The 51st Juno Awards brought the music back to a live audience on Sunday and marked a triumphant return for the beleaguered ceremony showcasing Canadian talent.
Organizers put on a tight and impressive showcase of Canadian music in Toronto. Montreal’s Charlotte Cardin capped a stellar showing as this year’s top winner, Ontario’s Arkells nabbed best group for a historic fifth time since 2012, and live music reigned once again.
With high-churning performances from everyone from Avril Lavigne to Arkells, it was a definitive return for live music at the annual event. Held virtually the last two years (after 2020’s event in Saskatoon was cancelled) due to COVID-19, this year’s ceremony marked the first in-person show since 2019.
It was also the first-ever Junos show held outdoors, a strategy organizers hoped would allow the night to go ahead no matter what, if any, pandemic restrictions were introduced.
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The strategy yielded an incredible number of performances from some of the biggest names in Canadian music. Pop-punk legend Lavigne performed a medley of songs from her first album Let Go, singing hits Complicated, Girlfriend, Sk8er Boi and I’m With You, 20 years after the album debuted and 19 years after her first Juno nomination.
From there, the night switched back and forth between awards, and almost too many performances to count. That included the previous night’s winner for alternative album of the year, Mustafa, delivering a stripped-down, acoustic version of his song Stay Alive, Haviah Mighty belting a mashup of her tracks So So and Protest, Arcade Fire performing their new song Unconditional I (Lookout Kid), and Alberta’s Tesher even managing to rope Junos host Simu Liu into dancing along during his TikTok smash Jalebi Baby.
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But Liu’s involvement was no afterthought. The Shang-Chi superhero brought back live hosting to the Junos in a big way — leading what the Junos president and CEO Allan Reid called one of the best shows they’ve ever put on.
Liu started the night with a sketch alongside his old Kim’s Convenience co-star Andrew Phung, before moving to jokes about Canadianisms (“It is pronounced bubble tea, OK, not boba, bubble tea Goddammit!”), the pandemic (“Some crazy energy Toronto — it’s almost as if you’ve been cooped up for two years straight”) and even Will Smith’s recent moment at the Oscars.
After welcoming audiences to Toronto’s Budweiser Stage, Liu noted the show was being broadcast live, “So if anyone has ever wanted to go viral … now’s your chance,” he challenged. “Come up.”
But instead of angry actors, audiences were treated to grateful musicians.
Charlotte Cardin cemented her frontrunner status by taking home album of the year for Phoenix. After winning single of the year, pop album of the year (also for Phoenix) and artist of the year at a Gala event on Saturday, Sunday’s win left her with four total trophies — the most of any artist.
Arkells took home group of the year, an award the rockers also won in 2021, 2019, 2015 and 2012. British Columbia’s Jessia rode a wave of popularity that began on TikTok to win breakthrough artist of the year (beating out other TikTok come-ups 347aidan and Tesher), and Shawn Mendes won fan choice for the fourth time.
Haviah Mighty won best rap album/EP, an honour created this year after the rap recording award was split into two separate categories. After Toronto’s Charmaine took home rap single on Saturday for her track Bold, the two became the first women to win in the category previously dominated by men.
“For those who haven’t heard of Haviah Mighty, I’m going to be back on the stage to show you why,” she said after winning for rap album of the year, and only shortly before returning for her performance. “This one is for women in hip hop.”
There was more to the night than the main awards, though. Toronto-born Deborah Cox was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame early in the evening, an achievement she described as bittersweet in a red carpet interview with CBC, as it required her to first travel outside Canada to find fame and recognition.
Even still, she said getting the honour — and becoming the first Black woman in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame — was an important step forward.
“I’m really inspired that this moment is just going to springboard and inspire more people,” she said. “Little girls like me that didn’t have representation to just get into this industry, and have the same opportunity as anyone else,”
Mendes also took home a recognition — the Junos’ International Achievement Award.
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Despite being a multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated singer, he delivered an emotional acceptance speech about learning to believe in himself.
“When I was younger, I really really thought, If I could just write one hit song, people would like me … then I would be enough,” he said.
“Something that I know to be true now is that I was enough before anybody knew my name. I am not standing here to tell you to give up on your dreams, I’m just here to tell you that while you’re chasing them, don’t forget to enjoy the process and remember, you’re already enough.”
Sunday’s event did see some surprising shutouts.
Alongside the other TikTok stars, Mother Mother failed to win for group of the year despite being catapulted back into the spotlight by the app, almost 20 years following the release of its first album.
Toronto rapper Pressa — one of the leading nominees, up for four categories — failed to take home an award from the two categories for which he was eligible Sunday: rap album or fan choice.
Meanwhile, international star Justin Bieber was shut out both nights. He was in the running for five awards — in the exact same categories as 2021. He missed out for fan choice — a category he has won five times in the past — and his album Peaches lost to Cardin’s Phoenix.