What is Wrong with the Junos?
I read this article on the Junos, the Canadian version of the Grammys, last week. Every year, there’s a long lead up to the awards that oscillates between Yay Canadian Music Rocks and Ugh, Canadian Music Is Terrible. Why does this subject keep coming up? Who cares?
Well, I do. That article coincided with a pretty stupid move on my part to assign my students a Canadian music option on their essays. I have to recycle topics, but try to wait a couple years to do it, in order to avoid students taking advantage of me by buying them through those essay services. (Yeah, you think I didn’t know you do that?) The last time I asked them to write about a Canadian artist’s Canadianness, I was greeted with so much confusion that I vowed to never assign the topic again.
But a convenient brain blip and a new generation of students made me forget that vow, until a group of them came up to me asking questions like, “What do you mean by Canadian music industry?” I try to explain to them that Shania Twain, Drake, and Hey Rosetta! function on very different levels of the local/national/global industry, but the concept of nationality, whether as an abstract identity marker or as a practical factor in artist choices on where to tour, seems to elude this generation.
I’ve written on this subject before, so I won’t waste time on it. What bugged me about this article was the assumption that Canadian music at large, and our presentation of it to the world, is embarrassing, as if it couldn’t be anything but. We operate with that assumption as our starting point, and then either work to prove it wrong or find examples to support it.
The thing is, the Junos are horribly embarrassing. If CTV gets to broadcast it, the sound is terrible, the transitions awkward, the hosts uncertain, the room cavernous. Even those things wouldn’t matter if Ben Mulroney wasn’t doing the red carpet preshow, gasping, “Who are you wearing?” What? What? Who came up with that phrase? What’s the answer supposed to be? My cat? Old Navy? Who cares?
Conversely, the Junos are historically important. And they continue to be relevant. Not in a declaring-the-best-of-the-year-based-on-sales-numbers kind of way, but in a brave statement of our continuing efforts to promote and preserve our national culture, and keep that culture in Canada kind of way. Why does it matter what form it takes? At least we’re trying to acknowledge that 40 years of hard work on the part of many has contributed to a somewhat sovereign scene.
The author of the article also has the audacity to declare that Arcade Fire, Dallas Green, Michael Buble, and Justin Bieber will be the artists to rescue us from our “long national nightmare” should they receive nominations. Again, what? These guys, with the wimpiest, whiniest collective set of vocal pipes (okay, except Buble), and pretentious declarations on the current socio-political climate (okay, only Arcade Fire) are going to save Canadian music?
To be fair, the author makes clear the diversity that now characterizes Canadian music, mentioning metal, singer-songwriter, and electronica artists with equal enthusiasm. Let’s hope that is indeed the case and we can eventually shed this clinging embarrassment about enjoying our own music.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, because even if you don’t like this music, at least there is Canadian music to have an opinion about. It would be great if the awards were like those early ones from the ‘70s appear to be, kind of silly, relaxed, slightly self-deprecating, and cozy. No giant, unfriendly stadiums and screaming silly girls placed in the front rows, just an understated acknowledgement of musicians who did interesting work this year. That would seem somehow more Canadian, although in the end, it is an awards show and how much do any of us care about them unless we’re on the receiving end?