The Canadian music industry descended on Toronto for the first-in-person Juno Week (May 9-15) since March 2020, when the pandemic forced that year’s edition in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to cancel last minute.
Since then, the annual Canadian music celebration, which bounces to a different city each year and culminates in the two-night Juno Awards — the sold-out Saturday industry gala dinner, at which the bulk of the trophies are handed out, and Sunday’s performance-heavy TV broadcast — has been held virtually. But once Canada opened its borders and the province of Ontario lifted its mask and vaccination certificate requirements last month, the show was finally able to go on. And, whether it or not it was just the relief of reconnecting in person after two years off in the pandemic, judging by the buzz afterwards, industry folks felt it was the best Juno Awards in recent memory, with a great setting, stage design and performances.
While Warner Music Canada’s usual Sunday night post-Juno jam was sadly a no-go (a casualty of COVID-19, a label rep told Billboard, though it’s slated to return next year), there was no shortage of after-parties. But wherever international achievement award honoree Shawn Mendes, performer Avril Lavigne, show closer Arcade Fire, Juno host Simu Liu, Deborah Cox (the first Black female to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame) and her inductor, former basketball star Chris Bosh, chose to party it up, it was away from prying eyes and away from the night’s most packed bashes.
Right after the two-hour broadcast ended at 10 p.m. at the lakefront Budweiser Stage downtown — the first time it has ever been held outdoors — Live Nation got to show off its private members club at the venue, with a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline. Among the industry revelers were Juno group of the year winner Arkells, musician/music director Dan Kanter (Alessia Cara, Julia Michaels, Justin Bieber), TOBi and two of the evening’s most message-minded and talked about performers, Mustafa (who won the Juno for alternative album of the year) and Snotty Nose Rez Kids.
Universal Music Canada opened up its newly built headquarters in Liberty Village and rented out the adjacent Liberty Commons at Big Rock Brewery, where UMC chairman & CEO Jeffrey Remedios (a Billboard 2022 International Power Player) was feted with a surprise birthday cake at midnight. Notable guests included Juno nominees and winners Arkells, The Beaches (who won rock album of the year), Chiiild, Half Moon Run, Valley, the Godfather of Canadian hip hop Maestro, Tesher, Zeds Dead, Lauren Spencer-Smith, Johnny Orlando, Rêve, Sofia Camara, Lili-Ann DeFrancesco, Lyan Paris, Jamie Fine, Preston Pablo, Zach Zoya, and k-os. Hill Kourkoutis also made an appearance after making history as the first female to be nominated, and win, the recording engineer of the year award; and 2019 Polaris Music Prize winner Haviah Mighty, who became the first female to win best rap album. Both wins were much talked about, with many noting how they can hopefully set a new precedent and open more doors in the industry. Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh were also in attendance.
Throughout the week, just as in pre-pandemic times, organizations hosted Juno-related events like panels and networking functions. Throughout these, the push for greater diversity in the music business was apparent. Canadian Black music business collective Advance hosted a sold-out “Influential Black Women in Music” discussion; Music Canada, Factor, The Government of Canada and Canada’s Private Radio Broadcasters presented the “Allies in Action: Reducing Harm and Creating Inclusive Spaces” panel; and Women in Music held a gathering at Soho House DJed by Juno nominee Sydney Blu for female and non-binary musicians. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences — which hosts the Junos — has been at the forefront of these diversity efforts with the TD Canada Trust-sponsored Submissions Access Program that encourages independent artists in underrepresented communities to submit their work for Juno consideration. The program also works to increase CARAS voting memberships from these communities and reconfigure committees and boards to have more women and BIPOC voices.
As the Canadian music industry emerges from the pandemic more diverse than ever, it may be more independent than ever, too. “It’s great to see everyone in your analog form,” quipped Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) president Andrew Cash Friday morning before the organization’s networking breakfast and panel at the Lula Lounge. He then cited statistics from a 2021 blog post by Midia Research’s Mark Mulligan that “found that contrary to popular belief, globally the market share for independent music is at around 43%.” That, Cash noted, aligns with “what we’re seeing here at the Junos,” going on to note that 79% of all 2022 Juno nominees are from the indie sector – up from 69% in 2018.
The majors, of course, got their shine too. Friday’s CARAS’ exclusive Chair’s Reception held at Massey Hall’s Allied Music Centre was attended by a who’s who of the Canadian music industry. Among them were Sony Music Canada head Shane Carter, former Warner Music Canada president Steve Kane, The Feldman Agency president Jeff Craib, broadcast industry Hall of Famer Denise Donlon, APA exec Ralph James, Deborah Cox and husband/collaborator Lascelles Stephens, Junos 2022 humanitarian of the year recipient Susan Aglukark, CARAS president/CEO Allan Reid, Mayor John Tory, outgoing CARAS chair Mark Cohon and new chair Jennifer Sloan.
The first big party of Juno Week came Saturday following the three-and-a-half-hour gala awards dinner at Longboat Hall, where Toronto Maple Leafs fans could drown their sorrows at being knocked out of the playoffs with the healing power of music. House band The 99s played two sets of covers and were joined periodically by guest singers including Julian Taylor, Hannah Georgas, Allison Russell (winner of contemporary roots album of the year for Outside Child), CIMA’s Andrew Cash, Serena Ryder (winner of adult contemporary album of the year for The Art of Falling Apart), Tamara Lindeman, Adria Kain, SATE and Wolf Saga.
Now that life has seemingly returned to normal, Toronto has two big post-Junos industry events to look forward to: Canadian Music Week (June 6-11) and the NXNE music festival (June 14-19).