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The problem with the Junos: They’re unreachable for grassroots talent but irrelevant to the biggest stars

Kiesza is presented an award at the 2015 JUNO Awards.

Sonia Recchia/Getty Images

The glitz and glamour of the Juno Awards have eclipsed the awards themselves. Only six awards were presented at the 2015 Juno broadcast on Sunday in Hamilton, Ont., out of a total 42 categories. The rest were awarded at an untelevised gala dinner the night before. Sunday night's event was a celebration, but an empty one: all pomp, no circumstance, a graduation where only the prettiest valedictorians were allowed to grace the stage. As a result, the annual televised event celebrated profoundly little of the music it purported to.

This is a tradition that stretches far back into Juno history. It would be impossible, or at least graceless, to cram more than 40 awards into a two-hour broadcast. Instead, most winners are listed off quickly after commercial breaks. But as technology continues to expand the borders of artistic communities far beyond previous physical ones, the sheer volume of omissions at the Canadian music industry's biggest night is more glaring than ever.

From show-stealing Canadian Music Hall of Fame Inductee Alanis Morissette to new Juno winners like July Talk and Dallas Smith, more than a dozen Canadian artists told The Globe and Mail Sunday in Hamilton that the annual Junos broadcast does a poor job of representing the vast talent making Canadian music today.

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The lack of diversity in genres represented during the broadcast is among the biggest concerns. "It would have been great to see a little more country represented," said Dallas Smith, who won the country Juno Saturday night. The country music scene in Canada, he said, is "very, very strong. There's so much talent in this country."

Trevor Guthrie, the former soulDecision frontman turned award-winning solo artist, is presented with an identity crisis at the genre-confining Junos. "I just try to write a pop song that's upbeat, but I get the nomination for dance recording," he said, wishing that that the genre was equally represented on the national broadcast.

"We need more light," said Mikey Dangerous, a Jamaican-Canadian reggae artist who won for the genre in 2008 and was nominated again this past weekend. "I'd like to see a reggae artist on stage, just like any of these artists." (Magic!, who won twice this weekend, are influenced by reggae, but are known to work outside of the genre's established musical communities.)

Fred Penner, the longtime children's artist and former television host, won his third Juno this year for the record Where in the World at the Saturday dinner. He was baffled at how rock-centric the broadcast was; even Pop Album of the Year was left out of the TV special.

"The music in Canada's so much more eclectic," Penner told The Globe. "I think maybe it would be worth it to throw all the categories into a hat, and for the big show, pick out half a dozen. So you might get a classical thing tonight. You might get a children's act. You might get a jazz singer. It would certainly change the energy, support the whole industry, bottom line."

Some musicians simply want to see a better understanding of artistry and hard work. "It's very easy to think about what makes money," said Peter Dreimanis, frontman of Alternative Album of the Year winner July Talk. "It'd be incredible to try to incorporate music that might not necessarily be made for a mass audience, but rather support music that usually doesn't get recognized."

Newfoundland singer-songwriter Amelia Curran sees the show as an untapped chance to pay respects to working musicians. "A lot of us are road warriors who are not known in the living rooms of Canada, and it would be nice to get on that TV show and introduce ourselves," she said.

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But instead of exploring the riches of Canadian music, the broadcast tends to lean on well-worn CanCon crutches. Pop-punk band Hedley has performed five times in the past decade, for instance, and its frontman Jacob Hoggard hosted the awards Sunday night. Keeping with the CTV brand, Canadian Idol host Ben Mulroney was trotted out to trade fake verbal spars with him. Crooner Michael Bublé, a 12-time winner and the 2013 broadcast host, even showed up on video chat for the opening segment to give advice to the line-flubbing Hoggard.

This elite-club tendency squeezes out artists on both ends of the pop-culture spectrum. Both Justin Bieber and this year's double nominee Drake, who each carry relentless international swagger, didn't bother to come to the awards. In an ideal world, they'd want to move heaven and earth to celebrate the music of the country that gave them their starts.

Drake has been notably absent since 2011, the year he hosted in Toronto, when he was declined – some would argue robbed of – all six awards for which he was nominated. Even 80-year-old Leonard Cohen, who won the biggest Juno of his career on Sunday, didn't show up to receive it. Without earning the support of these globally beloved artists, the Junos stand on mushy ground. They're unreachable for grassroots talent but irrelevant to the biggest stars.

Even Morissette wishes the ceremony would do a better job of celebrating artistry. "I'd love to have a fireside chat with all the artists to get to know them personally," she told The Globe.

When it's built on legacy, a slick spectacle can sell itself – but only for so long. To take a cue from Drake, a refresh means starting from the bottom. On the red carpet Sunday, rock frontman Sam Roberts told The Globe that it's crucial the Junos take more risks with its broadcasts to bring more artists to the forefront. "If you only ever offer Canadians a very thin slice of the pie, they're never going to know what makes up the rest of it," he said. "You can't downplay how important this is, as a musician, to get onto the national radar."

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