On the same day Pope Francis said Canadian people had been “traumatized” by the recent revelation that the remains of 215 children had been discovered at a former Catholic school for Indigenous students in Kamloops, B.C., an often-solemn Juno Awards presentation was more about community, healing and reconciliation than trophies.
The broadcast celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Junos began with Buffy Sainte-Marie calling for “compassion” in light of news that while shocking to some people, “it’s not news to Indigenous people.” The facial expression of the 80-year-old musician-activist was pained as she spoke.
The broadcast ended two hours later with the presentation of a humanitarian award to the Tragically Hip for the band’s long career of charitable efforts that includes involvement with the Indigenous rights movement.
After a testimonial by rock legends Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, Gordon Lightfoot introduced the Hip’s pre-taped performance at Toronto’s empty Massey Hall, where singer-songwriter Leslie Feist fronted the reunited band in place of the late Gord Downie. On a stately rendition of the group’s It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, Feist sang “Let’s get friendship right.”
This wasn’t the event organizers planned when it was originally announced that the golden anniversary of the Juno Awards would be commemorated this year with a homecoming extravaganza at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. The ceremony was postponed twice this spring because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This, after the 2020 Junos in Saskatoon were cancelled for the same reason.
In place of of a live blowout a make-do broadcast on Sunday and an online “opening night” show on Friday consisted of pre-recorded performances and webcam acceptance speeches. All but seven of the more than 40 awards were presented on Friday.
The big trophy-getter of the weekend, was, not surprisingly, the Weeknd. The Toronto-born international superstar known to his family and census officials as Abel Tesfaye followed up his three wins on Friday (including top single and songwriter for the hit song Blinding Lights) with two more on Sunday, including recognition for artist and album (After Hours) of the year. The Weeknd was the only multiple-Juno winner.
Jann Arden won hearts: After her invitation into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame by Anne Murray, the Albertan singer-songwriter delivered a speech that was both witty and touching. A pre-recorded performance of Good Mother from the Studio Bell at the National Music Centre in Calgary was indicative of Arden’s warm-hearted grace.
Hip hop was commemorated: Marking 30 years since the creation of the Juno rap category, Kardinal Offishall emceed a performance that included appearances by Jully Black, Maestro Fresh-Wes, Nav, Haviah Mighty and Michie Mee.
Live venues were saluted: Recognizing a lockdown that devastated the live music industry, the Junos showcased such music rooms as Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom (where Michael Bublé spoke) and Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity (where William Prince and Serena Ryder performed a duet of Prince’s The Spark.
A female producer was recognized: On Friday, Ebony Oshunrinde, who works professionally as WondaGurl, became the first Black woman to win Producer of the Year.
A rock and roll revival: “We’re taking over rock,” said JJ Wilde, who on Friday was named the first female winner in the rock category since Alanis Morissette won for Jagged Little Pill in 1996. (Apparently, Morissette no longer rocks: She won this year for adult contemporary album for Such Pretty Forks in the Road.) Rock acts also took Group of the Year (the Arkells) and Breakthrough Group (the duo Crown Lands.)
The Weeknd was a no-show: Though he won five awards, the superstar did not take part in the event.
Justin Bieber short on pants: The pre-taped performance from Los Angeles by the winner in the pop album category was notable for the singer’s buzz cut and gym wear.
Lost in translation: There were more American presenters and performers (Julia Michaels, who sang If The World Was Ending with Toronto-born collaborator JP Saxe) than francophone ones on Sunday. It was a strange omission, given the national jubilee nature of the affair.
Jann Arden, upon her induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame: “I think I’m too young, don’t you?”
Buffy Sainte-Marie announced a new traditional Indigenous music category, beginning in 2022: “Traditional music is rooted in our connection to people’s spiritual, mental, emotional and physical relationship to the land and cultures from which we come.”
The Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois on Leslie Feist’s role in the band’s reunification for the Junos: “Honestly, we wouldn’t be playing here tonight if she wasn’t here with us.”