Leslie Feist won the $30,000 Polaris Music Prize last night for her fourth album, Metals, and no one was more stunned by the news than the artist herself. Upon hearing the announcement that she had won, Feist crawled under the table at the gala event, which took place at Toronto's Masonic Temple, almost refusing to get out.
"This is my worst nightmare – oh my God," said Feist, when she finally made her way onstage to accept the prize in the form of a big novelty cheque. As she clarifies later on in a press conference, her nightmare wasn't the prize itself, but having to make a public speech.
"Thinking of something, plucking it from the air and saying it eloquently is..." she paused. "See!"
Feist's Metals is the seventh album to win the Polaris Music Prize, which gets awarded to the best Canadian album of the year, based on "artistic merit without regard to genre, sales history or label affiliation." She beat out nine other contenders including Cadence Weapon, Cold Specks, Drake, Kathleen Edwards, Fucked Up, Grimes, Handsome Furs, Japandroids and YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN in what was arguably one of the most diverse short lists in the prize's seven year history.
Certainly the artists believed that to be the case.
"It's very cool to be part of that mix," says Rollie Pemberton, a.k.a. Cadence Weapon. "It's possibly the best year yet and, with me and Drake, I think that's the perfect representation of Canadian hip-hop and just rap in general today -- I'm more of the underground experimental side and Drake's the more mainstream, and it's all from Canada."
Drake, along with Vancouver rock duo Japandroids, were absent last night from the event and it was revealed after the event that the evening became a frantic juggling act for producers and hosts Grant Lawrence and Lauren Toyota as the status of the rapper's appearance kept changing by the minute.
"He missed a good show," said Steve Jordan, creator of the Polaris Prize. "He had confirmed on Friday that he was attending, but then he wasn't feeling well... and then I guess around 9 p.m., they were saying he might be feeling better and he just didn't end up showing up."
Host Lawrence added, "We were back there juggling the entire order of the show based on whether he was going to show up."
The show went on, though, and the Drake jokes came flooding in as the night went on, from Fucked Up's Damian Abraham noting his absence between songs onstage to the inescapable references to Drake while mentioning the Drake Hotel, where a screening party of the award show was taking place.
Seven of the 10 nominees performed last night and although electro-rock duo the Handsome Furs didn't perform -- the pair (and their marriage) broke up earlier this year -- band member Alexei Perry made an appearance and gave an emotional and heartwarming speech.
"Thank you on behalf of Handsome Furs, for Dan and I, for letting us risk ourselves in pursuit of our ideals. It is worth it. And I’m honoured to be in a room full of other people who also take those risks. Because for me, time and time again, and especially currently, it is art and music and literature that has saved my life," she said, voice cracking. "So I’m honoured that you loved us and our work. Thank you for everything from the bottom of my heart."
Montreal's Grimes might not have won the prize, but she definitely did gain the most attention with her live performance, which featured a male pole dancer gyrating beside her the entire time.
"I'm really excited for this," the singer told Spinner, prior to the gala. Having only met the dancer 10 minutes before she took to the stage, when asked what his name was by Lawrence after her performance, a frazzled Claire Boucher had to ask the toned, virtually naked man -- it turned out to be "Gary." Gary became a trending topic on Twitter for a few minutes after that.
Folk singer Kathleen Edwards followed her one-song performance with a very honest speech, thanking the Polaris and artist Caribou, who won in 2007 when Edwards was last nominated.
"That was one I didn't expect that year," she told the audience. But, six months later, she heard a Caribou song played at a bar and was blown away by the music, and said she was thankful that Polaris had brought him to her attention. "Thank you, Caribou, for making me hear music in a different way."
Edwards went on to thank Polaris for creating an art-first award and "for making something for those of us who don't want to march in the shit parade."
Feist says she totally understood what Edwards was getting at.
"I know what she's saying," said Feist, post-gala. "I went somewhere extremely and deliberately away from the shit parade.
"The Polaris feels so dignified and a tip of a cap. I mean, you can see the individual faces tonight and you can sense that everyone had a champion and I'm sure I wasn't everyone's champion. I wasn't even my own champion and it was nice to feel that everyone had a record and was waving it like a flag because they were connected to it and I don't think it happens in every circumstance. So this was created on purpose to bring that kind of championship back."
Feist added that winning feels, "a bit like getting the right Valentine from the right boy at school. It's got this sense of secretness to it and it just has a sense of being personal that's small and quaint and real."
One of the tradtional Polaris winner questions is how they'll spend their winnings. Heading into the event, the singer who didn't think she had any chance of winning, suggested that she hadn't put any thought into that, adding, "I would have to be careful with what I say so I'll just say 'something good and something useful.'"
Her answer didn't change too drastically after the win, as she pointed out how the inaugural winner Owen Pallett (who's album, He Poos Clouds under his old moniker of Final Fantasy took home the prize in 2006) had the perfect plan to pay off debts, but Feist herself didn't "really have such a clear destination for it."
She notes that some of the money will probably make its way to a charity of some sort, possibly towards the legal defense against the Melanchthon mega quarry that's being made in Ontario right now, threatening the community around what would be the second largest pit mine in North America. Currently, merchandise sales from Feist's tour are supporting this cause.
"I think it's kind of a lovely thing where I'm the invisible middle man to that exchange," she explains. "This one will likely go to a similar thing."