Polaris Music Prize to be Announced September 20, 2010
“There are two great things about Fucked Up winning the  Polaris Prize for their album, ‘The Chemistry of Common Life.’ One is that more people will become aware of an arts prize based on merit, rather than on the economic relationship between the involved parties (if the prize is for things you watch or hear) or on the social relationships between the involved parties (if the prize is for something you read).”
- Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker
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The spiritual sister to the UK’s Mercury Prize, The Polaris Music Prize gathers a jury of Canada’s finest music journalists to weigh in, nominate, and argue about the best albums released each year by Canadian artists, regardless of genre or sales. In the search for the country’s greatest music statement, Arcade Fire, K’Naan, the Sadies, Feist, and Caribou have all made the list, and been the source of conversation and contention.
“Arguing is great. That’s kind of the point,” explains Steve Jordan, Executive Director and Founder of Polaris. “We’re very transparent about how the list is chosen. We encourage supporters and dissenters. We’re now an important part of any discussion of a great Canadian album.”
Winners and nominees have credited the Prize with raising their profile, increasing their album sales, and launching their careers in earnest, like rapper Shad, who’s once again on the Short List this year. Or with other, less expected results: Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham humorously exclaimed to journalists at a press conference this year that the Prize “legitimized the fact a fat naked guy is making something artistic.”
Also at stake in the conversation: $20,000. Past winners have done everything from giving the money to charity (Fucked Up; 2009), sponsoring records of lesser known label-mates (Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy; 2006); or settling a debt with a rental company for one totaled tour van (Patrick Watson; 2007).
“Polaris nominees can justly claim to be making the finest new music in Canada.” - Editorial, The Globe And Mail.
Beyond the cash and the glory, Polaris is gently shaping the Canadian music scene, its artists, and its listeners. Even established music critics have felt the prize’s impact.
“I honestly believe the Polaris Music Prize has raised the standard of critical discourse in this country. The fact that we now have a national forum within which music critics can discuss, debate and, most importantly, share their enthusiasm for the incredible records coming out of Canada these days has, I think, made us all better journalists. I really did start hearing music with new ears again.” - Ben Rayner, Toronto Star
Years before Jordan helped launch the prize in 2006, he was working at a Top 40 station in a small city in Ontario. Required by law to play a certain percentage of Canadian music, Jordan was dismayed to hear what he felt were inferior products being pushed by major labels, often cheap imitations of American hits.
Instead, Jordan was drawn to the burgeoning Canadian independent scene, where groups like the (then unsigned) Barenaked Ladies could easily outsell major label artists. Nightly trips to the clubs got Jordan interested in A&R, and he eventually landed a job finding and signing artists for Warner Music Canada and other labels.
After years of working with artists, he was inspired by the UK’s Mercury Prize and its power to promote quality music regardless of commercial popularity. “It was an idea everyone loved, but it took me almost five years to get it off the ground,” Jordan remembers. “After a couple of setbacks, I was about two feet from ‘fuck it.’ I didn’t want to compromise with a bad sponsorship that wanted to turn Polaris into a ‘people’s choice.’”
Jordan drew on his experience in the music industry and in the music scene to recruit a board full of important industry players and journalists, people who had enough clout to get the prize noticed and sponsored. Writers were soon flocking to the jury—if only to leap into the argument.
“A writer for a major weekly in Toronto left me a voice mail in our second year saying this Short List is total shit. And he had selected one of the artists,” Jordan recalls. “Though he was notoriously uninterested in pitches, I told him he should write about what didn’t make the list. When he actually wrote an article about that, I was thrilled. We were forcing reactions; that was a real turning point for us and led to us doing a Long List.”
The lists, both long and short, have remained diverse, mixing rap with folk rock and heavy hitters with virtual unknowns. “If you listen to this year’s albums, nothing ties them together,” Jordan notes. “They are all statements unto themselves.”
This year’s winner will be announced September 20, 2010, at a gala presentation at CTV’s Concert Hall studios at Toronto’s Masonic Temple. All ten Short List nominees will perform at the gala, exclusively broadcast live to North America on SIRIUS Satellite Radio 86 and to the world on CBC Radio 3. It will be webcast live on MuchMusic.com and broadcast on MuchMusic September 25 at 9 PM and midnight Eastern.
2010 Polaris Prize Short List:
The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Nights
Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Caribou – Swim
Karkwa – Les Chemins De Verre
Dan Mangan – Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Owen Pallett – Heartland
Radio Radio – Belmundo Regal
The Sadies – Darker Circles
Shad – TSOL
Tegan and Sara – Sainthood