In 2013, in a Juno Awards recap for a different publication, I commented that you had to love a year in which Nickelback wasn't nominated and therefore couldn't cast their long, black shadow over everything.
It wasn't just a dig at Nickelback. To many people, Canada's Grammys are an embarrassing celebration of mediocrity. That's why so many music geeks were excited about the possibility of the Polaris Music Prize -- a prize that eschewed record sales/popularity for artistic merit.
The Polaris isn't perfect either -- awarding prizes for art is a strange, imperfect concept -- but it takes the pulse of what's actually happening in the Canadian music scene the way the Junos have never really done. After all, ardent music fans in this country know our musical output goes well beyond Hedley, Celine Dion and Michael Bublé.
Hedley, Celine Dion and Michael Bublé are all 2014 Juno nominees -- because of course they are -- but the Junos, to their credit, have made some strides in the right direction. Notably, the awards stopped ignoring metal and electronic music -- two genres that are integral to Canada's music scene. Acts working outside the mainstream started earning nominations for album of the year and single of the year. Breakthrough groups were no longer bands three albums deep (well, that one's a work in progress).
Who knows? Maybe they'll even finally decide to televise the rap category this year.
The 2014 slate of nominees, which was revealed in Toronto Tuesday, was mostly encouraging: Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara, Serena Ryder and Drake are among the front-runners, a fact this music scribe can get behind.
The alternative album of the year contains some challenging, forward-thinking works, including Royal Canoe's Today We're Believers and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan's Uzu. A Tribe Called Red rightfully got a Breakthrough Group nod alongside its electronic album of the year nomination. Toronto's Born Ruffians, a band whose career I've followed closely, also got the breakthrough nod.
The rap category is stacked with heavyweights, including Drake and Shad. The Adult Alternative category -- which always felt like a random assemblage of artists -- has become one to watch, with Basia Bulat's beautiful Tall Tall Shadow competing against solid releases from Hayden, Ron Sexsmith, the Sadies and New Pornographers leader A.C. Newman. Local metal act KEN mode, which picked up the hardware in the inaugural metal/hard music category, is up for it once again.
Which raises the question: if our country's music scene is this rich, this vibrant, then why the hell is Robin Thicke nominated for three major awards?
That's right. Thicke, the dude behind 2013's catchiest ode to objectification, Blurred Lines, is up for pop album of the year and artist of the year. He's also one of 10 fan's choice nominees.
My problem with Thicke receiving recognition at the Junos isn't because he also carries an American passport. It's because Blurred Lines does not need any more accolades showered upon it.
It was disappointing to hear the press conferences presenters laud Thicke and his "massive hit." A hit that's all about men's desires. A hit that spawned a gross video that degrades women. A hit that's inherently sexist. A hit that perpetuates rape culture. For every smart takedown of the song, there was an argument suggesting that these humourless feminists should "just lighten up because it's just a song" -- not considering how the lyric "I know you want it" might sound to a sexual assault survivor.
I'm tired of lightening up.
For the Junos, this feels like a step backwards. Instead of recognizing another worthy Canadian pop album or artist, we're giving yet more attention to a headline-making pop star who happened to write a catchy, radio-dominating song. An embarrassing celebration of mediocrity, indeed.