Junos Features

5 first-time Juno nominees that you need to be paying attention to

The future of Canadian music is looking bright thanks to the emergence of these Juno newcomers.

The future of Canadian music is looking bright thanks to the emergence of these Juno newcomers

From left: Sammy Jackson (vocal jazz album of the year), Curtis Waters (Juno Fan Choice Award, breakthrough artist of the year, alternative album of the year) and Savannah Ré (contemporary R&B recording of the year, traditional R&B/soul recording of the year) are all first-time nominees at the 2021 Juno Awards. (Vanessa Paxton, Curtis Waters/Facebook, Savannah Ré/Facebook; graphic by CBC Music)

Every year, the biggest names in music often dominate with the most award nominations. In the case of this year's Juno Awards, superstar the Weeknd leads with six nominations. But under that lies a group of exciting newcomers waiting to be discovered, artists who blew up this year with a hit song or album, or acts who may have been around for a while but are only gaining recognition now.

To help you get to know some of this year's first-time nominees better, CBC Music is highlighting five artists that we think you should check out now before they become the next big Canadian export.

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Curtis Waters 

Nepali-Canadian artist Curtis Waters leads this year's pack of young nominees who have found success on star-making platform TikTok. (Others include Tate McRae and Powfu.) Waters, who was born in Nepal and relocated to Calgary at the age of 10, broke out last year when his song "Stunnin'" became a viral hit, stretching beyond TikTok and into streaming playlists and radio airwaves. That single, a swaggering pop-rap anthem that Rolling Stone described as "Will Smith's 'Miami' remade for the TikTok generation," has since gone gold in the U.S. and double platinum in Canada.

While his subsequent singles haven't reached the same heights as "Stunnin'," Waters has proven that he has the songs and business savvy to build a long career ahead. His 2020 debut album, Pity Party, is an eclectic mix of genre-bending sounds, from the pop-rock guitars on "Freckles" to light funk of "Doodoodoo." He even recently teamed up with fellow TikToker ElyOtto on the hyperpop remix of his hit "SugarCrash!" At just 21 years of age, we can't wait to see what Waters does next. 

Sammy Jackson 

Even though Sammy Jackson is up for vocal jazz album of the year for her sophomore EP, With You, the St. Catharines, Ont., artist's music is more of a combination of sounds and influences that fuse jazz with R&B and pop. Borrowing subtle vocal techniques from Beyoncé and Mariah Carey, Jackson eschews dramatic flairs for quieter moments of beauty and vulnerability. On "Past Tense," she opens up about romantic insecurities, and the fluttering title track leaves the EP on an open-ended happily ever after, where Jackson admits, "Maybe we'll get lost/ but what we might find/ will be more than what we came for." 

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Terry Uyarak 

The Indigenous renaissance continues with the gorgeous acoustic stylings of Igloolik, Nunavut, songwriter Terry Uyarak. Last fall, Uyarak released his debut album, Nunarjua Insulinginniani (produced by the Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek), which translates to "before the world ends." It can be read as a reference to many things such as its release in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. But it also refers to Uyarak's own journey as a self-taught musician of over a decade and the feat of releasing an album in general, something that is not guaranteed to all artists, especially in Nunavut where there's a robust scene of musicians coming up but an infrastructure that is still growing and developing. Earlier this year, Uyarak told CBC Music, of the album title: "If I could do it, before the world ends, anyone can do it." 

Savannah Ré

This is the first year the Juno Awards split up their R&B category into two: traditional and contemporary. Savannah Ré not only scored her first nominations this year, but she also made history by landing nominations in both those categories. "Solid," a guitar-led track where Ré pleads to a love one, "I don't need no frills/ just need your heart," is up for traditional R&B recording of the year, while the Boi-1da and Allen Ritter-produced "Where You Are" finds her nominated alongside the Weeknd, Jessie Reyez — the latter for whom she opened on tour — in contemporary R&B recording of the year. Signed to Boi-1da's 1Music label and having written with artists like Babyface, Normani and Wondagurl, Ré has quickly built a powerful network of collaborators in a short amount of time. At this rate, chances are she'll continue to dominate all corners of the R&B sphere in the years to come. 

Manila Grey 

While Toronto remains the hip-hop capital of Canada, other regions have emerged with their own burgeoning scenes in the past few years. (To learn more about these scenes, you can check out CBC Music's Beyond the 6 feature series.) Out in Vancouver, Filipino-Canadian duo Manila Grey (made up of members Neeko and Soliven) are fusing their Southeast Asian culture with infectious R&B and hip hop-inspired hazy dreamscapes. They are up for breakthrough group of the year at the Junos, but they've been gradually building up a strong following and community of artists and collaborators in B.C. since they formed in 2016. In the interim years, they've even played sold-out concerts across Canada as well as in Asia.

In March, they released their second full-length, No Saints on Knight Street. In an interview with Complex, Soliven explained the reason behind the album title: "We're going for that Knight Rider sound. That's very Vancouver to us. We're always on Knight Street since that's the connector from Richmond. We realized driving down that street at high speeds is a whole vibe. Like this should be the sound of Vancouver." 


Tune in to the 50th annual Juno Awards live on June 6 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio One, CBC Music, CBC Listen, globally on cbcmusic.ca/junos and live streamed on CBC Music's TikTokFacebookYouTube and Twitter pages. 

(CBC Music)