Steve Jordan, the founder and executive director of the Polaris Music Prize, speaks about the annual Canadian music prize set to be awarded Monday night, addressing concerns about the annual competition's strong taste - some say bias - for indie music.
Last year's selection of the hard-core band Fucked Up as the Polaris Prize-winner raised a lot of eyebrows. What's your sense, one year later, of how that controversial selection affected the profile and reputation of the prize?
Well, controversy is in the eyes of the beholder, but raising eyebrows, in our view, is a great thing. Of all of our winners I would argue that Fucked Up has the broadest international reach, which we know helped our profile outside of Canada. And singer Damian (aka Pink Eyes), being the loudmouth that he is, has been a great ambassador for Polaris.
The previous years' winners were Caribou, Patrick Watson and Final Fantasy. Don't Polaris voters like mainstream music?
Previous nominees like Metric, K'naan, Arcade Fire, Stars, Feist, Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards and Broken Social Scene aren't exactly obscure. And Patrick Watson sold gold in Quebec before his Polaris nomination in 2007. But when it comes to making the final decision, popularity or lack of it doesn't enter the process.
You don't feel Polaris voters tend to favour underdog artists?
No. The underdog concept loses its traditional meaning with Polaris anyway, since a front-running record tends to lead in voting for its artistic virtues. Among the jury, the perceived Polaris leader is the record that got the biggest number of positive reviews. The jury room has never heard an argument for picking a record that deals with anything other than the music.
Biases generally aren't openly admitted. I'm looking at the Polaris long list of 40 albums for this year. How do you explain the absence of Michael Bublé's Crazy Love? Can one million fans be wrong?
The explanation is that not enough of the jury liked it enough. We mean no disrespect to the legions of Bublé fans. When mega-selling artists like Bublé and Bieber are mentioned in the Polaris discussion, it challenges our status quo, which I think is a good thing.
Is the jury familiar enough with jazz or classical or blues to make knowledgeable determinations on the quality of the albums in those genres?
Some are. Others, not so much. We welcome more specialists on our jury, but we try to balance that with members who have more omnivorous tastes.
Some would say the voter pool is already heavily stocked with specialists - specialists in indie rock. How do you answer that criticism?
"Indie rock" is about as useful describing music as the word "alternative" was when it was first used. Feist, Black Mountain, Cadence Weapon, Caribou, Junior Boys and Joel Plaskett have all been tagged with this apparent pejorative, yet they sound nothing alike musically; some of them aren't "rock" at all. It's why our jury considers records regardless of genre. Most of our nominees defy them.
Your nickname among the Polaris community is "Swiss," for your neutrality. But who are you putting your money on to win this year?
I can say with 100-per-cent certainty that one of the 10 nominees will take it this year. My money's on them.
The fifth-annual Polaris Music Prize will be awarded Monday at a Toronto gala, streamed live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and CBC Radio 3, and webcast on MuchMusic.com.