Boobs and blazes adorn JUNOs’ pop-powered Edmonton awards show

Canadian music awards make welcome return to the road

What: 52nd JUNO Awards
Where: Rogers Centre, Edmonton, AB; CBC-TV
When: Mon., Mar. 13
Vibe: Perma-smile powers night of group hugs and feeling good.
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
Highlight: On a lineup of impressive pop powerhouses, Aysanabee steals the show with his deeply moving performance.

EDMONTON, AB — The Weeknd picked up the most prizes this weekend at the JUNO Awards, but the host city of Edmonton could easily be declared the winner as the music awards fest ventured outside Toronto for the first time since the start of COVID-19.

After being a Toronto-only event for its first decades, the JUNOS became an annual roadshow, regularly decamping to smaller cities across the country in the 2000s, to huge enthusiasm by locals; and this year in Alberta was no exception. You can’t see it on the awards broadcast, but the citywide week of events allows the JUNOs to “take over the town” for five days while the same lineup in The Six gets lost in a megacity of choices.

The week featured a festival-style club crawl, JUNO Fest at Edmonton venues, a Fanfest meet-and-greet in a mall and the JUNO Cup hockey game between ex-NHLers and the Rockers (the Rockers won this year’s game). Even the red carpet was inside so fans could escape the city’s freezing temperatures and get up close with the artists.

The Monday broadcast was a success, with performances, not prizes, being the most important part of the show. The bulk of the awards were given Saturday night at a gala dinner hosted by CBC personalities Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe
and Andrew Chung. (Full JUNO Awards winner list here ).

Alberta’s own Tate McRae kicked off the show and demonstrated why she’ll soon be filing arenas with a tight, dance-fuelled performance to match her irresistible pop songs.

Pop was well represented in the show with JUNO winners Jesse Reyes (Contemporary R&B winner) and Quebec’s Réve (Dance winner) also delivering pop-powered, dance-driven extravaganzas.

Even elegantly attired Tenille Townes, who won Country recording of the year, had a posh set featuring a formally dressed string section as this rising star ably commanded centre stage.

The show was diverse without feeling forced, from the return of Simu Liu as host to the first-ever performance in Punjabi by AP Dhillon. Indigenous artist Aysanabee brought major production values to a stirring set that began with the recorded voice of his grandfather.

Hip hop legend Kardinal Offishall and last year’s Rap recording of the year winner —the first woman to ever win the award — Haviah Mighty hosted a celebration of 50 years of Canadian hip hop that successfully highlighted this country’s amazing legacy. A hall-of-fame collection of Canadian hip hop stars came on stage, performing clips from their tracks, medley-style including: Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh Wes, the Dream Warriors, Choclair and Tobi.

Eventual 2023 Fan Choice winner Avril Lavigne had her introduction to Dhillon’s song interrupted by the world’s most laconic streaker — more of a stroller — later identified as Casey Hatherly. Hatherly strolled so casually up the steps from the stadium crowd and onto the stage beside the black-clad Lavigne that it was easy to assume she was part of the show — until she popped off her top to reveal some environmental messaging along with her breasts.

Her scrawled declaration to “Save the Green Belt” might have left Albertans wondering about this important Ontario issue while the call to protect old-growth forests resonates a little closer to home.

After Lavigne emphatically declared “Get the fuck off, bitch,” the protester was gently hustled off stage. When Lavigne returned later in the show to pick up her Fan Choice award, she snarled about fucking up anyone else who tried to sneak on stage.

Hometown heroes, Nickelback were this year’s Hall of Fame inductees and the kagillion-selling band, No. 11 in all-time album sales worldwide by a group, appear to be a punchline no more. Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid may have gotten the biggest cheer of the night when he introduced the band. Nickelback’s pyro was, of course, awesome, though the medley of their hits got a bit muddled as the music would come to a stop between tracks.

Still, the fire — so much fire.

Liu would end the night muttering “Sorry about the boobs” to the TV audience on a show that delivered in terms of entertainment value on a weekend with plenty of awards glitter to spread around. After the broadcast lights were turned off and the house lights turned on, Liu returned to the stage to fire a T-shirt cannon into the crowd, once again looking like the superhero he now has become.

Next year in Halifax, the JUNOs wisely stay on the road.