The 2015 Juno Awards, showcasing rock, pop, alt, reggae, dance, and indie acts, as well as an even more diverse group of winners and nominees, was a fitting celebration of the creativity and talent of Canadian musicians.
Throughout the weekend the bars, restaurants, and churches of six-time host city Hamilton were abuzz with live music and Juno-affiliated events. The Art Gallery of Hamilton even got in the fun, showcasing sculptures and paintings selected by nominees as well as a collection of Juno photography.
The highlight of the pre-broadcast festivities was undoubtedly the Songwriting Circle, in which a diverse line-up of major Canadian artists including singer-songwriter Jenn Grant, Matt Anderson, Big Wreck’s Ian Thornley, Lights, hip hop musician and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, Mother Mother’s Ryan Guldemond, and everyone’s childhood hero Fred Penner performed a selection of original songs and discussed the songwriting process.
This relaxed acoustic set was a sharp contrast to that night’s broadcast, a maximalist celebration of Canadian music that re-affirmed our place in the artistic landscape.
Hedley kicked off the show with a crowd-pleasing performance of “Anything,” before frontman Jacob Hoggard assumed hosting duties. Hoggard’s tenure was marked by rock-and-roll enthusiasm, risqué humour, an appearance from “that guy from that talent show I lost” Ben Mulroney, and frequent bleeped-out profanities (“Let’s hear it for censorship!” he declared).
A pleasant surprise came when Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems beat out chart-topping pop and rock acts for Album of the Year (which is based on sales). If there was any moment that perfectly exemplified the uniqueness of this country’s music scene, that was it.
As can be expected with the reliably efficient Junos, the show moved at a brisk pace. Only eight awards were given out during the broadcast (the rest had been awarded at a live-streamed gala dinner the night previous), leaving about half the show reserved for performances.
Hamilton’s own Arkells, whose live shows (including their headlining gig at Fedstock 2013) have established them as one of Canada’s most engaging acts, didn’t disappoint with their orchestral performance of “Come to Light.”
Kiesza showed off her musicianship behind the piano for “Sound of a Woman” before bursting into a dance-heavy performance of “Hideaway,” while Shawn Mendes’ mellow acoustic “Life of the Party” momentarily silenced the teenage shrieks that ushered it in.
EDM fans were similarly enthused by the sight of Deadmau5’s iconic helmet, which foreshadowed a characteristically quirky few minutes of dance floor euphoria.
Also memorable was the unexpected duet of Lights and Sam Roberts Band, who took the stage to perform their respective hits “Up We Go” and “We’re All in this Together.”
This year’s show also featured substantial government representation, a fitting reminder of the federal government’s role in promoting and funding Canadian artists. The Prime Minister provided a humorous cameo in the opening video clip, Facetiming Hoggard from his office and responding to the host’s casual “What’s happening?” with “I’m the Prime Minister. Everything’s happening.” Later on, Minister Shelley Glover popped by to present an award.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose city is hosting the awards next year, also made several appearances, promoting the 2016 Junos and thanking Rush for their work in the wake of Alberta’s catastrophic floods.
The most impactful moment of the night was the induction of iconic alt-rock singer-songwriter Alanis Morrisette into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Introduced by Jagged Little Pill produced Glen Ballard, Morrisette spoke eloquently, praising the “curious…self-deprecating” nature of Canadians, before closing the show with a superb medley of “Uninvited,” “You Oughta Know,” and “Thank You.”
All in all, the 2015 Juno Awards highlighted a crop of artists who are often as humble and humanitarian as they are brilliant, emphasizing why our musicians so often dominate the international music scene.
Originally published in The Fulcrum as “Juno Awards don’t disappoint”, March 19, 2015