Polaris Music Prize short list is a little bit yay and a little bit meh

Women dominate the prize for best Canadian album

What do we love about the Polaris Music Prize 2016 short list for best Canadian album, revealed this morning, Thursday, July 14? 

So many women.

Seven of the 10 nominees are female-fronted projects or have women in the lineup, including Meg Remy’s U.S. Girls, whose Half Free topped NOW’s best local albums list last year. Then there’s Carly Rae Jepsen, Basia Bulat, White Lung, NOW cover star Grimes and Jessy Lanza. And even the beardiest of the bunch, Black Mountain, has Amber Webber on backing vocals (and sometimes lead). 

Whittled down from 40 to 10 nominees, the short list is, roughly speaking, one-third pop – Jepsen’s Emotion, Bulat’s Good Advice, Lanza’s electro-pop Oh No, Andy Shauf’s achingly beautiful The Party one-third arty weirdness – Grimes’s visionary Art Angels, Kaytranada’s colourful 99.9%, U.S. Girls’ artful Half Free and one-third rock/punk – White Lung’s searing Paradise, Black Mountain’s stonery IV, PUP’s riotous The Dream Is Over. 

Each of those acts has graced the music section of NOW Magazine. We love them all. But what we don’t love is that, taken altogether, the 10 acts reflect an overwhelmingly pop-rock, white Canadian music scene at a time when Canadian rappers and R&B singer/songwriters of colour are dominating the radio airwaves throughout the continent.

The short list feels especially meh in comparison to the diversity of the long list, which included Daniel Caesar’s excellent Pilgrim’s Paradise, Jazz Cartier’s dynamic Hotel Paranoia, Safia Nolin’s folk-inspired Limoilou, Tanika Charles’s buoyant Soul Run, Montreal pianist Jean-Michel Blais’s Il and totally left-field Un Blonde, whose Good Will Come To You was the most exciting entry in a long time (and currently our album of the week). 

Also, geographically, the East Coast got shut out. 

That said, whatever increases awareness of and conversations about Canadian music is alright by us. So if you haven’t already, go spend time with the albums on the long list, buy them and find out when the musicians will be rolling through your town. 

The winner will be named at the Polaris Prize gala held at the Carlu on September 19 (and streamed live on CBC Music’s Facebook page and YouTube channel). The honour comes with $50,000, and each of the short-listers get $3,000.

Full disclosure: I’m a juror. 

carlag@nowtoronto.com | @carlagillis


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