The 2017 JUNO Awards gala, a 150-minute affair, displayed Canada’s diversity in the nation’s capital celebrating 150 years since Confederation. With most of the trophies toasting the year’s best in Canadian music given out the previous day at the untelevised dinner and awards gala, the main April 2 spectacle saw a sold-out crowd of 13,000, including the Governor General, in Ottawa applaud recipients of the several remaining awards and cheer on the dazzling performances amidst visually stunning display panels. The event was co-hosted by international comedic superstar Russell Peters and diamond rocker Bryan Adams (“Brussell”), both filling in for the initially booked Michael Bublé who pulled out to take care of his son who is going through cancer.
Opening the show was seasoned singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, recipient of this year’s Allan Waters Humanitarian Award. Her welcoming remarks were followed by performances by EDM trio A Tribe Called Red, accompanied by flashy dancers in indigenous outfits, and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
Russell Peters took the stage for his opening monologue. He promised that the arena was full of Canada’s finest musical talent before apologetically correcting himself. “Well, not full of…Drake is on tour, The Weeknd is dating Bieber’s ex, and the Biebs is in Brazil.” Peters pointed out that Alessia Cara was in attendance to big cheers from the crowd. Both Peters and Cara are from the Ontarian city of Brampton which has churned out other significant names in music like Keshia Chanté, Johnny Reid, Lee Aaron, and Alyssa Reid. “Alessia Cara proves,” commented Peters, “that Brampton does not only have brown people, but it has Italians that look like brown people.” (Cara is of Italian ancestry and Peters Indian descent.)
More screams erupted when Peters pointed out that Shawn Mendes was present saying, “Let’s be honest folks, the only reason we got a big star like Shawn Mendes here tonight is because his name sounds too Mexican to get into The United States right now.” Anticipating the interjection that Mendes is of Portuguese descent, not Spanish, Peters proactively added, “We know he’s Portuguese, but America doesn’t care.” Russell, in tribute to originally booked host Michael Bublé, paid him the compliment that he can sing and is funny. Peters suggested he can cover the comedy, but if he sings he sounds like “someone getting kicked in the neck while they’re yawning.” From there, the comic welcomed to the stage co-host Bryan Adams but called him Michael by accident.
The first award of the evening – Breakthrough Artist of the Year – was presented by multiplatinum artist Coleman Hell. Among nominees Kaytranada, Ruth B, Tory Lanez, Andy Shauf, and Jazz Cartier, the trophy was bestowed upon Edmonton newcomer Ruth B after Hell jokingly stated, “the JUNO goes to La La Land.” Ruth has yet to release a full-length album but scored international hit “Lost Boy” from her EP, The Intro. Like Shawn Mendes, Ruth B started attracting attention through video platform Vine. Her piano ballad was a Top 40 hit in a number of European countries as well as The United States. In Canada, it peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified triple platinum by Music Canada. Her acceptance speech was followed by the first performance of the night, “Side Effects” by country star Dallas Smith.
Shawn Mendes gave a spirited delivery of “Mercy” before the JUNOs returned to country music by presenting the award for Country Album of the Year. The nominees were The Score, Aaron Pritchett; Hearts on Fire, Chad Brownlee; Side Effects, Dallas Smith; Tin Roof, Gord Bamford; and Kiss Me Quiet, Jess Moskaluke. The award went to the latter. This was the first time since 2012 that a female artist has been given the honours. Jess is from Saskatchewan, is now at platinum status, and has won the Canadian Country Music Association Awards’ Female Artist of the Year for the past three. This was her first JUNO award. Given that female vocalists receive only 7% of country radio spins, this win is a very significant achievement.
Alternative rock band July Talk performed “Picturing Love” and folk-pop group The Strumbellas catchy hit “Spirits” before Bryan Adams kicked off Sarah McLachlan’s induction into the Music Hall of Fame. From Halifax, Sarah launched her career from Vancouver in the late 80s eventually scoring a diamond album and the number one song of the year 1997, “Building a Mystery”. Eventually selling 30 million records, McLachlan started up the Lilith Fair festivals to help bolster the image of women in music. In recent years, she has become known for her opening of schools of music for children and youth who are without access to music education. Following Adams’ remarks was a video of tributes paid to the remarkable Canadian recording artist by such notables as Tegan & Sara, James Taylor, Josh Groban, Sheryl Crow, and Diana Krall. Sarah McLachlan voiced a graceful acceptance speech commenting, “I have the best job in the world, and I have so much to be thankful for. … Because of music, my life has deeper meaning and a powerful sense of purpose. Music just makes our world so much better. … I’m grateful for the luck of geography, being born in a country where the rights of girls and women are respected. … So I am immensely proud to stand here tonight and say that I am Canadian.”
Fellow 90s icon Chantal Kreviazuk was this year’s gala advocate of MusiCounts and introduced arguably the most beautiful performance of the evening, Ruth B accompanied by OrKidstra. Hamilton group Arkells were next up with “Drake’s Dad”. Speaking of Drake, in perhaps the biggest upset of the year, his album Views failed to nab the JUNO for Rap Album of the Year (presented the preceding evening). That award was snatched by Jazz Cartier for album Hotel Paranoia. Jazz along with the aforementioned Jess Moskaluke presented the Pop Album of the Year award. Nominees were Know-It-All, Alessia Cara; Summerland, Coleman Hell; Astoria, Marianas Trench; Illuminate, Shawn Mendes; and Love You to Death, Tegan and Sara. The JUNO was awarded to Alessia Cara.
The R&B singer skyrocketed to international superstardom via her anti-party hit “Here” certified triple platinum. She quickly released an EP and then the LP that won the JUNO with further hits “Wild Things” “Scars to Your Beautiful”, and “Stay” with Zedd. Alessia sung “How Far I’ll Go” for animated Disney movie Moana starring the voice of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Bryan Adams performed next, his newer song “You Belong to Me,” and the JUNOs proceeded in a tribute to poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen who passed away last year. Feist performed a rendition of his 1967 song “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” originally performed by Judy Collins. This year’s Songwriter of the Year award, announced by Delaney Jane and Marianas Trench’s Josh Ramsay, went to Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie over Leonard Cohen, Donovan Woods, Tegan & Sara, and Ruth B.
Getting the crowd pumped, Alessia Cara returned to the stage to perform her hits “Stay” (with Zedd) and “Scars to Your Beautiful” with a lively, expert delivery. Music industry ace Randy Lennox, former chief of Universal Music and now heading Bell Media, was honoured in a segment initiated by Sam Roberts and Tasha the Amazon. Randy won this year’s Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award. A pre-recorded video featured accolades from Peter Gabriel, Gene Simmons (Kiss), Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd, and U2. Gabriel stated, “I’ve been signed to other labels all around the world, but in Canada I just wanted to be on the label where Randy is.” Tasha and Sam then handed out the award to Group of the Year which went to The Tragically Hip who beat out Billy Talent, Arkells, Tegan and Sara, and The Strumbellas.
Nominee Billy Talent performed after the Jus Reign and Bob Moses announcement of the JUNO Fan Choice winner. Shawn Mendes took this one which is his first JUNO win. The JUNO Fan Choice is the only award voted on by the general public. The 18-year-old triumphed over nominees Hedley, Justin Bieber, Drake, Alessia Cara, Belly, Ruth B, The Weeknd, Tory Lanez, and The Strumbellas. The final award of the evening, Album of the Year, presented by Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo) and Buffy Sainte-Marie, went to Leonard Cohen for You Want It Darker. It is his second time to win the award in three years. The other nominated albums were Starboy, The Weeknd; Illuminate, Shawn Mendes; Views, Drake; and Encore un Soir, Céline Dion.
The co-hosts announced that the 2018 JUNOs would be held in Vancouver with the main gala happening March 25. The 2017 gala was capped off with a double bang: Sarah McLachlan performed “World on Fire” and then an all-star lineup of artists closed out the show with Bryan Adams’ 80s hit “Summer of ’69”.