The return of Michael Buble, a reunited BNL, tributes to Gord Downie, and increased focus on Indigenous and women’s rights made for a particularly moving night at the 2018 Juno Awards.
Host Michael Buble (who was unable to host last year due to his young son’s cancer diagnosis) was a welcome presence at the Awards, opening with an emotional speech in which he announced his wife’s pregnancy.
“You can’t know what it means to me to be here; It’s been a couple years since I’ve been on stage,” he said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous. Sometimes when you’ve been gone a while, you wonder if you’ve lost whatever it is you might have had in the first place.”
With his standard cheekiness, he added: “But honestly after standing here for forty seconds, I’ve realized…that I’m even better than I was before!”
A highlight of the broadcast was the long-awaited return of the Barenaked Ladies, who reunited with founding member Steven Page for their induction in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. After a characteristically hilarious acceptance speech (introduced by Geddy Lee of Rush), the band closed the show with a buoyant performance of their hits “One Week” and “If I Had a Million Dollars.”
The broadcast also featured several moving tributes to Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, with Sarah Harmer and City in Colour performing emotional covers of Downie’s “Introduce Yerself” and The Hip’s “Bobcaygeon,” respectively.
The performance was introduced by Downie’s writing partner Kevin Drew (of Broken Social Scene) and Pearl Wenjack, whose late brother Chanie Wenjack was the focus of Downie’s The Secret Path.
“In the midst of the beautiful goodbye he gave us all, he asked us to take a look at the parts of history we were taught to ignore,” Drew stated, referring to Downie’s efforts to raise awareness about abuses perpetuated in residential schools.
The late musician, poet, and activist also received three Awards (Songwriter of the Year with Drew, Adult Alternative Album of the Year, and Artist of the Year), which were accepted by his brothers Patrick and Mike Downie.
The brothers reflected on Downie’s passion for of music, which even his fatal cancer diagnosis couldn’t dim, and reiterated his call for Canadians to focus on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. “If we’ve learned anything from Gord, it was the value of taking care of each other,” Patrick stated.
Indigenous Music Album winner Buffy Sainte-Marie made a powerful statement about the music industry’s need to recognize and support women. “It’s time for a far greater awareness of what women have done, and what we’re capable of doing,” she stated, standing alongside synth-pop artist Grimes. “We need to build a foundation to create an environment that actually encourages success for women as engineers, as producers, as artists and writers, as inventors and providers of new music.”
Grimes then introduced Pop Album of the Year winner Lights, who performed her empowering single “Giants.” The number was set to a backdrop comic book-inspired art created by the singer herself, including a series of gorgeous portraits of Canadian women in music.
The broadcast also showcased killer performances from Canada’s hottest up-and-coming artists.
Throat-singing roots rockers The Jerry Cans gave a fiery (literally – there were fireworks) performance of their Inuktitut-language folk jam “Northern Lights.” (The Iqaluit-based group received nominations for Breakthrough Group and Contemporary Roots Album, losing out to The Beaches and folk-rock icon Bruce Cockburn).
Later in the broadcast, R&B/Soul Recording winner Daniel Caesar, who was visibly overwhelmed as he accepted his award (“I’m frazzled right now, but thank you”), delivered a stylish medley of “Freudian” and “We Find Love.”
Arkells, one of the best live bands in Canada, rallied the crowd with their rousing protest anthem “Knockin’ at the Door,” complete with a feminist shout-out “to all my sisters here tonight” from lead singer Max Kerman.
Another standout was Breakthrough Artist winner Jessie Reyez performing her single “Figures.” Reyez delivered the first half of her performance seated near the back of the stage, letting her powerful vocals take the spotlight, before striding across the catwalk and being joined by surprise duet partner Daniel Caesar.
Towards the end of the night, a thrilled Michael Buble duetted on “L-O-V-E” with acclaimed jazz singer Diana Krall, who on Saturday became the fifth woman to receive the coveted Jack Richardson Producer of the Year award.
It was also a great night for Arcade Fire, who kicked off the broadcast with their single “Everything Now.” In addition to winning Album of the Year for 2017’s Everything Now, the group took home the 2018 International Achievement Award recognizing their massive success worldwide.
Accepting the award at Saturday night’s Gala Dinner and Awards, lead singer Win Butler gave a shout-out to other Canadian acts who influenced and challenged the group. “The best thing is to surround yourself with people who are more talented than you,” he said. “Unless you feel embarrassed by what you’re doing because everyone else around you is phenomenally better than you, you’ll never get anywhere.”
Relatedly, several of the performers took the opportunity to advocate for music education for youth. Shawn Hook, who performed his ballad “Reminding Me” accompanied by the B.C. Youth Chinese Orchestra, lamented the cancellation of his former high school’s music program, and saluted the work of music education charity MusiCounts.
And Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan bluntly stated, “This band wouldn’t exist without public school music education.”
The 2018 Juno Awards were a potent celebration of diversity, and a demonstration of the unifying power of music.