The Junos have been around for 43 years, and for much of that time they barely earned the moniker "the Canadian Grammys" as they awarded Canadian acts with little, if any, influence outside of our borders. That changed during the past decade as Canadian singers, rappers and bands became international power-players in nearly every genre, from rap (Drake), R&B (The Weeknd) and pop (Justin Bieber) to adult contemporary (Michael Bublé), electronic (Deadmau5) and alternative (Arcade Fire).
That rise of Canadian music allowed the Junos to rise, too, as suddenly the people that were winning Juno awards were the same ones the Grammys were celebrating and the star power was palpable in both mainstream and indie acts. This year, however, felt like a throwback to yesteryear, as Canada's musical superstars mostly failed to show up.
Former Juno hosts and current nominees Drake and Bublé both stayed home, and the combined might of this year's multi-genre co-hosts -- pop singer (and best artist and best songwriter Juno-winner) Serena Ryder, rapper Classified and country crooner Johnny Reid, hardly offered the same oomph. Even nominal Canadian Robin Thicke pulled out at the last minute, citing doctor's orders to go on "mandatory vocal rest" to cancel both his performance and his attendance. The biggest Canadian star onsite was Sarah McLachlan, who performed a new song and wasn't even nominated this year.
To make matters worse, Arcade Fire, whose last album swept both the Junos and the Grammys, only performed via tape because they're currently on tour in South America, leading to an anti-climactic Album of the Year win when the night's top award was accepted by the Montreal band via a taped message from Chile.
Bieber must be happy he didn't show, though. The downward-spiraling pop star took home the Juno Fan Choice award, and his fourth consecutive win in the category was met with resounding boos from the crowd at Winnipeg's MTS Centre. The response was shocking enough that when Ryder won the subsequent award, for songwriter of the year, she took time in her own speech to defend him.
“I really think Justin Bieber is an amazing musician and that he deserves every bit of that award," Ryder said. "He’s been working his ass off his entire life and we need to support how awesome he is.” The crowd, however, did not seem convinced. Tegan and Sara agreed, however, also taking the pop star's side backstage and noting that the crowd reaction "was not very Canadian."
The nadir of this year's show was a performance from middling American act OneRepublic, the kind of unnecessary booking the Junos used to rely on for the telecast before we had our own international superstars.
That said, their absence did leave more space for our rising stars, like A Tribe Called Red, who made up for their loss the previous night in the best electronic album category by taking a well-deserved Breakthrough Group of the Year.
"To native youth everywhere on Turtle Island," DJ NDN said, "This moment right now is proof that whatever goals you strive for in life, they are completely attainable, so strive high."
And it importantly gave space for Tegan and Sara to suck up all the oxygen in the room, with wins for both single of the year and group of the year. "This award isn't about the very important people we're sitting with –- our parents, our manger, our best friends –- it's about you. Canada has been supporting us since the 90s," Sara said on their first trip up to the podium, not counting the previous night's non-televised gala, where they also claimed best pop album for "Heartthrob."
The twin sisters then laid claim to the coolest performance, as they were joined on "Closer" by Toronto's Choir! Choir! Choir!, and coolest speech, as they powered through the orchestra trying to play them off during an award show that only gave out six (!) Junos on air.
"When we asked our parents if we could play music instead of go to university, they were really mad at us. And they agreed to let us do that for a couple years and somewhere in all that we signed a record deal with Neil Young," recalled Tegan. "We are absolutely in our 30s and I wanna say thanks to everyone who has supported us since the time we were teenagers. I don't think very many people, especially not us, thought two queer kids from northeast Calgary would get to here. But here we are. Thank you so much."
The Winnipeg show ended with a tribute to hometown heroes Bachman-Turner Overdrive, who were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame by Canadian hero Chris Hadfield who was bolstered by a tape of effusive international heroes like Elton John and Metallica proclaiming their love of BTO. Then Randy Bachman and Fred Turner came out, with backing by Matt Mays, Tim Hicks, Travis Good and The Sheepdogs, and took care of business.
But it must be noted while the Junos telecast left a lot to be desired in comparison to recent years, there were still plenty of deserved wins both on Sunday and during the non-televised gala on Saturday night when the vast majority of the awards were doled out.
Drake won best rap album for "Nothing Was The Same," though his lack of best single nominations for either "Started From the Bottom" or "Hold On, We're Going Home" remains a mystery, and Arcade Fire won best alternative album, Protest the Hero took best hard rock / metal album, Matt Mays nabbed best rock album and rising star Ryan Hemsworth claimed Electronic Album of the Year.
Oh, and Robin Thicke didn't win anything.
Juno Award Winners:
Single of the Year: Tegan and Sara, "Closer"
Fan Choice Award: Justin Bieber
Songwriter of the Year: Serena Ryder
Breakthrough Group of the Year: A Tribe Called Red
Group of the Year: Tegan and Sara
Album of the Year: Arcade Fire, "Afterlife"