The Juno Awards are one of the few times when Canadian artists are given the credit they deserve.
Countless talented musicians have roots in our home and native land, but it can be hard to break through the glass ceiling. Shows like the Junos give up-and-coming Canadian acts a much-needed boost in profile, while also recognizing the achievements of established artists who (by virtue of their nationality) may not fall under the Grammy radar.
Furthermore, in terms of sheer entertainment value the Junos are one of the better awards shows. The ceremony tends to move along briskly, and consistently features solid moments of humour and impressive musical performances. The announced line-up this year, including Hedley and Arkells, (one of the best live rock acts around), should be enough to convince anyone that the Juno Awards are as relevant as ever.
So what’s with all the hostility?
Considerable criticism surrounds the nomination and voting procedures; specifically questionable Canadian content classification and sales requirements for some awards.
A common gripe about the Juno Awards is that many of the winners reside outside Canada. Scandalous, right? However, the eligibility requirements are fairly specific as to what constitutes a Canadian act. Clearly-defined citizenship and residency requirements must be met by 50% of a group’s members in order to be eligible; exceptions can be made, at the discretion of CARAS, for acts in which the Canadian members are the “creative force” or earn the majority of the profits. These guidelines ensure that the Juno Awards remain Canadian, while giving enough leeway to prevent made-in-Canada artists such as Neil Young (who lives in California but frequently pays tribute to his home country in his lyrics) from being shafted due to geographical location.
Controversy surrounding sales requirements for some of the major awards, including Album of the Year, is also misplaced. Taking sales into consideration ensures that the nominees reflect, to an extent, what Canadians actually listened to within the past year. Secondly, the only awards with sales requirements are Album, International Album, Artist, Group, Breakthrough Artist, Breakthrough Group, Pop Album and Rock Album of the Year. The other thirty-one awards are determined through voting. Balancing artistic merit and commercial success is a delicate dance, but the Junos do a decent job.
So it turns out the procedures aren’t inherently flawed. But what about more general complaints about the quality of the nominees?
Arguing about the “artistic merit” of individual nominees is futile. The value of art cannot be found in critical consensus, but in the meanings they have for individuals. With that in mind, how could anyone who purports to respect the arts unilaterally declare any particular artist “unworthy?” The performers honoured by the Junos every year, spanning cultures, generations, and genres, are part of our cultural heritage and deserve to be recognized.
Whether or not you agree with the field of winners (and really, what awards show doesn’t provoke grumbling?), honouring Canadian achievements is an inherently worthy enterprise.
Originally published in The Fulcrum as part of “Point/Counterpoint: Should we care about the Juno Awards?” by Madison McSweeney and Spencer Murdock, February 5, 2015