Ponderings at the Polaris Music Prize Gala
Kaytranada accepting the 2016 Polaris Music Prize (Image: Russell Canceran)
Growing up I firmly held the belief that I was going to be the next Anna Wintour. I loved fashion and fashion journalism. I wanted to write about designers and fashion shows. I never thought in a million years that I would find myself spending everyday listening to countless albums and spending every weekend in grimy bars. Yet, that is the typical reality of my life as the Music Editor here at the newspaper.
the newspaper introduced me to the concept of music journalism. Prior to taking a leap of faith and writing an album review, I had no real interest in writing about music. It had honestly never phased me. I felt uneducated and like my opinions on the matter were not important or correct. Yet, under the mentorship of the previous music editor I found my voice AND I found out that you could get free concert tickets.
Just as I knew very little about music journalism prior to being thrust into it, I knew even less about being a music editor before I took on that role as well. So far only two things have really surprised me, the first being the sheer number of emails I receive every single day and second the opportunities offered to me if I read through each and every one of those emails. Clearly, I am a sucker for free concert tickets.
A few weeks ago while sorting through my emails on the streetcar I came across one about the 2016 Polaris Music Prize Gala. The Polaris Music Prize is a highly esteemed award given out annually to the best Canadian album based on artistic merit. The winner is decided by a panel of eleven jurors during the gala and they receive $50 000. I had been following the progression of the story since the shortlist was announced and there were many artists on it whose albums I had fallen in love with. I quickly shot back an email requesting access to the event even though I felt it was a long shot.
A few weeks later I received an email inviting Russell, a fellow music contributor and I to the gala. After a few more emails with the rep in which I had her reiterate that we were in fact invited and clarify what was appropriate to wear, it was set. Russell and I were going to the 2016 Polaris Gala. The Gala itself was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to see amazing Canadian artists perform including Basia Bulat, White Lung, Carly Rae Jepson, Black Mountain, U.S. Girls, Jessy Lanza and Andy Schauf. While the performances absolutely stood out on their own, I was more in awe of the entire experience as a whole. At one point, Carly Rae Jepson was standing at the bar beside me. I passed Grimes while exiting the washroom. There was a station where you could get free massages and they had perogie poutine. It felt like one of those events Carrie Bradshaw would go to. The best part is the general public could purchase a select number of tickets if they wanted to. I would highly recommend it seeing as not many people know that an event like this is so accessible.
As unique as all those experiences were, the best part of the night came when they announced the winner of the Polaris Music Prize for 2016. Kaytranada won for his album 99.9% (2016). It was in that moment that I finally understood why fans in sports stadiums go absolutely crazy when their team wins because that’s how I felt. This album is one that I listened to in entirety the day it dropped and it was the one I was rooting for. Kaytranada’s album deserved to win not only for its unprecedented commercial success but because Kaytranada is truly representative of a large portion of the Canadian music scene that is often critically under appreciated. As a producer he combines the independent music scene and the hip hop/ R&B music scene that are both separately defining Canadian music on the international stage.
Kaytranada’s win of this prize shows an acceptance of a genre of music that defines the Canadian music scene, by the independent music community as a whole. This is significant because independent music has long been synonymous with rock or pop. This win shows that while hip hop has long been definitive of Canadian music with international acts like Drake and The Weeknd, it is finally getting the critical recognition it so deserves.
This night was hugely significant for me because in many ways it made me feel like I was in the right place and doing the right thing. I never intended to fall in love with music journalism but I have. The opportunities afforded to me in this position are because of hard work and optimism. I have learned that if you put the effort in you can accomplish so much. You WILL be able to write a fully qualified album review, you WILL be able to photograph a concert despite low lighting and a mosh pit developing around you and you WILL be able to hold your own at an esteemed music gala.
For anyone else thinking of getting into this field I have two pieces of advice: the first being it never hurts to ask and the second being read each and every email you receive. One of them just might be the opportunity of a lifetime.
Andy Shauf performing at the 2016 Polaris Music Prize Gala (Image: Russell Canceran)
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