Canada’s premier music talent will be in Ottawa on April 1 for the annual powwow known as the Juno Awards. The Junos aren’t as consistently outrageous as, say, the Grammys or the American Music Awards, but they’re hardly boring.
Over its 37-year history, the televised Junos ceremony has featured protests, a sitting prime minister, simulated nudity and other censor-baiting antics. Here’s a look at some of the highlights.
The Junos are on the air (1975)
Named for Pierre Juneau, the original president of the CRTC, Canada’s music awards (at that point called the RPM Gold Leaf Awards) were first held in 1970. The first televised Junos took place at Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre five years later, and were broadcast by the CBC. Although it was a fairly cordial affair, host Paul Anka did mispronounce Bruce Cockburn’s name.
A prime minister makes a cameo (1979)
In 1979, Juno organizers enlisted Pierre Trudeau as an award presenter, which made him the first sitting prime minister to appear on stage during the show (Brian Mulroney accepted a special Juno on behalf of Canadians for their support of the Tears Are Not Enough famine relief effort). Trudeau liked the experience so much he came back the next year to induct Joni Mitchell into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and could also be seen at the 1981 ceremony — as guitarist Liona Boyd’s date.
Rough Trade’s racy performance (1982)
Rough Trade’s High School Confidential — a song about lesbian lust — had already caused a ruckus on commercial radio when the Toronto group, led by singer Carole Pope, was scheduled to perform it at the Junos. While organizers asked Pope to change the offending line, she sang it anyway: "She makes me cream my jeans / When she's coming my way." The moment was so subversive, it apparently inspired kd lang to come out of the closet.
kd lang makes a splash (1985)
In the mid-'80s, Edmonton native kd lang was still something of a regional star. But the country singer left an indelible impression on Canadians when she accepted the Juno for Most Promising Female Vocalist in a white satin wedding dress — and cowboy boots.
Rascalz call Junos racist (1998)
Back in the '90s, the awards for the rap, dance and reggae categories were handed out at a non-televised event days before the live show. In 1998, Toronto-based hip-hop group the Rascalz won the award for best rap recording, but defiantly declined it, accusing the Junos of racism for excluding the category from the broadcast portion of the awards. The next year, Juno organizers included the rap category in the show.
Alanis in the buff – sort of (2004)
You oughta know by now that Alanis is a provocateur. As host in 2004, Morissette tempted the censors by appearing nude — not actually nude, but dressed in an anatomically correct body suit. It was her comment on U.S. censorship in light of Janet Jackson’s "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl earlier in the year, and as Morissette told the somewhat befuddled audience, "I am proud to be able to stand here and do this."
Pamela Anderson gets political (2006)
If having former Baywatch star and international pin-up Pamela Anderson host the show wasn’t controversial enough, the B.C. native used the pulpit to sound off on one of her pet causes: the seal hunt. (Sample joke: "One of my favourite artists couldn't be here tonight — Seal. He was afraid he might get clubbed to death.")
k-os lives up to his name (2007)
While singing his hit Sunday Morning at the 2007 show, k-os suddenly stopped, claiming, "This is not me. This show is propaganda," and smashed his guitar. When asked about it later, the Toronto rapper said he had been in the midst of "an existential crisis."
Classified gets patriotic (2010)
In what may be the most electrifying Junos opening ever, Nova Scotia rapper Classified introduced the 2010 show in St. John's with a street-level performance of Oh… Canada. With a jubilant crowd behind him, Classified spat out patriotic aphorisms like "I could do this all day, it’s a part of my routine / But supper’s almost ready, and tonight: Poutine!"