The 2019 JUNO Awards boasted big wins for Shawn Mendes and tear-jerking tributes to Corey Hart.
The Pickering pop singer was undoubtedly the winner of the weekend, earning five awards including Album of the Year for his self-titled record. Mendes also took home Pop Album and Single of the Year (for “In My Blood”), in addition to being named both Artist and Songwriter of the Year. Not a bad haul!
Hosted by Sarah McLachlan and featuring a strong slate of performers who spanned language and genre, the awards ceremony showcased a diverse array of artists from across Canada’s musical spectrum.
Held at London’s Budweiser Gardens on March 17th, the show opened with London locals Loud Luxury performing their newly-JUNO winning dance hit “Body.” Extra spectacle was provided by the Western Mustangs Marching Band and Cheerleaders.
The first award of the night went to Hamilton rockers Arkells, who took home Group of the Year. (The band had already picked up Rock Album of the Year at Saturday’s Gala, where they used their stage-time to let Indigenous Album winner Jeremy Dutcher finish his acceptance speech that had been cut for time.)
Later on in the show, Arkells turned in a typically great performance of touching single “Hand Me Downs,” which featured fancy footwork by frontman Max Kerman and a climactic burst of confetti.
“It’s got a great confetti moment,” said keyboardist Anthony Carone, explaining the song choice.
The broadcast balanced grandiose arena spectacle with quieter moments, including a mellow performance by Adult Alternative winner Bahamas (who’s been told he has a “breezy island sound,” despite having never actually been to the Bahamas) and a sparse medley by a barefoot Bulow. Illuminated by dozens of flickering lightbulbs, the alt-pop sensation took the stage for her wistful acoustic “Two Punks in Love,” which segued into her hit “Not a Love Song.”
Bulow would later take home Breakthrough Artist of the Year, an honour she called “surreal.”
Brother/sister duo the Recklaws took the stage immediately afterwards to perform their country pop anthem “Long Live the Night,” before accepting Album of the Year on Mendes’s behalf. (The famously considerate singer-songwriter, currently on tour in Europe, would later beam in for a live-streamed performance of “In My Blood.”)
The highlight of the ceremony was the induction of “Sunglasses at Night” singer Corey Hart into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. A tearful Hart, who went on hiatus from touring to be present for his wife and four children, spent much of his acceptance speech discussing his family, who he called “the greatest songs I will ever write.”
Pop Album of the Year nominee Tyler Shaw struck a similar chord with his performance of love song “With You,” which was written for his wife. “It’s a very personal song,” he told media, adding that he was holding back tears during the performance after seeing his wife crying in the audience.
Accepting R&B/Soul Recording of the Year for her ballsy and vulnerable album Being Human in Public, an emotional Jessie Reyez paraphrased Hart’s speech in thanking her fans. “Without y’all there’s no home for my songs.”
(In the media tent after her win, Reyez had the perfect response to a reporter who asked if she would be forgoing future JUNO ceremonies, now that she has international success and a few wins under her belt: “F*ck that!”)
One of the biggest surprises of the broadcast was an appearance by Police frontman Sting, who paid tribute to Music Canada Humanitarian Award recipient David Foster. (Hart, a long-time Police fan, was delighted to finally cross paths with one of his musical idols).
After promoting music education charity MusiCounts, host Sarah McLachlan took the stage again for a beautiful performance with folk-rock duo Whitehorse (the couple’s Christmas album, A Whitehorse Winter Classic, had earned them a nomination in the Adult Contemporary category). Their rousing rendition of “In Your Shoes” was one of the best musical moments of the night, on the strength of their gorgeous harmonies alone.
McLachlan later said she’d love to collaborate with Indigenous Album of the Year winner Jeremy Dutcher, who delivered a performance as moving as it was culturally important.
Dutcher’s Juno- and Polaris-winning debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa features the classically-trained musician reinterpreting traditional Wolastoqiyik folk songs, transcribed from archival recordings from the Canadian Museum of History. His JUNOs performance of “Sakomawit,” which saw Dutcher singing behind a grand piano, featured audio from those antique recordings, as well as evocative playing by violinist Blake Pouliot.
(It was also one of the most memorable fashion moments of the night, thanks to Dutcher’s magnificent custom-made cape with Cree writing embroidered into the lining – although he joked that Pouliot, who addressed media in a multicoloured Alexander McQueen suit, was trying to upstage him).
Dutcher’s performance was followed by a duet between Outremont indie-pop singer Coeur de Pirate and Quebec rapper Loud. The collaboration was introduced by Quebec City-based Album of the Year nominee Hubert Lenoir, sporting a nest-like hairdo and an elaborate mask of yellow make-up. “I’m a doll, ‘cause the world is plastic,” the glam-rocker explained.
Coeur de Pirate’s Beatrice Martin was happy to showcase French music on the JUNOs stage. “It was kind of surreal and I’m glad people [were] actually into it” she said, adding, “If you’re into Canadian music as much as I am, you’ve had a good night.”
Also having a good night was Alberta country singer Brett Kissel.
Kissel was all smiles accepting the coveted Country Album of the Year for his seventh album We Were That Song, which mixes touching odes to family with country-rockers like the Dave Mustaine-assisted “Damn.”
Kissel admitted to media that his first JUNO win, Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2014, was overwhelming at the time. “I tried to soak it in, but I didn’t know how,” he said, adding that he was starstruck to be in the same room with stars like Nickelback, Burton Cummings, and Walk Off The Earth. He said that he has more perspective now and is better able to enjoy his successes.
“Tonight is a night to celebrate the music,” he concluded, adding that he and his wife are creating memory boxes of memorabilia to share the experience with their young kids.
After a laser-drenched performance by Punjabi-Canadian rapper Nav, Napanee pop-rock icon Avril Lavigne (who recently released her first album after a gruelling battle with Lyme Disease) was announced as the winner of the Fan Choice Award.
Hart brought the night to a triumphant close, looking and sounding great on his medley of “Never Surrender” and his signature song “Sunglasses at Night.”
Asked why the track has had such staying power, Hart said he prefers not to know. “If I knew the answer to that I wouldn’t be a good songwriter,” he explained. “Magic is something you can’t produce in a formula.”
His words were apt: if there was one message to take from the eclectic ceremony, it’s that the Canadian music scene is anything but formulaic.