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Stereo Freeze 6.23

June 24, 2009

Some blah blah blah about the Polaris Prize this week.

Regarding the Polaris Prize Long List:

You’ve no doubt seen the long list for this year’s Polaris Prize by now. Last week I was wondering about how they came up with it, and after looking through the info on the Polaris website, it came together, along with some more questions.

So, the way it works is that the directors choose a jury of media representatives (185 this year) who select forty albums, which are then juried and shortened to ten finalists, with the winner chosen from that group. The first thing I noted while looking around was how generally mainstream both the jury and the directors are. The group covers a wide range of media outlets, true, and there are a number of “freelance journalists” and writers for smaller, city-based publications listed, but the balance seems more in favour of corporate outlets. Some of the largest publications in the country are represented with multiple jurors, and there’s even room for Stroumboulopoulos and Jian on top of all the other CBC representatives.

The thing is, there’s a lot of talk of “independent” and “artistic quality” involved with this award each year, and it has become quite a happening in Canadian music. Sure, it’s not skewed by fees or direct submissions, affiliations or sales figures, and it’s supposed to be judged on artistic merit, and, furthermore, it does aim to help those artists who have been selected, with a $20,000 cash prize for the winner and special marketing/distribution for the short list nominees; and the long list is a good representation of what’s gone on this past year, but, the all-important but in this case, is that if it’s primarily mainstream interests administering this whole thing, how safe can we expect the choices to be? Just take a look at some of the names involved: Galaxie, Live Nation, CBC, Toronto Star, Much Music, Sirius, National Post, Warner Music, Retail Music Association, etc. Now, this is not to say that the whole thing is dumb and there are no good artists involved, because that’s not the case. Insofar as an award thing like this can be of any actual value, this one does aim for some credibility, and to actually help some of the artists involved. And some of the nominated records are indeed among the best things that came out of Canadian music this past year. To whomsoever nominated Tim Hecker and Women, way to go. Someone’s got their eyes and ears open. Will either of those artists even come close to the short list, though? We’ll see next month.

As for the nominees, a brief look through the list yields the following numbers: Eleven are from Toronto, three from Vancouver, four from Calgary, one from St. John’s, two from both Halifax and Hamilton, and seventeen from Montréal. The rules make a point of saying that all musical genres will be included, but it still ends up with well over half of the submissions being rock/pop/dance or some combination thereof. The other half is primarily folk/pop acts, rounded out by three experimental acts, two loud/punk acts, and three hip-hop acts. The list of nominees covers both well- and lesser-known (though mostly well-established) artists, and though it may be missing some things, it’s not a bad list. You can’t please everyone with this sort of thing, after all. The question is though, what will the short list look like, and will those artists benefit from being chosen? Some of the artists on this list need the exposure and financial support more than others (a number have even been nominated for this before). The choices made in the last stages of the process are going to really reflect the sensibilities behind this thing.

Ultimately, the fact that something like this exists and isn’t lame speaks to how well Canadian pop is doing these days. But it also raises some questions about the music industry in Canada that I will pursue in future articles here. Questions which have been around for many years regarding cancon regulations and the promotion of Canadian artists both nationally and internationally.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2009 9:27 am

    There was some chatter on Halifax Locals about this and I think a lot of people were surprised Julie Doiron wasn’t on there. As you pointed out, the east coast in general isn’t terribly well represented this year, and though Dog Day’s not on the list either, I think the timing of Concentration’s release may have had something to do with it. The cut-off was the end of May, and while the record was out by then, jurors outside of Nova Scotia probably didn’t hear it in time to give it adequate consideration. I guess a similar thing happened last year with Old Man Luedecke’s Proof Of Love, which eventually won a Juno.

    My really big WTF moment re: the long list was the inclusion of Leonard Cohen, though I would be really surprised if it ended up on the short list.

  2. passerine songs permalink*
    June 24, 2009 2:32 pm

    Yeah, Julie’s absence is a bit odd. Especially considering she made the short list in 2007.

  3. passerine songs permalink*
    June 26, 2009 1:33 pm

    *Edited, to read:

    “…the directors choose a jury of media representatives (185 this year) who select forty albums…”

    Rather than:

    “…the directors choose a jury of media representatives (185 this year) and select forty albums from their suggestions…”

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