Meet the directors behind this year's Junos nominees for Music Video of the Year

The Canadian filmmakers on the list include Floria Sigismondi ("Unholy" by Sam Smith and Kim Petras), Karena Evans ("Have Mercy" by Chlöe), and Emma Higgins ("Fraud" by Jessie Reyez).

These Canadian filmmakers created visual worlds for Sam Smith and Kim Petras, Jessie Reyez, and Chlöe

Still image from the music video for Unholy by Sam Smith and Kim Petras. Kim hangs from a heart-shaped suspension against a mood purple backdrop.
Kim Petras in the Floria Sigismondi-directed video for "Unholy" by Petras and Sam Smith. (YouTube)

The Junos have been recognizing the best in Canadian music videos since 1984, when the inaugural Music Video of the Year award (then called Best Video) went to Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night," directed by Rob Quartly.

"I was feeling uptight about doing my first video cause I'd never done one before," Hart said during his acceptance speech, highlighting the relative novelty of the format at the time. Quartly, for his part, would be nominated almost a dozen times in the first few years of the award alone — in 1984, he'd won over Robert Fresco, himself, himself, and himself — and while there's lots to love about that initial crop of nominees, there were clearly only a handful of Canadian music video directors available to fill such a category in the mid-1980s.

Nearly four decades later, Video of the Year still goes to both artist and director, where videos are eligible so long as the latter is Canadian. These days, however, the award — now presented by YouTube — has much more to offer, especially in an era when it's not uncommon to see Canadian talent behind some of the industry's most talked-about videos. (Last time around, for instance, the Juno went to the Xavier Dolan-directed video for Adele's "Easy on Me."

The 2023 Junos' mix of first-time and returning directors are mostly women, with an interesting theme in their projects of standing up to — sometimes more like getting even with — bullies, particularly men who've misbehaved somehow. Ahead of the awards, which you can watch on March 13 on CBC and CBC Gem, here's a closer look at this year's Video of the Year nominees.

Emma Higgins, "Fraud" by Jessie Reyez (co-directed by Jessie Reyez)

Nominated for Music Video of the Year for the third time is Emma Higgins, who co-helmed last year's "Fraud" with the song's performer, Jessie Reyez. (In 2020, the two collaborated on the Juno-winning "No One's in the Room," making Reyez the first Latin Canadian artist to receive the award.) Raised in Vancouver, Higgins has described herself as "dedicated to the humanity in every story she approaches, with a particular love of the misfit or outcast."

Aside from Reyez, that ethos has also carried over to videos for acts like Mother Mother and Tegan and Sara. Costuming and art direction especially tend to play up sameness and/or variety in Higgins' work — think an unexpected pop of colour from a forbidden tube of lipstick at a Catholic school, or a skyline that stays put even as seasons change and characters come and go.

In "Fraud," a song where Reyez goes scorched-earth on an ex, her character is primped by a number of ladies-in-waiting before having an audience with an unidentified, ominous male figure who's been holding them all captive. She leverages the meeting into an escape opportunity for the whole group: the women commandeer the space, painting the walls red and replacing their former captor's dull, monochromatic décor with brighter, more feminine florals. 

The video took on added (if mostly accidental) significance in its June 24, 2022 release — the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade. "It really does feel like the right day for this," Higgins wrote on Instagram. "Women taking over. Watch out Frauds."

Also worth a watch: Mother Mother's 2016 video for "The Drugs," another marvel of art direction that earned Higgins her first nomination in the category. 

Floria Sigismondi, "Unholy" by Sam Smith and Kim Petras

For the visual counterpart to their history-making viral hit, "Unholy," Sam Smith and Kim Petras enlisted eight-time nominee Floria Sigismondi, whose work fuses her background in fashion photography with her interest in all things theatrical and even macabre.

Best known for her short-form collaborations with artists like David Bowie, Christina Aguilera, and Katy Perry, the renowned director — who was born in Italy and reared in Hamilton, Ontario — is also responsible for a couple feature films: 2010's rock biopic The Runaways, about the rise and fall of the titular band, and the 2020 gothic-horror movie The Turning. As musician Lawrence Rothman, Sigismondi's spouse as well as her most frequent video collaborator, has summed up: "A Floria set is one that always feels like a supernatural dream state." 

The concept for "Unholy," she told VEVO Footnotes, was "a show within a show within a show." Taking inspiration from musical films like Cabaret, Moulin Rouge!, and — Smith's favourite — Chicago, Sigismondi devised a scenario that hews closely to the lyrics of the song: a suspicious wife tracks her husband down to a glamorous club of questionable repute called the Body Shop. Smith and Petras are the club's two main cabaret acts, supported by a number of fellow queer and trans performers. But, without spoiling too much, the video reveals there to be layers to the deception at work here, since the director has said that she "wanted to empower the wife and not have her be a victim of a philandering husband."

Also worth a watch: Christina Aguilera's metamorphosis-inspired "Fighter" from 2003, which garnered Sigismondi her first and so far only win of the Juno (in a year where she competed against herself).

Karena Evans, "Have Mercy" by Chlöe

Karena Evans, one of this year's first-time nominees, is a Toronto-born director who initially rose to prominence helming four massively successful Drake videos in 2018: "God's Plan," "Nice for What," "I'm Upset," and "In My Feelings." (At the time of writing, they have roughly 2.3 billion YouTube views combined.) All bear her trademarks of handheld camerawork, dreamy slo-mo, and reverential portraiture; she's often used old-school filmmaking tricks — a stocking over the lens, for example — to ensure that her subjects glow in just the right way.

The same year, Evans became the first woman to receive the Prism Prize's Lipsett Award for her music video work. More recently, she's been making a name for herself in the television world, most notably directing episodes of the strip-club drama P-Valley and HBO Max's Gossip Girl reboot. She's also an actor, where her credits include several episodes of the series Mary Kills People and a starring role in Firecrackers, a 2018 honouree of TIFF's annual Canada's Top Ten list.

Evans' video for "Have Mercy," the solo debut from Chlöe (of sister duo Chloe x Halle fame), sees the fledgling star play the Medusa of a sorority house, disappearing frat brothers on campus via seducing and turning them to stone. (Tina Knowles-Lawson, mother of superstars Beyoncé and Solange, also makes a brief cameo.) Despite its darker undertones, the video is ultimately a bold assertion of her sexuality — fraught territory for Black women in the music industry, to say nothing of the added complication that is Chlöe's former child stardom.

"Karena gets it because she's a woman, she's a Black woman, and there's some things that I didn't even have to really explain because she knows it by living life," Chlöe told MTV News. "I felt sexy doing [the video], but it's also very empowering."

Also worth a watch: Evans' Adam and Eve-inspired 2018 video for SZA's "Garden (Say It Like Dat)" — co-starring Donald Glover and SZA's mother, Audrey Rowe — which will have you itching for summer.

​​Mayumi Yoshida, "Different Than Before" by Amanda Sum

Also nominated for her first Juno this year is Mayumi Yoshida, whose directing credits mostly consist of genre-spanning and award-winning shorts. (Last year, she received funding to turn one of them, 2017's Akashi, into a feature.) Born in Japan, she's also an accomplished dialect coach, cultural consultant, and actor — best known for playing Crown Princess Michiko on Prime Video's The Man in the High Castle, and for her voice work on animated Netflix series like Hello Ninja and StarBeam. Her films are playful, but in a way that's driven more by character and dialogue than visual overwhelm; the locations, light, and people in her stories always feel real.

That makes any stylistic departures especially striking. In "Different Than Before," a collaboration with fellow Vancouverite Amanda Sum, a table of racist hecklers do their best to disturb a family's engagement celebrations at a Chinese restaurant. Through a karaoke performance-turned-dream sequence of Sum's song, the family's quiet patriarch, Baba, gains the confidence and incentive to confront the group.

Sum has said that she wrote "Different Than Before" in 2020 amid a string of anti-Asian hate crimes, and Yoshida's concept for the video apparently evolved as the team began sharing more of their feelings and vulnerability with each other. "I really believe that storytelling is a living, breathing thing," the director said, "so it changes, and the more people you get involved, the more they can actually give so much more life to what you're creating."

Also worth a watch: 2020's "Groupthink," Yoshida's previous (and comparatively balmy) collaboration with Sum, which brilliantly makes use of existing locations around Vancouver.

Sterling Larose, "Remember Me for Me" by SonReal and Lily Moore

Sterling Larose, another first-time nominee in the category and yet another Vancouverite, is the director and photographer behind SonReal's "Remember Me for Me" featuring Lily Moore. A post-production wunderkind and frequent media-mixer — check the credits of any of his projects and you'll see him listed under some mix of direction, editing, animation, and visual effects — Larose's work is big on colour as well as visual splendour more generally. It can also be very funny, particularly his videos for groups like Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Said the Whale, with whom he's brought several ambitious narrative concepts to life (sometimes making cameos himself).

SonReal and Moore's "Remember Me for Me" might sound at first like a love song, but, as the former has said, "it will mean something different to each person that experiences it." (In a short note included in the YouTube description, he suggests that it's inspired by his relationship to music-making, which he's been doing for more than half his life.)

Larose's video smartly funnels that room for interpretation through the Surrealist movement, making stunning references to works by Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, and more. In one of its most striking shots, he presents SonReal and Moore side by side with cartoonishly long legs, as in Dalí's 1948 painting The Elephants.

Also worth a watch: Larose's 2022 video for Snotty Nose Rez Kids' "Damn Right," hilariously taking the lyric "We Native Beatles, bro" to its logical endpoint.


Sydney Urbanek is a Toronto-based culture writer and editor. She has an MA in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto, which she primarily uses to go long on pop stars, MTV, and the visual album in the newsletter Mononym Mythology. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @sydurbanek.

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