The Juno Awards celebrated Canadian music stars old and new Saturday night as first-time winner Carly Rae Jepsen and veteran Leonard Cohen both scored major prizes while moody R&B singer the Weeknd led the field at a dinner gala where the bulk of the trophies were handed out.
Jepsen, the weekend's premiere nominee with a five-category haul, took pop album of the year over a stacked field that included headline-snatching superstar Justin Bieber, while Cohen won artist of the year over the both of them — his fourth career Juno.
While most of the evening's most well-known winners were absent from the event, Jepsen showed up to nab her first-ever Juno and struggled to gather the words.
"Oh my goodness. Wow. Thank you so much," she said. "I can remember back in 2010 when I was nominated with Ryan Stewart for songwriter of the year and I thought to myself that that was the most amazing moment of my life. But I was wrong. It's right now.
"I just want to say this has been an incredible journey," she added, before rhyming off a list of thank-yous that finished with her dad, "who is here with me tonight as my date, my hot date," she said.
"It really has been a journey that began when I was seven years old and it's my dad I'd like to honour with this tonight, so thank you dad."
The Weeknd — the stage name for 23-year-old Toronto native Abel Tesfaye — was the only double winner at the non-televised event, winning both breakthrough artist of the year and R&B/soul recording of the year for his epic, ennui-steeped Trilogy, which began life as three separately released free-to-download mixtapes yet still went gold in Canada and the U.S. upon its official commercial release.
His quick rise to prominence was in part aided by a cunning publicity strategy — that is, shunning publicity altogether. So it wasn't surprising the once mystery-shrouded artist wasn't on hand to pick up his awards at the Queensbury Convention Centre.
But he was hardly alone among the promising stars to receive their first Junos — innovative Montrealer Grimes may have missed out on breakthrough artist of the year, but she did claim electronic album of the year for her infectious, forward-thinking Visions.
And while Classified can't fairly be regarded as a Juno newbie, the Enfield, N.S., native did win for the first time out of eight nominations for rap recording of the year, overcoming competition that included Maestro Fresh Wes — who won the first-ever award in that category 22 years ago.
"I think any artist says he doesn't make music for awards — but we all come out to this stuff for a reason (and) it's great to be awarded," he said backstage, clutching a glass of white wine.
"This is just kind of like the cream of the crop. It's a Juno Award. It's great to finally win something. I'm going to celebrate tonight. I'm already half in the bag with my wine — I'm feeling good."
He wasn't alone in finally securing a Juno after a few tries — Toronto's Emilie-Claire Barlow, a four-time prior nominee who had joked about being like soap opera star (and perennial Emmy loser) Susan Lucci due to her inability to secure a trophy, finally won as well for vocal jazz album of the year.
Other first-timers? Ontario's Crystal Shawanda secured her first trophy for aboriginal album of the year, while other newcomers to the winner's circle included Toronto's Elliott Brood (roots & traditional album of the year: group), Halifax-based Rose Cousins (roots & traditional: solo), Vancouver's the Tenors (adult contemporary album of the year), New Brunswick's Joel Miller (contemporary jazz album of the year) and Windsor, Ont., doom-metal outfit Woods of Ypres (metal/hard music album of the year), who actually disbanded following the 2011 death of lead singer David Gold.
His mom accepted the award on his behalf with tears in her eyes.
"I'm speaking to you as a mother with a broken heart," she said. "Everything that we think, say, feel and do runs parallel with our sorrow. … He was a beautiful man (and) I miss him dearly."
On the other end of the experience spectrum, Toronto new-wave group Metric won their third-ever Juno for alternative album of the year (with an additional win coming Saturday for guitarist James Shaw, named producer of the year), Toronto-based crooner Johnny Reid won country album of the year for a third time, recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Rush claimed rock album of the year, giving them nine Junos total, and Brandon, Man., violinist James Ehnes took his seventh career Juno, for classical album of the year with large ensemble accompaniment.
And six-time Juno winner Tom Cochrane of Lynn Lake, Man., was celebrated not for music but philanthropy, taking the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award.
"We touch more people than any other industry in the world," Cochrane said. "We touch people, we write songs about people, we write songs about issues. You can't divorce that from the commerce of it. That's the reality.
"I'm very honoured and humbled by this acknowledgment," he added. "I hesitate to call this an award ... because it's strange to get an award for trying to do the right thing from time to time."
Many of the evening's winners weren't present to accept their awards, including Grimes, Metric, Cohen, Reid and Rush.
Still, the gala had some surprising moments. Local product Colin James, a six-time winner whose performance helped open the gala, lost out for blues album of the year to Hamilton's Steve Strongman. And Celine Dion's triple-platinum Sans Attendre earned a nomination for album of the year — which will be contested Sunday — but lost out in the adult contemporary album category to the Tenors.
Apparently, Anjulie's win for dance recording of the year was a surprise — at least to the Oakville, Ont., artist herself.
"Wow I really didn't expect to win this — I thought this would go to Dragonette," she said. "But thank you so much. … I'm super nervous. This is my first Juno!"
Surely, those feverish fans of Bieber, who wasn't in the Saskatchewan capital for the weekend, might be disappointed that the recently trouble-prone pop pinup lost out in both categories contested Saturday.