The Juno Awards are considered the top music prizes in Canada, last night was the 50th anniversary. The top headline here in Canada, however, is still the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, a tragedy that has attracted international attention and headlines. The Pope expressed sorrow about the situation but stopped short of apologising yesterday which, of course, is not good enough, and generated widespread criticism. So the Junos opened with a legend speaking about these injustices – Buffy Sainte-Marie called for Canadians to face the ugly truth of our country together:
Buffy is naming it, which so many people are still unwilling to do:
“The genocide basic to this country’s birth is ongoing…”
It IS genocide and it IS ongoing. When Indigenous women go missing and are murdered and Canadian institutions, from law enforcement to healthcare to the media, and the public look the other way, it means that the mothers, sisters, and daughters of a community are made vulnerable and endangered. It means Indigenous stories are not passed on. It means traditions are not continued. It means language can go extinct. Last week we had Juno Award and Polaris Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher on The Social who told us about his work to revitalise the Wolastoqey language – there are now fewer than 100 fluent speakers.
Also at the Junos, it was 30 years ago that the rap category was first introduced. Leaders of the Canadian rap community celebrated the anniversary but also called out the Canadian music industry. Per Kardinal Offishall:
"Despite the lack of infrastructure to support rap music in our own backyard, the Rascalz — along with Checkmate, Thrust, Choclaire and myself — found some beauty in the struggle. Despite the challenges we faced as rappers, we succeeded in bringing our up-North style to the rest of the world."
He’s right, especially you consider how much more could have been achieved, how many other talents could have been promoted. But also, if we’re talking about rappers from Canada… well… arguably the biggest rapper in the world comes from Canada: Drake.
Drake has had a complicated relationship with both the Grammys and the Junos. At the Grammys, he’s criticised the Recording Academy for boxing him into the “rap/urban” categories and not recognising his pop influence. And just as the Grammys, like other awards organisations (Oscars, Golden Globes, etc), have been interrogated for their myopia, the Junos too are an institution that has been criticised. With the Junos, even though Drake is proudly Canadian, always namechecking Toronto, he’s basically disappeared himself from involvement with event. As Dalton Higgins, who wrote the Drake biography Far From Over, told Variety in 2019:
“In Canada’s ‘urban’ music scene, the feeling has always been that Drake got snubbed at the 40th edition of the Awards show. He got six nominations, was the leading rap artist in North America, never mind Canada, and won nothing in his home country. How bizarre was that? … It was also the first time in the history of the Awards that a musician who agreed to host the show and had nominated music didn’t win at least one award. When acts like Nelly Furtado, Shania Twain, Celine Dion hosted the Junos, they won 12 awards combined. … It felt like a massive slap in the face to both him, and some other powerful entities in the Canadian music biz.”
That was ten years ago that Drake hosted. And he was AMAZING. He brought in his own writers, his sketches were sharp and fun. It still cracks me up the way he says, “Canary yellow! With the loafers on!”
In the decade that has passed, the Junos for sure have made progress and pushed for change within the organisation to be more inclusive and representative. That Kardinal was able to address the past omissions on the Junos stage last night was certainly a good sign that the organisation might be open to feedback, criticism, and further improvement. To do that means acknowledging past shortcomings and even failures, not minimising them and/or pushing away the conversation entirely.
Last night, The Weeknd was the big Juno winner with multiple awards, including Artist of the Year. He did not have a presence during the show, though. He and Drake are two of the most prominent Canadian artists of all time, dominant on the world stage. Hopefully they’ll come home to the Junos one day.
Yours in gossip,