Joseph F. Turcotte, PhD

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Polaris 2009: Shortlist Showdown

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When the good folks at the Polaris Music Prize released their long list on 15 June all I could muster was a shrug and barely bat an eye. I’m just not a fan of the whole “long list” idea. Sure, it allows some unknown acts some much needed exposure but unfortunately, and inevitably, those bands get drowned out when the short list gets revealed. Oh, and, hey, any list that would include the new K-Os album has to be looking to fill space.

But now the short list is here and I’m quite excited. The Polaris Prize is the premier music award in Canada. Unlike the Junos it doesn’t celebrate commercial success. Instead, it looks to give praise to those demonstrating “artistic merit”. But that’s where the fun, and controversy, begins.

Of the the past three winners I’ve only found one winner mildly entertaining– repeat nominee Patrick Watson’s (pictured above) beautiful and brilliant Close to Paradise– while the other two (Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds and Caribou’s Andorra) didn’t seem worthy of the Prize. What the three do share in common though is what appears to be the key to Polaris success.

It seems that the judging for the Prize suffers from a narrow definition of “artistic”. The Polaris forumla seems to be based on the assumption that “artistic” bands are experimental in the sense that the artist(s) try a lot of different sounds and meld them together for melodies and harmonies into some sort of large, sonic assault.

Of course there’s some merit behind this, the music is good, but it also means that other types/genres of music get lost in the shuffle. Namely hip-hop.

Although I still have a few of the bands to check out, I’m pretty dead-set on K’NAAN’s Troubadour for this year’s award. It is one of (if not the) best Canadian hip-hop album of all time. The production is the best that I’ve ever heard from CanCon hip-hop and his lyrics are smart, witty, honest, gripping…

With Troubadour on the short list it’s time for the Polaris judges to step out of their voting habits and embrace an art form that is still clamouring for the respect it desrves.

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1 Comment

  1. Mike says:

    My God, we actually agree on something. I’ve been saying since last year (when I was unsurprisingly repping Shad) that Polaris needs to recognize hip hop. Unfortunately, based on what I heard on CBC Radio 3’s Polaris show today, it sounds like Fucked Up is the frontrunner. While I’ve only heard one song, it was pretty damn underwhelming. Which, sadly, makes me pretty convinced it’ll win.

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