nickelback/Chad Kroeger have won 9 Junos in that time. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who are ardent, slavering fans of the band and Chad. Good for you, that's fantastic. I, however, am not one of them. And here's one of the reasons why: if the Junos are meant to promote Canadian music, why does the lion's share of the awards go to the band that is most like its manufactured American next-big-thing counterparts? In the last few years, it's almost become an industry joke that Nickelback, Avril, Shania, and Furtado would split the spoils and leave everyone else in the cold.

The truth of the matter is that almost no one among the fans or the artists has even the slightest clue of how winners are determined. As it turns out, sales play at least a partial role in determining 9 of the awards, which in my opinion is not necessarily an indicator of artistic merit. If that were the case, Harry Potter, all five Star Wars movies, and Jurassic Park would have won best picture Oscars in their respective years. I loved those movies, but I don't think they were best picture material. Check out explanations of the voting and nomination here, but watch out, they're complicated and make the selection process look arbitrary.

Even more of concern, the other 29 awards are largely or completely determined by panels of only 10 jurors, music "experts" from across the country. Ten people, some of whom have ties to category nominees through labels or sponsorship! The only truly representative award of the evening is the Fan Choice Award, based on the most votes received from fans, but even then, nominees for the award are chosen through sales figures.

That being said, I think it's excellent that Sam Roberts had so much success this year, with 3 wins for album of the year, artist of the year and rock album of the year. Although I can't say that I'm a fan of his music exactly (I think I'd need to own his album to call myself that), I think that he has worked hard to get where he is and owes much of his success to the Canadian fans.

But really, does winning a Juno matter, other than to boost these artists' egos? A lot of evidence says that isn't the case. A Juno win doesn't necessarily boost records sales, tour dates, or fame. Many Canadians don't have the foggiest notion if you ask them who won best artist the year before (although I'd bet they'd guess Nickelback, for lack of a better shoe-in). Not so surprisingly, it seems that the live performances on the show do more to gain a new fan base than winning an award. So does it come as any shock that there were 15 performances and only nine awards handed out at last Sunday's show? It shouldn't.

Nor do the Junos seem to have any kind of impact across the border or anywhere else internationally. Host Alanis did a skit criticizing American censorship in a suit that gave her the illusion of being naked. CNN, which referred to the show as " Canada's version of the Grammies," was more interested in that than in any of the awards given out. American fans have to scroll down halfway to find out who the winners were. But really, as a friend of mine pointed out, this isn't the point. The Junos exist for Canada, and Canada alone. We can't expect other countries to have the same interest in our national awards that they have in American awards. Nor would most Canadians have any awareness about awards shows in Sweden or Japan, should such a thing exist there.

National boundaries aside, does the American press have any reason to care about the Junos? I don't see any, but they should, since Canadian music kicks ass. The facts of the matter are that even if the US had nearly the same interest in Canadian pop culture that we have in theirs, the Junos would still be a lower-rung show on the ladder. Budget plays into that, but I still feel we can do more with the money that is available.

So should we care about the Junos? Of course we should. As Canadians, they represent our music, our art, and our culture. Or rather, they should. When it comes right down to it, I don't think enough of us do care. That means, to me, that we should take another look at the system to see if we can improve it before the Junos, and potentially truly Canadian music with it, fade away into obscurity, or worse, get crushed under the iron-toothed wheel of the Grammies.

Just one guy's opinion on the matter.


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