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4 takeaways from the 53rd Annual JUNO Awards

The show has come to be about more than just music, but should it be?

When the Dalhousie Gazette applied to cover the 2024 JUNO Awards in Halifax, it felt like a bit of a stretch to think that we would be accepted.

So, in late March when we found ourselves stationed on the JUNO Awards red carpet, it still felt surreal. We stood armed with two iPhones and a RODE mic, surrounded by large cameras and towering tripods.

Shivering, a bit thirsty and packed arm to arm with other media, Editor-in-Chief Gökçe and I had no idea what to expect. It was 5:30 p.m., and the carpet would be starting in 30 minutes. 

The night felt ripe with anticipation. 

Eventually, the first walkers of the red carpet began making their way down the line. A fedora and a blue blazer slowly bobbed their way towards us, as we struggled to make out the sign saying who they were. It turned out they were Ewen Farncombe and Alex Bird, nominated for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. They stopped to do an interview with us, and just like that, the night began. 

It went by in a flash; the carpet emptied, we checked our phones and were shocked to see that it was 9 p.m. 

It was a lot of fun. 

Here are four other takeaways from attending the red carpet and media room of the 53rd annual JUNO Awards.

Kindness and grace were on full display

Although the big names of the night like Charlotte Cardin, TALK and Lauren Spencer-Smith were hastily guided past us by their PR teams, many others were happy to talk warmly and genuinely.

“I’m shocked anyone wants to talk to me, I’m the comedian,” joked Kyle Brownrigg, winner of Comedy Album of the Year, when we waved him over. 

When asked for a vibe check, he admitted that he was hungover, but excited to drink more tonight. 

Other people were similarly open and humble. 

“We’re not used to this kind of thing,” said Phoenix Arn-Horn, a member of the band Softcult, who were nominated for Alternative Album of the Year. They gushed over their admiration for others in their category, like Aysanabee and Dizzy. 

When we apologized to the James Barker Band, winner of Country Album of the Year, for filming on an iPhone and being low budget, they said that they were too, and proclaimed us a “perfect match.” 

Ammoye gave a powerful speech on self-love directed at Dalhousie students. TOBi, winner of Rap Single of the Year and Rap Album of the Year, matched our delirious end-of-night-energy and even took the time to ask how the Gazette was doing, despite being the last on the carpet and almost missing the shuttle bus to the ceremony. 

Perhaps Farncombe said it best. “It’s about community, this whole thing.”

And he was right. The experienced journalists next to us were sweet and helpful. Everyone was humble. Community—and humanity—shone through on the red carpet.

The JUNOs is a performative endeavour

Feb. 26 was the eviction date set for homeless encampments in Victoria Park and Grand Parade, both in downtown Halifax. For some, this date was set suspiciously close to the JUNOs. 

“Let’s be honest, the JUNOs are coming to town, and they’re trying to clean up the streets to make a more presentable downtown for people coming into the city,” said Aaron Earl, a volunteer, when speaking to the Signal

Nate Doucet is a musician and one of the organizers of the Halifax Musicians Rally for Housing-Crisis Accountability, which took place at Grand Parade on the same day as the JUNOs. He similarly questions the timing of clearing the encampments.

“We have been witnessing the city sort of take a loose approach on encampments … It’s been about two years of designated sites where people are allowed to camp,” said Doucet, speaking to CBC Radio’s show Information Morning. “We’re taking this moment now because they have chosen, with a very heavy hand, to quickly evict people from parks in the middle of winter time.”

So, while the JUNOs is a celebration of Canadian music, it seems that it comes with a cost. While everyone gathers in Halifax, commenting on its beauty and culture, the true story of the city is hidden for the sake of appearance: a city deep in a housing crisis with no end in sight. 

This issue, according to Doucet, is especially pertinent to the musical community. He explained that often musicians are working a litany of jobs to keep their musical practice going, and living on the margins. 

“Aligning with the JUNOs to us seems illogical, whereas aligning with encampments makes way more sense to us,” said Doucet. 

The JUNOs is still disconnected from the Canadian music landscape

At this year’s JUNO Awards, Maestro Fresh Wes was the first ever hip hop artist to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. And while many celebrated the big achievement, others had complaints. 

“Why did it take the Canadian Music Hall of Fame so long to put a rapper in in the first place?” asked Cadence Weapon, a Canadian musician, on the CBC Radio show Commotion

“It seems like a lot of these award shows of mainstream industry events are basically playing catch up with what’s been going on,” added Tristan Grant, a Mik’maq rapper and producer. 

After the opening night awards, TOBi spoke about the state of rap in Canada and said that the genre needs help. 

“More rappers in Canada should be celebrated,” said TOBi.  

Elamin Abdel Mahmoud, the host of Commotion, also pointed out a general disconnect between the story that is often told about what Canadian music is, and what is the reality. Many, he said, seem to be stuck on memorializing the era of Canadian music from decades ago, which included artists like Alanis Morissette and Shania Twain, making little room to recognize the change that is occurring and other music that deserves endorsement, like Punjabi hip hop and music from Indigenous artists. 

Weapon also pointed out that the biggest names in Canadian music—“The Biebers and the Drakes of the world”—aren’t at the JUNOs. Artists like Tate McRae and Daniel Caesar, both nominated for numerous awards, were noticeably absent.

Despite disparities in recognition, it seems that respect runs deep between a lot of musicians regardless. 

Fresh Wes, after his performance and induction, joked that Anne Murray mistook him for Choclair, another Canadian rapper. 

“Just joking. That was a good one though,” said Fresh Wes. “Shout out to Anne Murray, man. She’s a legend.” 

Our homebase over the two days was the media room—a classroom-sized room on the third floor of the convention centre, adorned with a small stage at the front and long tables facing the stage. 

The room was intimidating at first, with serious looking faces and hefty equipment. But as time went on it grew more comfortable, and I realized that faces only grew serious the closer you moved to the centre and the front of the room, where the likes of CBC, the Canadian Press and iHeart Radio were seated. But those of us to the side and near the back, the less important establishments like the Gazette, who still felt like we’d landed there by accident, were just there to vibe. 

But although I may have been vibing with the media room, not all of the musicians—herded in by their teams to answer questions after a performance or a win—were. 

“This feels like an intervention,” said Brownrigg as he entered the room after winning his first JUNO for Comedy Album of the Year. 

“Someone get these people some tequila!” said Tegan (or Sara) as the pair left the room after answering questions about their win for the Humanitarian Award. 

Charlotte Cardin described the room as “intimidating,” despite just performing in front of a crowd of 20,000 and winning Album of the Year. 

Karan Aujla, winner of the TikTok JUNO Fan Choice award, admitted that he just wanted to “get out of here and party, honestly.” 

And TALK, winner of Breakthrough Artist of the Year, said, “I’m really really sweaty and I want to drink with my friends, but I have time for you.”

Perhaps it comes back to the performative nature of the show. We make it about showing off the host city, asking questions in a media room and walking on a silly red carpet. But really, the JUNO Awards should be solely about Canadian music, of every different type. 

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