Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Call me mainstream

Junos do their best to present acts with both widespread appeal and some critical acclaim

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Last Sunday, viewers of HBO's Game of Thrones were treated to one of the greatest musical moments in TV history: A surprising act of violence (no spoilers here) followed by a quick cut to a jarring, end-credits rendition of The Bear and the Maiden Fair by indie-rock band the Hold Steady.

This Sunday, you can watch the Juno Awards.

The annual celebration of Canadian music has struggled over the decades to appeal to a broad TV audience while remaining at least somewhat relevant to actual fans. When you add in the fact the CTV broadcast has become one of the few remaining showcases for a beleaguered recording industry, you wind up with programming by committee -- a two-hour, live-television compromise.

This year's show in Regina pairs the vocal genius of Canadian music hall-of-fame inductee k.d. lang with the straight-ahead pop of Carly Rae Jepsen. The shaggy-haired retro rock of Saskatoon's Sheepdogs shares the stage with the smarmy-smooth croonings of host Michael Bublé. There's rock band Billy Talent, reputedly really big in Germany, Serena Ryder and Hannah Georgas' really big voices and Marianas Trench, who are named after a really big hole in the Pacific Ocean.

If that sounds underwhelming, well, good luck assembling a more viable mainstream Canadian music awards show. The Polaris Prize list may be loaded with more creative acts, but the ongoing fragmentation of the music market -- there are way more acts than ever, catering to a wider array of smaller niche markets -- means what's left of the Sunday-night prime-time TV audience would be hard-pressed to recognize critical darlings such as Cadence Weapon or Handsome Furs.

So what's left is a show with a few big names and a roster of nominees that somewhat reflects the breadth of a diverse Canadian music scene. That said, the vast majority of the award categories, including some blessed with acclaimed artists, will be handed out tonight at a non-televised gala.

The something-for-everyone approach is even evident this year in the major award categories. Here's a rundown of a few, along with the short list of Manitobans up for lower-profile prizes tonight:

Single of the year

Nominees: Call Me Maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen; Viking Death March, Billy Talent; Kiss You Inside Out, Hedley; Stompa, Serena Ryder; The Way It Is, The Sheepdogs.

Call Me, definitely: Though Saskatchewan's Sheepdogs will be the sentimental favourite in Regina, the worldwide ubiquity of Jepsen's infectious ditty last year means there is no choice but to say yes to Maybe.

Album of the year

Nominees: Sans Attendre, Céline Dion; Kiss, Carly Rae Jepsen; Storms, Hedley; Believe, Justin Bieber; Ever After, Marianas Trench.

Are you freaking kidding? Whoever wins, we lose. Despite efforts taken by the Junos over the past few years to acknowledge more inventive and creative Canadian music, this category is completely old-school. It's loaded with lowest-common-denominator pop music that still manages to wind up on the top of album-sales charts, likely through the use of arcane dark arts.

Artist of the year

Nominees: Jepsen, Bieber, Deadmau5, Johnny Reid and Leonard Cohen.

Unfortunately, it's not a MMA bout: The idea of Leonard Cohen engaged in physical combat with The Biebs is more than a little bit exciting, as the old Montrealer would crush any opponent who attempted to enter the Octagon in saggy jeans. Oh, wait -- Bieber now wears skinny jeans? Those offer no mobility, either.

Group of the year

Nominees: Metric, Rush, the Sheepdogs, Billy Talent, Marianas Trench.

Does it matter? On Thursday, after years of fan petitions and critical hand-wringing, Rush finally made it into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. After that bit of long-awaited validation, who cares about beating Marianas Trench in a popularity contest?

Manitoba nominees

James Ehnes: Juilliard-trained violinist Ehnes, a former Brandon resident and perennial Juno nominee, is up for two more awards this year: solo or chamber-ensemble classical album for Bartók: Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 1 and large-ensemble classical album for Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto.

Don Amero: Winnipeg singer-songwriter Amero's fourth album, Heart on My Sleeve, is up for aboriginal album of the year. He had three previous albums, but this is his first Juno nomination.

Burnt Project 1: Winnipeg rock band Burnt, led by David Boulanger, has been nominated for aboriginal album three times, winning in 2006 for Hometown. This year's nomination is for The Black List.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 ??65535

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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