I felt like a cheap whore from the moment Nickelback opened the show with "Something In Your Mouth." What better way to open the steaming shit sandwich and parade of prostitution that was the 2009 Juno Awards?
First off, I'm not predisposed to hate the Junos, as every other cred-clinging journo does. I've watched almost every telecast in the last 25 years. The relatively recent makeover of the Junos by CTV and Insight Productions (Canadian Idol), though incredibly tacky, has injected much more life into Canada's overly earnest approach to its star system—for better and worse. The "red carpet" coverage by E-Talk is beyond insipid, the hosting by both comedians and musicians has been uniformly awful, and the high school pep rally approach to regional boosterism is infantile.
But the show is stuffed with live performances, giving plenty of time to newer artists as both performers and presenters, and is a tightly run ship without any slack. I've always felt that Canadian music is rich and diverse enough to have both our shameless starfucking awards show, and a healthy underground that has nothing to do with the former. The Juno Awards, at least the ones that are televised, are about mainstream culture. Have your Polaris party somewhere else, and rest easy that we don't have to put all our cultural wish fulfillment in one basket.
I'm actually predisposed to enjoy awards shows in general--well, really just the Oscars and the Junos--for those rare moments of poetry, the mixture of hubris and humility in the acceptance speeches, and the general spectacle which, even at its worst, can be counted on for camp value (witness last year's wonderfully ridiculous and awesome Jully Black performance).
This year's Junos was absolutely devoid of humour, a horserace, or anything else that can usually be counted on to keep our interest over the course of a pithy two hours of television. Thank god Bryan Adams and Kathleen Edwards were making bedroom eyes at each other the whole time, on stage and off. Otherwise the most scandalous part of the whole evening would be the fact that Elvis Costello stuttered while uttering the word punk, a mere minute before he was forced to exclaim the word "Nickelback!" while announcing the winner of Album of the Year.
Host Russell Peters was no help, especially in his attempts at being racy--and racial. "Hey, I hear Sarah McLachlan is single. Hey Sarah, don't let one brown guy mess it up for the rest of us!" Jokes about coke and Steven Page didn't fare much better. Peters must be the reason that we were constantly reminded after commercial breaks that this show contained "mature" content, but Peters would have been funnier—and at about the same level of "maturity"—if he shut the fuck up and made music with his armpits instead.
The veterans who were trotted out to present awards looked out of place and slightly baffled. Pairing k.d. lang and Buffy Ste. Marie to present the songwriter of the year award was inspired; Buffy was probably wondering why lang didn't include her on Hymns to the 49th Parallel, a tribute to all the other great Canadian songwriters of the boomer generation. For her part, lang was probably wondering why anyone thought to nominate Hedley in a songwriting category. You know Hedley--the mall punk band who dress like the Crew Cuts, or a cruise ship wait staff. R&B veteran Deborah Cox presented an award with a shamelessly self-promoting Kreesha Turner, who started singing her single for no apparent reason; Cox looked suitably embarrassed for the poor young girl.
Shortly afterwards, the token appearance by the country's heritage minister is even stranger this year because a) James Moore is a giant, towering over the two country music nobodies he's presenting with; and b) Moore couldn't have looked less excited to be celebrating Canadian culture. But honestly--can you blame him? He actually looked like he was going to cry, and for an all-too-brief moment I felt I saw some humanity in his eyes—until I remembered that he told the red carpet team (aka The CTV Cross-Promotional Juggernaut) that he was most excited to see Nickelback. Ah well, only a Conservative cabinet minister could call The Stills "Best New Group" with a straight face. I'm also curious if he had a few words with Jian Ghomeshi (manager of Best New Artist, Lights) about CBC funding.
Kardinal Offishall won well-deserved Junos for both Hip-Hop Recording of the Year and Best Single. He wasn't there to accept, claiming to be in Europe; he was probably still nursing an East Coast/West Coast beef from the year that his shocked mug was captured on camera after losing to the then-unknown Swollen Members. In a videotaped acceptance speech, he attempts to start a beef with Nickelback. Shoot any turkeys lately?
All-around good guy Sam Roberts played his song about how "the kids these days don't dance to rock'n'roll;" Russell Peters introduced it by telling Roberts that "only the white kids don't know how to dance." Wow, how edgy. (And truth be told, it doesn't look like most of Roberts' stationary band knows how to dance to rock'n'roll either.)
The musical highlight of the first hour was supposed to be Sarah McLachlan, peddling her Greatest Hits-padding new divorce song with an all-star band of Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland and Jim Creeggan. Wearing some kind of potato sack top that was supposed to distract us from her mysteriously morphing visage—which is the subject of plastic surgery rumours among the ladies I know who claim to notice these things—McLachlan made a bid to become the new Celine Dion, singing more with her arms than her actual voice. I kept waiting for the chest bump. "It's so confusing," she sings in part of the chorus. No kidding—who are you and what have you done with Sarah McLachlan?
Halfway through the broadcast, the best Canadian music I'd heard so far was "Living On Video" by '80s Quebecois synth pop band Trans X, featured in a new Diet Pepsi ad.
Songwriter of the Year Dallas Green performed as City and Colour with special guest Gordon Downie, who was sage at centre stage waiting for his verse, his hands awkwardly crossed over his crotch like a schoolboy waiting for a pee break. Green is dressed like a nerdy accountant in a '70s heist film who's always the first to get bumped off. Thankfully, the only tasteful set design of the entire evening happened to accompany one of the only half-decent performances.
Too bad Loverboy didn't perform; it would have been more exciting than the four individual yet equally earnest and dull speeches each member gave, thanking just about everyone except the drum tech on their 1982 tour. Mike Reno is dressed like a casino manager or a Sopranos extra. In keeping with the '80s nostalgia theme, the guy who used to produce K-Tel commercials was hired to assemble the Loverboy retrospective. I suppose a tacky band deserves tacky packaging. Having Bob Rock introduce them was fine, but more than any other moment of the evening, this is when the Junos needed Nardwuar the Human Serviette, to apply the appropriate amount of respect and ridiculousness that a band like Loverboy demands. They credit their late bassist for giving them "the gift of eloquence"—uh, if that's true, the guy must be turning in his grave after hearing these speeches. (Apparently Bruce Allen advised them not to perform. Clearly, his days of sound management are behind him.)
That the Pepsi Fan Choice Award goes to Nickelback surprises no one but the band themselves. Chad Kroeger looks as shocked and stunned as if he'd just won the Polaris, not the Pepsi prize. Does this mean "Something In Your Mouth” will be the new Pepsi ad campaign? One of the other Nickelbacks accepts the award by saying, "This is why we still don't have a real job." No shit. Judging by the, uh, difficulty that, uh, these four guys have putting, uh, putting a sentence, you know, together on, uh, national television, they'd be laughed out of every job interview.
One of the parade of awkward athletes, who is there to promote CTV's Olympic coverage 12 months from now, claims in a monotone that: "We. Are. Very. Excited. To present this next performer. He is really. Rock. And. Roll.” And here comes Bryan Adams! Playing his classic "Cuts Like a..." Oh wait, he's playing a new song, solo acoustic no less, as a duet with Kathleen Edwards, her violin, and her breasts. (As she herself commented on the red carpet: "I had boobs. Who knew?") Musically, the chemistry is there, and the song, while no great shakes, is decent enough, but we're distracted by the army brat staring at the diplomat's daughter with googly eyes the entire time, seemingly oblivious to the tens of thousands of people in the arena waiting to yell, "Get a room!"
When Sam Roberts wins Artist of the Year, the look on his face tells us that he's been as bored and disgusted by the past two hours as the rest of us, and suddenly realizes that he's won a big award and should be excited about it. He gives a gracious, almost teary speech, before he and his band are shuffled off the stage.
Elvis Costello presented the Album of the Year award with Diana Krall. He is there because (in order of importance): a) he has a new CTV show, b) because he married into B.C. pop royalty and c) because people think he's Someone Important despite selling a fraction of the numbers that Bryan Adams has over the same time period. The nominees are a steaming shit sandwich, including two Quebecois albums that are tributes to the '70s and '80s (the former is redundantly faithful; the latter is campy acoustic versions of the likes of "Pump Up the Jam"), and mall punks Hedley and Simple Plan. Anyone who's ever been a fan of anything Elvis Costello has ever done starts projectile vomiting upon hearing him exclaim the winner's name: "Nickelback!" And Chad Kroeger quickly puts all those Costello fans (aka music journalists) in their place with a smug smile and cracking, "Oh, man, the press are going to love this."
The evening closes with a tedious mash-up of Great Big Sea's histrionic "Gallow's Pole," Hawksley Workman's guitar wankery, and Guelph's worldbeat remixers Eccodek on hand percussion. It's a mess. (I feel bad for Eccodek, who are acquaintances of mine, but it's not like anyone will remember the guys in the back with three seconds of screen time.) And after two hours of booing my screen and needing a bath, I feel positively ashamed to be a Canadian music fan. I spent the rest of the night apologizing to my girlfriend for making her watch it.
Thank you, Juno Awards. I'm going to go burn a flag now.