At the 2011 Juno Awards, after winning a crystal statuette signifying his status as this country's top musical artist, the greybeard Neil Young asked, "What year is this?" Looking at the 2012 nominees for album of the year, announced Tuesday at a press conference in Toronto, the question might well be, "What month is it?"
Of the five discs in contention, two are of December-only variety: Justin Bieber's Under the Mistletoe and Michael Bublé's Christmas. The reason for this ho-ho hijacking of a major category is that the nominations are based largely on sales figures. Those two yuletide LPs, of course, sold by the sleighfull.
What must music lovers the world over think when they see Feist's Metals left off a list of top Canadian records that values the jingles of bells and the ka-chings of cash registers over sublime singing and songwriting?
(Feist did nab four nominations, as did City and Colour, Dan Mangan, Drake, Hedley and Nickelback.)
The press-conference tidbit that drew the most smiles was the announcement that William Shatner would host this year's televised gala, on April 1, from Ottawa's Scotiabank Place. With the Star Trek captain and Priceline pitchman in charge, out-of-town guests now know whom to hit up for the best hotel rates.
Joel Zimmerman (aka Deadmau5) was a hit as one of the celebrity voices at the nomination affair. Disguised in his signature mouse-head helmet, the DJ announced a few noms and received three of his own.
Glaringly absent from this year's lists was the Weeknd, the working name of ballyhooed Toronto R&B artist Abel Tesfaye. Though he released three notable albums in 2011 ( House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence), his achievements were ignored by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In the true spirit of Christmas, Tesfaye gives his albums away free – thus, no sales figures.
International superstar Drake, a booster of Tesfaye, does not take cash for his various mix tapes, but does charge for his recordings on Lil Wayne's Cash Money label. Drake's latest fine release, Take Care, received a nomination for this year's top-album trophy, as did the critically panned discs from Avril Lavigne ( Goodbye Lullabye) and Nickelback ( Here and Now).
Because sales figures are a matter of record, the field for album of the year was not a surprise. The absence of the Weeknd for the best new artist, however, was a doozie of an omission, especially given that Vancouver indie singer-songwriter Mangan, who's been around a while, did make the newcomer list. As well, why is Newfoundland's Hey Rosetta! on the list for top new group, years after making the Polaris Prize short list for its 2008 album Into Your Lungs (and around in your heart and on through your blood)?
Perhaps it's time to ask Young's question once more.