This year’s Juno Awards, broadcast from Vancouver’s Rogers Arena on Sunday (CBC, 8 p.m.), will be notable for those absent from the event as much as for those actually there. Last year’s comedian co-host Russell Peters, whose off-colour wisecracks distracted from the proceedings, won’t be around. Instead, the affable Vancouver-born superstar crooner Michael Bublé will serve as host, no doubt less controversially.
Of course, the late rock laureate Gord Downie, nominated in two categories, will be greatly missed. Fellow singer-songwriters Sarah Harmer and Dallas Green will pay tribute.
And while performers include Diana Krall, Daniel Caesar, the Arkells and nine-time Juno winners Arcade Fire, the most talked-about Juno band will be conspicuous by its absence. The British Columbian pop-rock troupe Hedley will no longer perform or be eligible for awards this year after allegations of sexual misconduct that surfaced in February.
The man who signed Hedley to their first record deal, Allan Reid, will be there. Formerly with Universal Music Canada, Reid is president and chief executive of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), the organization behind the Junos. The Globe and Mail spoke to him by phone recently.
Hedley was going to be one of the feel-good Juno stories this year, them being a Vancouver-based band. Was it actually a mutual decision between CARAS and Hedley, as you have stated, that led to them not being a part of the Junos?
It was. We talked to the band’s management when the allegations first surfaced. The speed in which everything moved was incredibly quick. The band stood up and said they didn’t want to be a distraction. We’ve had a great relationship with them over the years, but these allegations were serious.
How did the discussions with them play out?
We talked with them first about the broadcast, and performing on the show. Then the band came back to us afterward and said they wanted to step down from their nominations as well. It was a tough decision for them to make, but that’s the way it fell.
What’s the overall tone you aim for with the broadcast? Compared with the Polaris Music Prize gala, which has taken on a more serious, artsy and sometimes political tone, the Junos are perceived as more industry-driven and more about music as entertainment.
We have a great relationship with (Polaris founder) Steve Jordan and his whole team. Many of our nominees overlap. When it comes to the tone, this is the biggest night in Canadian music. We have 42 categories, and this year we’re bringing the comedy category back to the awards. It’s always about celebrating the year in music. I think our artists are some of the best voices, and through their art, they’re making social commentary. Depending upon their artistic freedoms and what they’ve created, that gets carried to our broadcasts. Last year, we started with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagaq and A Tribe Called Red. We were in Ottawa. It was Canada 150. We wanted to celebrate, and chose to open with that. So, I don’t think it’s something CARAS has shied away from, necessarily.
Keeping with the tone of the broadcast, last year a couple of jokes from co-host Russell Peters didn’t land well. Did the criticism CARAS received after that change your thinking about how you choose your hosts?
Michael Bublé was the original choice for last year. Unfortunately, when his son took ill, he had to step down. Russell stepped up, as did Bryan Adams. Obviously the comments that Russell made off-script were offensive to some people. We had conversations after that. Coming into Vancouver, Michael was the obvious choice to host this year, being from Vancouver, and living there. It was really about if he was going to be able to do it and, hopefully, that his son is going to be okay. Luckily, both those things have come to be. It’s a great story.
Your Grammy counterpart, Neil Portnow, made news with his statement that women in the music industry need to step up. Where is CARAS is on the issue of female representation in the business?
I can’t speculate on what Neil’s thoughts were when he said that. I think what we focused on, even prior to that, was ‘what is CARAS doing?’ Obviously the #MeToo movement has really changed the dialogue about what’s happening around female representation within our industry and what support is happening. Last year, we added four women to our board. Forty per cent of our membership is women. We want to increase that to try to get to 50-50. We also formed an internal working group with women in music that [chief operating officer] Jackie Dean is heading. Denise Donlon [this year’s Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award recipient] is going to be the keynote speaker and moderator for a panel during Juno weekend. More than 250 women will come together and talk about issues in the industry and how CARAS can help support them moving forward.
My last question is about this year’s tribute to the late Gord Downie, to be performed by Sarah Harmer and Dallas Green. There must have been a line of musicians a mile long wanting to pay tribute to him. How did you decide who would do it?
We reached out to Gord’s management, who brought in Gord’s family to this. Sarah has a long connection to the Downie family, being from Kingston herself. She recorded a duet with the Tragically Hip years ago, called Silver Road. Dallas had done a song with Gord as well, Sleeping Sickness, and shared the stage with him in 2009 at the Junos in Vancouver. It was a hard thing for us, saying who we were going to choose. So many people would love to honour Gord. So, it was really the family who said who they wanted to do it. And they came up with great choices.
This interview has been edited and condensed.