Bryan Adams, Nickelback, Neil Young, and Why the JUNOS Suck

Posted on the 06 March 2015 by Jennifervillamere
It’s a sunny Wednesday morning outside but the lights are low in this Hamilton music club. The music is loud to affect the vibe of an exciting night out to the who’s-who of music media here to cover the latest press conference to promote the upcoming JUNO Awards, Canada’s version of the Grammys.
I am self conscious in my excitement for the event, which will be hosted this year in my hometown of Hamilton. The JUNOS are almost always frustrating and embarrassing, like cheering for a great team that you love but that always comes up short.
The JUNOS are organized by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), of which I have recently become a member. But I’m not here as part of CARAS this morning, I’m here as a music journalist, a group who on the whole starts out star struck and ends up snide and cynical when they suddenly find themselves older, ever older, than the crop of would-be stars whose buzz is bought each year.
Through the low lights and thumbing bass, we can all sense the elephant in the room: Cheese. And I’m not talking about the fine catering. No matter how chic the logo, no matter how progressive the work of the nominees, the JUNOS are a cornball production.
The music is good. The show is bad. There is no tension, no snark, no glamour, no beefs, no drama, no made up tiffs, no love triangles, no divas, no one poised to bite the head off chicken or rip up a photo of the pope or even slip a nip. Can I get a nip slip up in here, please?
Bryan Adams, Nickelback, Neil Young, and why the JUNOS suck
The media deserves much of the blame here because it has never invested enthusiasm in Canada’s star system. Probably because it is imaginary. There are loads of talented artists here but we fall down in trying to tack up a celebrity-industrial complex around them despite our profit-driven, ratings-hungry media environment.
In spite of this, back in 2011 the JUNOS looked like they might become cool. Drake hosted and Arcade Fire won big. There are bright spots in JUNOS’ history, great years, but then we find ourselves back in the wilderness. The feeling this year, like most, is that we’re back at square one.
And it is super-square. How square? I’m old enough to remember when Bryan Adams was new, fresh and vital. That time was 30 years ago and yet Bryan Adams is being trotted out again this year, nominated for Artist of the Year. It’s his 59th nomination and potentially his 20th win. Sigh.
The press conference gets underway. Tim Potocic takes the stage. He’s the chair of the Hamilton JUNO Host Committee. “I promised my mom I wouldn’t fucking swear,” he says. It’s a jokey call back to the last press conference. It was broadcast live on TV and Potocic predicted this year’s JUNOS would be “fucking awesome.”
The JUNOS are vulgar. Not in the same way that Potocic’s use of ‘fuck’ was in an attempt to shock (it didn’t). The JUNOS are not coarse or rude. They’re worse. They’re vulgar in the sense that they’re tinselly, cheap, inauthentic, schmaltzy and filled with the crass commercialism that regularly dumps praise on has-been, major label acts.
Many of the award recipients, and likely the host, will resemble the fictional third-rate Melonville television celebs sent up on SCTV. You will wish it were a parody. Naturalness is everything on TV and when it’s not there, its absence is amplified. To be not relaxed, to be not natural, it is the antithesis of what it is to be Canadian.
They’re also pretentious. No one will go to work the day after the JUNOS and say, “Holy frig, did you watch the JUNOS last night?” And it’s not because of the fragmentation of the media landscape. You can still anticipate water-cooler talk the morning after the Oscars: who won, who lost, who wore what, who threw shade at Zendaya’s hair.
Bryan Adams, Nickelback, Neil Young, JUNOS Suck
The Oscars matter because they mean something. They have proven themselves to be a reliable gauge of quality in film. How poor of a measure are the JUNOS for Canadian musical talent? Nickelback has had 12 wins in 32 nominations over their 20 year career. They had one good song about getting drunk and high then fucking whores and/or strippers and they proceeded to record it under 35 different titles on eight albums. In contrast, Neil Young’s solo career started 47 years ago and he didn’t win a JUNO until 1994. He’s only won eight since then and that meager tally includes a tick in the column for his induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, and an award given to the producer of Prairie Wind.
But the JUNOS worst sin is that it panders. It expresses the taste of the majority in an attempt to draw ratings. It aims to catch everyone. But as the proverb goes, ‘The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one.’
The JUNOS assert that all our music is good and worth celebrating. If we just acknowledged that some of these nominees are total piles of crap and then we pitted them against the talent, we’d really have something exciting worth watching. We are a nation that riots at children’s hockey games. Surely we can muster some excitement for our would-be stars.
We have to allow ourselves trash talk the team — I mean artists — that we want to lose. We need the courage to bellow “ARKELLS ARE JUST OK!” or “I HATE BRYAN ADAMS!” without fear that your mom will shake her head at you and say, “Aw, but look at all he’s done for our country abroad. And despite his complexion!”
You might say that knocking down the JUNOS is the most un-Canadian thing I could do. I don’t want to be mean to the JUNOS. I want it to succeed. It shines a light on great Canadian talent. But let’s take the JUNOS into the corners and rough it up a little bit, teach it to keep its head up. I want the JUNOS to reflect the Canadian ethos and not be a cheap Grammy copycat. I want it to hunt the rabbit. I want it to fucking rock. Right now, it’s clingy and annoying in its sappy quest to be loved.
The press conference comes to a close with a performance by blues guitarist and singer/songwriter Steve Strongman. He’s raw yet harmonious, short yet unforgettable, charming yet authentic. Cheese-free. He’s everything the JUNOS should be.

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