Junos so male… and so white

When we talk about creating change in the Canadian music industry, here's a good place to start

Complaining about a lack of exciting Juno Award nominees, which were announced Tuesday, February 2, from inside a packed Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto’s east end, feels a little fruitless.

After all, the Juno Awards are music industry awards, and industry awards typically play it safe. The major Juno categories – album of the year, artist of the year, pop and rock album of the year, etc – have sales requirements attached to them, and sales most often result from commercial radio support, and commercial radio is boring as all hell.

But on the heels of our racism in music cover story last week, in which many of the musicians we spoke to said the chief obstacle at play in the local and country-wide music industry is the fact that white men are holding all the power, the Junos do provide an good opportunity to see our national music industry in action.

The Juno Awards are administered by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), so taking a look at CARAS board of directors is a quick way to see who’s holding the reins.

Revealingly, that board of directors is comprised of 15 industry dudes, 13 of which are actual dudes. It includes only two women, Patti-Anne Tarlton of Ticketmaster Canada and Jennifer Walsh, the country manager of iTunes, iBooks and Apple Canada.

Not one of the 15 is a racialized person.

The board of directors list is a who’s who of the country’s most powerful cultural movers and shakers. CARAS’ vice-chair is Randy Lennox, the president of Bell Media’s entertainment production and broadcasting department. The board’s secretary is Shane Carter, president of Sony Music Canada. Chair Mark Cohon, a former CFL commissioner, is the co-founder and CEO of AWOL Entertainment.

David Corey is the VP of programming at Bell Media Radio. Julien Paquin is the president of Paquin Entertainment Group, one of Canada’s premiere booking agencies. Jeffrey Remedios is the president and CEO of Universal Music Canada, formerly head of Arts & Crafts. And so on and so on.

These are the people who hugely affect what we hear on the radio, see on television, see on local stages, dance along to at music festivals, watch win Juno Awards (though the directors themselves don’t vote. Voting is a multi-tiered process that involves music advisory committees, individual judges (industry experts in specific genres) and Academy Delegates from across the country, as Holmes PR’s Vanessa Andres explained to me). 

These are the people who decide what types of music and which artists get pushed or ignored. They decide who’s being signed – to labels, booking agencies, management deals – and who is not. They are shaping our national cultural identity despite so little diversity found among them.

When we talk about making change, this would be a good place to start.

So, who got nominated this year? Well, considering a #JunosSoMale hashtag is now taking off on Twitter….

Any surprises came by way of categories without sales requirements for eligibility. We were excited to see our 2015 local album of the year, U.S. Girls’ Half Free, nominated for alternative album of the year – a category Viet Cong’s self-titled album also landed in despite continuous heated dialogue about their name.

National hero Buffy Sainte-Marie got nods for songwriter of the year, aboriginal album of the year and contemporary roots album of the year. Toronto’s Diemonds and Cancer Bats landed in the heavy metal album category. Afiara Quartet and Skratch Bastid’s Spin Cycle was nominated for instrumental album of the year, as was Cris Derksen’s Orchestral Powwow.

Almost all of the reggae recording of the year nominees, including Toronto-based Exco Levi’s Hello Mama album, were independently released, which speaks to the way that scene has learned to self-sustain itself due to a lack of industry support, a point made by Canadian Reggae World’s JuLion King in last week’s cover story.

Toronto artists almost clean-swept the rap recording category, thanks to k-os, Kardinal Offishall, Drake and BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah. And local indie rockers the Elwins got a nod for breakthrough group of the year, the first act managed by long-running independent Toronto company We Are Busy Bodies to be nominated.

The major categories held few surprises, aside from Grimes’s Art Angels being shut out completely. Eligible albums had to be shipped to retail by November 13, so perhaps the NOW cover star’s December 11 physical release date prevented it from qualifying (despite it being released digitally on November 6). [UPDATE: A source has confirmed to NOW that Art Angels was submitted for consideration in multiple categories but received zero nominations.]

CARAS chair Mark Cohon emceed the morning press conference, and he seemed to measure the success of Canadian musicians by looking at Billboard, which tracks the American music charts. There were seven out of 10 Canadian musicians on the Billboard Hot 100 at one point last year, he proudly remarked, saying he hasn’t remembered anything like that happening since the days of AlanisCelineSarahShania.

Hit-makers the Weeknd, Drake and Justin Bieber led the nominations. The Weeknd got six nods, Drake got five and Bieber got five. Brampton’s Alessia Cara got four, as did Shawn Mendes.

All that love for our American-approved rap and R&B musicians, yet the Juno Awards has chosen not to broadcast those categories again and again – even the year Drake hosted, in 2011. Surely that’s one simple change that can be made.

Juno Week happens in Calgary from March 28-April 3.

carlag@nowtoronto.com | @carlagillis 

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