First-time Juno winner & Breakthrough Artist of the Year JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels. Credit: CARAS/Matthew Takes

First-Time Winners, Chill-Inducing Performances Mark Junos 50

On Sunday night, the Canadian music industry gathered to celebrate, though it was not in the usual way. Like most events scheduled throughout the pandemic, Junos 50 had to pivot. CARAS (the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) President Allan Reid had hoped the golden edition could still be saved and be a smaller in-person event in Toronto or at least parts of it, to mark the milestone. Instead, due to the third wave of COVID-19 and Ontario’s stay-at-home order, this was not possible. Thanks to ingenuity, creativity, and quick thinking, despite the bulk of the show being pre-recorded, this Junos event was one of the best in years. Kudos to Reid, CARAS, CBC Music, and all the artists involved for staging such a great feat in such challenging times.

The night’s highlights were not the awards. Instead, it was the eight live performances and the special tributes. After 15 months and counting without live music, these teasers offered hope and happiness and served as a reminder of just how much we miss these collective experiences.

The awards also spotlighted small-to-mid-sized venues across this country. From Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom to Calgary’s Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre; Toronto’s Massey Hall to Montreal’s Cabaret Lion d’Or, and the Imperial Theatre in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Two special awards were given out: one to Jann Arden as the newest member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and one to The Tragically Hip (The Humanitarian Award). Anne Murray officially inducted “St. Jann of Alberta,” as Rick Mercer called her, and then the nine-time Juno winner performed “Good Mother,” from Studio Bell. In a press conference afterward, the songwriter, humbled, spoke about her musical journey and also offered some advice.

Jann Arden holding her Canadian Music Hall of Fame Juno at Studio Bell. Courtesy of CARAS.

“Honestly, I didn’t even want to be a musician,” Arden said. “It wasn’t one of my dreams growing up. I wanted to be a schoolteacher!

“If you want to go into music, you can’t have any expectations and there is no one way of getting there,” she added. “For me, I just kept doing it. I just kept playing bars. With TikTok, Snapchat, and other social media … the currency today is different. For me, it was playing the bars. Literally, it was getting a shitty band together and going anywhere that would hire you to play live. You usually ended up owing them money at the end of the week because you drank so much and your bar tab was bigger than what they paid you. While the currency now is likes, the thing that is still consistent is that you just have to keep going. Persistence is bigger than talent.”

Back to the awards, The Weeknd cleaned up — taking home five gold statuettes, including the big two: Artist of the Year and Album of the Year. Shawn Mendes won The Fan Choice award. Beyond this, this year’s celebration introduced and honoured rising stars and first-time winners, including: JP Saxe (Breakthrough Artist of the Year) and Savannah Ré (Traditional R&B/Soul Recording of the Year — a new category in 2021 as it was split into two separate categories. Susan Aglukark also presented the MusicCounts Teacher of the Year to Mary Piercey-Lewis from Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Juno Rap Recording of the Year category, a group of hip-hop pioneers and MCs (Michie Mee and Maestro Fresh Wes) were joined by past Juno winners (Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black), nominees (NAV), and rising stars (2019 Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty).

The 50th Annual JUNO Awards Broadcast. Kardinal Offishall and Jully Black at The Rebel Club in Toronto, ON. Photo by: CARAS/iPhoto

Nominee William Prince and past Juno winner Serena Ryder performed together – offering a stunning version of Prince’s song “The Spark” off his Juno-winning 2020 album Reliever pre-recorded at Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity. Besides the duet from Prince and Ryder, rising stars and first-time Juno nominees Tate McCrae and Ali Gatie performed a pair of songs: “Lie to Me,” and “What if I Told You That I Loved You.”

The evening concluded with a sneak peek of the inside of the revitalized Massey Hall, which has been closed since Gordon Lightfoot performed at the iconic Toronto venue on Canada Day in 2018. It was apropos that Humanitarian Award winners The Tragically Hip (Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay) with indie darling Feist taking Gord Downie’s place, were the first to play on the newly named Allan Slaight stage. Not to mention having Lightfoot introduce them. The song chosen: “It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken.” As Leslie Feist told the press afterwards: “We couldn’t think of a more appropriate song to play after the last year and a half we all had.”

50th Annual JUNO Awards Broadcast. Performers The Tragically Hip featuring Feist at Massey Hall in Toronto, ON. Photo by: CARAS/iPhoto

Leave the last word to Rob Baker, when asked about what’s next for the Canadian music industry. “I’m excited and nervous for the clubs and the whole scene to get back up and running,” the Hip’s lead guitarist said. “It’s been so long I’m worried about the toll it’s taken on some people … I’m nervous for the industry, but I’m also hopeful and excited to see a return to live music.”

The full list of 2021 Juno award winners is available HERE. Watch all the moments from the anniversary broadcast, on CBC Gem, and CBC Music’s and The Juno Awards social channels.