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Polaris Music Prize Short List Announced

Previous Polaris Music Prize winners Lido Pimienta, Caribou and Kaytranada get another shot at winning the prestigious $50,000 award for Canadian album of the year when the winner is declared virtually on Oct. 19. The shortlist announcement also includes albums from Jessie Reyez, U.S. Girls, Witch Prophet, Backxwash, Junia-T, nêhiyawak, and Pantayo.

Polaris Music Prize Short List Announced

By Karen Bliss

Previous Polaris Music Prize winners Lido Pimienta, Caribou and Kaytranada get another shot at winning the prestigious $50,000 award for Canadian album of the year when the winner is declared virtually on Oct. 19. Today’s shortlist announcement also includes albums from Jessie Reyez, U.S. Girls, Witch Prophet, Backxwash, Junia-T, nêhiyawak, and Pantayo.


The names were announced one by one over a two-and-a-half-hour period on CBC Music and the CBC Listen app this afternoon, hosted by Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe, dedicating 15 minutes to each selection: Backxwash’s God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It; Caribou’s Suddenly; Junia-T’s Studio Monk; Kaytranada’s Bubba; nêhiyawak’s nipiy; Pantayo’s self-titled album, Pimienta’s Miss Colombia; Jessie Reyez’ Before Love Came To Kill Us; U.S. Girls’ Heavy Light; and Witch Prophet’s DNA Activation.

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The 10 titles were selected from the 40 longlist that included The Weeknd, Daniel Caesar, Allie X, dvsn, Sarah Harmer and Joel Plaskett.

The long list was determined by a jury of selected music media — music journalists, bloggers, broadcasters (201 voters this year) — who submitted their top 5 picks earlier this month from 223 recommended albums. For the shortlist, the same jurors picked their top 5 from the 40, which was calculated to comprise the 10-title shortlist.

The albums are judged solely on artistic merit, without consideration of genre, record sales or professional affiliation. The official eligibility period for the titles is from May 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020. $50,000 is awarded to the winner and Slaight Music gives $3,000 to each of the nine runners up. 

Due to covid-19, the winner will be announced at the end of what the not-for-profit is calling “a special cinematic tribute,” happening Oct. 19 live on the CBC Gem streaming service, CBCMusic.ca/Polaris, and the public broadcaster’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.  

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There was recently a solicitation from Polaris to Canadian filmmakers to apply to create a 3-5 minute video for one of the nominee’s songs, budgeted at $10,000, to be used during the CBC show. There is no stipulation mentioned on how much of the funds must be used on the full production and how much as compensation for the work.

Public relations company Indoor Recess explains that the $100,000 budget "is from the funding/sponsorship money that would have been spent producing the Gala, diverted to support producing a virtual celebration of the short List albums and winner."

“Please note that each short-listed artist is being invited to participate in the process and we will be gauging their desired level of engagement in the film,” it states on the application page. “That could range from carte blanche to fully collaborative. Please be aware of and prepared for either scenario.”  The song must be from the nominated album and “the short-listed artist may or may not dictate which song is to be featured.”

The deadline was July 10 — each applicant had to submit a weblink with samples of existing film work and a bio, and were encouraged to include “a brief description on intended medium and loose framework…[in order to] be given greater consideration.”

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“Now that the Short List is out we’re going to begin conversations with the nominees to determine who they might want to work with,” Polaris communications manager Aaron Brophy tells FYI Music News.

According to the deadlines listed on the site, the song will be confirmed no later than July 20, the treatment approved no later than July 27, and a rough cut due by Aug. 24. The final film is due Sept. 11.

Prior to the pandemic, each year, since the start of the Polaris Music Prize in 2006, an in-person gala takes place in Toronto (originally at the Masonic Temple/Concert Hall, then at the Carlu) and features performances by most of the nominees, while the 11-member grand jury is debating each album’s merits behind closed doors. The winner is announced onstage at the conclusion of the event.

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This is also the first year of the Polaris Music Prize without its founder, Steve Jordan, at the helm. Earlier this year he took a job as senior director of CBC Music, leaving Claire Dagenais, who started as his first employee in 2010, as its new executive director.

Past winners of the Prize are Haviah Mighty (2019), Jeremy Dutcher (2018), Lido Pimienta (2017), Kaytranada (2016), Buffy Sainte-Marie (2015), Tanya Tagaq (2014), Godspeed You! Black Emperor (2013), Feist (2012), Arcade Fire (2011), Karkwa (2010), Fucked Up (2009), Caribou (2008), Patrick Watson (2007) and Final Fantasy / Owen Pallett (2006).

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