While positioning itself as the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy awards, the Juno Awards ceremony of CARAS (the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) is truly a celebration of English-language mainstream popular music artists. One measure of this is the number of spin-off awards that have been created to honour musicians neglected by the Junos: ADISQ Awards for Quebec artists, East Coast Music Awards for musicians of Atlantic Canada, Canadian Country Music Awards, Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, Canadian Reggae Music Awards, Vibe Awards (for Canadian gospel music), and so on.
A glance at this year’s compilation CD (Juno Awards 2003, EMI Canada 7243 5 82698 2 6) confirms this bias: all of the 15 tracks are popular music songs, and only one is in French. The televised version of the awards ceremony, held this year at the Corel Centre near Ottawa and hosted by Shania Twain, was devoted to popular music acts. Fewer than a dozen of the 37 awards were presented on air, and all were for popular music artists. Jazz and classical music award winners, for instance, were dealt with in a 45-second spot just after a commercial break. The one classical musician who participated in the broadcast, violinist James Ehnes, somewhat incongruously co-presented the award for best R&B/Soul Recording of the Year.
It was certainly a successful formula to create an audience for the event: the 18,500 tickets for the show were sold within an hour of becoming available on the internet. This reflects the fact that Canadian popular music is no longer an oxymoron. Many Canadian artists now measure their record sales by the million and a select few, such as Shania Twain, Céline Dion, and Alanis Morissette, sell CDs by the tens of million. In a recent article Linda Lister wrote about the ‘cult of celebrity’ which creates and sustains the huge success of these singers.1 In the old days, Juno Awards were seldom given to such artists, whose career is largely carried on abroad, but that rule no longer holds.
This year’s ceremony provided further tribute to the business acumen of Vancouver manager Terry McBride, whose Nettwerk Management has guided the careers of Sarah McLachlan, Bare Naked Ladies, and dozens more. McBride was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (as was Tom Cochrane), and his latest protégée, Avril Lavigne, won four Junos. That’s as many as Neil Young, two more than Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell and three more than Glenn Gould.2 Over the past year the 18-year-old Lavigne (b. 27 September 1984 in Napanee, Ontario) has leapt from obscurity to international fame and fortune on the strength of a single CD, her debut album Let Go, which had sold 12 million units by the time of the Juno ceremony.
Aspiring Avril Lavignes may have a tougher time of it in future, as new recording and distribution technologies take hold. ‘If selling CDs was my only source of revenue right now I would be very bummed,’ McBride said recently.3 But in the meantime he, and the artists he manages, and for that matter the Juno Awards, are cashing in while the going is good.