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Two out of Four CBC Stars Totally Called It: Godspeed You! Black Emperor Win 2013 Polaris Music Prize

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Shad and Kathleen Edwards host the 2013 Polaris Music Prize gala, Sept. 23 in Toronto -- CBC Music

Godspeed You! Black Emperor won the 2013 Polaris Music Prize last night for Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, the Montreal band's first album after a nearly 10-year hiatus.

Thrilled? Shocked? Or maybe you're still coming to terms with the outcome, spazzing your reaction in a CBC Music comment thread, hoping to someday find peace with the grand jury's decision on the year's best Canadian album, as judged on artistic merit alone.

Public reaction to the annual Polaris winner is often, well, polarizing. It's one of the few constants in the award's eight-year history, which has handed over honours, and giant novelty cheques, to the diverse likes of F*cked Up, Arcade Fire and Caribou

And if you use a sample of CBC's most musical insiders, you'll get the same divergent opinions. 

Two out of four CBC-ers would agree: they totally saw GYBE's win coming. 

The others? Not so much. 

"Big surprise. Not one of the acts that I would have thought was going to win," Q host Jian Ghomeshi told CBC Live before leaving the gala at Toronto's Carlu. "I've been at every one of these things, I hosted the first one, I don't remember a year when there was less consensus about who was going to win."

"I had my money on A Tribe Called Red," CBC Music's Lana Gay told us by e-mail, talking about the DJ crew's short listed disc Nation II Nation. But then, "with Polaris, you never know who's going to win."

So when your No. 1 pick is the winner, the feeling's especially sweet. CBC Radio 2's Tom Power was "beyond happy" with the Polaris verdict according to his Twitter reaction. 




He went into greater detail as to why when we contacted him early Tuesday. 

"Mainly it's because I was right," he laughs. The Deep Roots host sits on the Polaris Music Prize's 200-member strong jury, which is comprised of music media types from around the country. Their votes ultimately determine each year's Short List before a specially selected Grand Jury of 11 decides the winner on the night of the gala. 

"Every year, my top 5 choices, I feel they never really make it," he says, "I was becoming the Susan Lucci of the Polaris Prize because I could never get a winner in my picks! But No. 1 on my Long List ballot was Godspeed You! Black Emperor. ... So when they won, I was filled with some joy."

CBC Radio 3's Graham Wright was experiencing something slightly different: Vindication. 

"I called it," he told CBC Live. "You can check!" he says light-heartedly.  

You can. For real. He shared his bang-on prediction on a variety of CBC Radio daytime shows the morning before the Polaris results were announced.

"Now I look like an expert, they're going to call me again and I'll be exposed," he jokes. But his pick had less to do with pure artistic appreciation and more to do with analysis of the prize itself. 

Polaris is determined by a jury of critics. If you can make yourself think like a professional music nerd, you can forecast the winner, he posits. "I just figured that everybody loves Godspeed. Like, every critic loves Godspeed. They've always been catnip for people who write about music, who are experts," he says.

You can add Power to that group. He says he's been a fan since one of his high school teachers turned him off of Limp Bizkit and on to GYBE's 2000 disc, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. "I had never heard anything quite like it before, these 20-minute opuses of just crushing, powerful symphonic rock. And they are so original," he says. "They make METZ look like U2." (No apologies to to another of this year's short listed acts.)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor did not attend Monday night's gala, unsurprising considering Polaris organizers shared that detail in advance of the event. And then there's the band's long-standing reputation for operating outside the mainstream. They don't often do interviews, for instance. They also don't appear at awards shows. As for their $30,000 in prize money, they'll be giving it away. Ian Ilavsky, the co-founder of the band's label, Constellation Records, explained Monday night that they'll be using their winnings to support music education programs for the Quebec prison system. (Ilavsky accepted the award on the band's behalf.)

"It's an interesting juxtaposition that the best album is by a group that didn't want to come to the ceremony," says Ghomeshi. "That's pretty punk rock."

And following the win, GYBE released a rare statement on the label's website. They expressed their gratitude to Polaris, but they also made a few bullet-point digs at awards shows of its ilk. (Find the statement at CBCMusic.ca.)

"I think it takes bravery," Power says of the band's comments. "Had they made that manifesto, and showed up, it would've been something very different," he explains. (As he told us earlier: "How many bands say they don't care about awards but they show up to the Grammys anyway, you know?") 

"But they always are true to themselves," Power says. "It was nice to see them have an opportunity to compromise those beliefs and not do it. It made me respect them even more."

Respect is a word Wright uses, too. Though the broadcaster and musician (Wright is a solo artist and member of Tokyo Police Club) says he disagrees with GYBE's "anti-commercial instinct," he respects how they expressed it, and he appreciates the dialogue it's generated among followers of the Polaris Music Prize. 

And creating discussion, he says, is what the Polaris is all about. Nobody's ever in agreement over the winner, and that's the beauty of it: people keep talking about great music before and after the gala's finished. 

"People don't have a clear vision of what they want the Polaris winner to always be, they just never want it to be what it is. And that's kind of the mark of a successful award, I think."

Being confronted with a surprising choice, and having to "parse out your feelings" about it? "It's always a benefit."

For more on this year's Polaris Music Prize CBC Music has complete coverage of the event including photo galleries and a report from Monday night's gala.

Related:
Want to Talk Polaris 2013? CBC Music Has It Covered
The 2013 Polaris Short List Is Here; Where to Find Music on CBC