Next Monday night much of Canada’s indie music community will descend on Toronto’s Masonic Temple to celebrate some of this country’s top talent at the fifth annual Polaris Music Prize. While the ceremony will be a lot of fun, now’s a good time to ask if Polaris has lived up to its mandate.
The award was created by Steve Jordan, a former music exec, to reward the best Canadian album released between June 1 and May 31. The winner gets $25,000, usually increased record sales and some extra attention.
Since its inception in 2006, the prize has come under some criticism, though everyone generally agrees that it’s a good thing for Canadian music. A lot of people were mystified when Feist’s brilliant disc The Reminder lost to Patrick Watson’s Close to Paradise in ’07. There was a lot of talk on the Polaris discussion board that year on whether or not Feist, who was one of the more popular artists on the short list, should win because of her notoriety. Jordan kept reminding people that it’s based on merit, not popularity.
For better or for worse, that’s always been an issue with the prize. The nominees generally aren’t household names, yet many people would like to see even less familiar artists make the list or win. That doesn’t help promote the prize — the more obscure the winner the less attention Polaris will receive.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to pick the best Canadian album. The Polaris is really for a great disc chosen by the jury, who are made up of mostly indie rock-loving Canucks. The process has adapted, but really hasn’t changed much over the years. But for now, that’s OK.