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On Monday, the 2016 Polaris Music Prize will be awarded to one Canadian band or artist and their “album of distinction” at the annual gala in Toronto. This year, the 10 artists shortlisted for the prestigious prize are Andy Shauf, Basia Bulat, Black Mountain, Carly Rae Jepsen, Grimes, Jessy Lanza, Kaytranada, Pup, U.S. Girls and White Lung.
While the prize is one of the highest honours a Canadian artist can receive on home soil, you might not be tuned into the rigorous nomination and selection process, or what winning the Polaris Music Prize actually means. Not to worry—we’ll let you in on how the whole thing goes down.
The Polaris Jury is made up of 196 influential Canadian music “experts”—broadcasters, journalists, bloggers and programmers—who are selected each year by Founder and Executive Director Steve Jordan and the Polaris Board of Directors to start the process of deciding which albums should be considered. From that sizable group, a new 11-member Grand Jury is chosen each year to make the final call.
While the longer long list accumulates via jury recommendations year-round, in June, each of the 196 jurors submit their top five Canadian album choices, which help form the official 40-album Polaris Prize Long List. Then, in July, there’s a second round of voting, which results in the 10-album Short List.
Talk about pressure. While the 11-member Grand Jury spends months pouring over the Long and Short List, the small group finally convenes during the three hour-long gala to debate which of the final ten albums will take home the prize. Inside that room, they argue, laugh and trade opinions—ultimately trimming the Short List from ten, to five, to three, to one. The jury then hands off the final ballot, joins their peers inside the gala room—with their lips zipped, of course—and the winner is announced on stage.
Imagine you’re perched atop bar stools with friends, debating the merit of an album you’ve all been listening to for months. Do you mention the album’s fluctuating position on the Hot 100? Or, the precise number of dollars it raked in? Probably not. The Polaris Jury also doesn’t want to talk about commercial success (whereas The JUNOS note sales requirements for major category submissions), and instead discuss the music and its creative and cultural impact.
The Gala Is a Star-Studded, Performance-Packed Night
Alongside the ‘who’s who’ of the Canadian music community, the majority of nominees usually attend or perform at the gala. This year, short list nominees Carly Rae Jepsen, Black Mountain, Basia Bulat, Jessy Lanza, Andy Shauf, U.S. Girls and White Lung will perform, while Grimes and Kaytranada will attend. Pup can’t make it, sadly.
Since the award’s inception in 2006, everyone from Canadian indie-rock darlings Feist (Metals) and Arcade Fire (The Suburbs) to acclaimed Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq (Animism) and post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!) have taken the cake—proving the Polaris jury tries not to give genre any thought. This year is the most female-heavy list to date, with seven female or female-fronted acts up for the prize.
The artist behind the best Canadian album of the year receives $50,000, and the nine other Short Listers each receive $3,000, courtesy of Slaight Music. In 2011, winners Arcade Fire directed their speech towards “anyone who is 18 and playing music” and suggested they might invest the prize money into their recording studio outside of Montreal. Otherwise, we’re not too sure what the winners get up to with their newfound dollars.
Each year, Polaris commissions 10 artists to make posters—one for each of the Short List artists—to act as “beautiful mementos” that are presented to the artists, given to charities and sold in the Polaris online store.
The Polaris Music Prize will be chosen the evening of Monday, September 19 at The Carlu in Toronto.