Juno nominees 2023: snubs and surprises

From Arcade Fire's unexpected inclusion to celebrating first-timers, here's our take on this year's nominees.

From Arcade Fire's unexpected inclusion to celebrating first-timers, here's our take on this year's nominees

From left to right, photos of Carly Rae Jepsen, Jessie Reyez and RealestK, are layed over a deep purple background.
The 2023 Juno nominations are here, and we have many thoughts about the list. (Roger Kisby/Getty Images for YouTube, Cindy Ord/Getty Images, RealestK/Facebook; graphic by CBC Music)

With today's announcement of the 2023 nominees, Juno Awards season has officially begun. After the commercial and critical success of Dawn FM, it's no wonder the Weeknd leads the pack with six nominations: he has hit that magical formula for the Junos, which take into account a combination of record sales and a juried selection process to determine nominees in the biggest categories.

While it's never a surprise to see heavyweights like the Weeknd, Avril Lavigne and Shawn Mendes on the list, it is thrilling how many artists are up for their very first Juno nominations this year, including Luna Li, Devon Cole, Rêve, RealestK and Aysanabee — all of whom were featured artists on our list of top 100 songs of 2022.

As we prepare to celebrate another banner year in Canadian music at the awards show on Monday, March 13, CBC Music producers combed through the list of nominees to find the exciting standouts, the glaring omissions and the puzzling surprises (it's not awards season without a few upsets, after all).

Go down the rabbit hole with us to discover the musicians who just aren't receiving their due, the newcomers who are steadily cementing themselves as the next big things and the nominations that left us scratching our heads. 

For full coverage of the 2023 Juno Awards, head to CBCMusic.ca/junos.

Burgeoning artists get their due

First-time Juno nominees this year include a few up-and-comers who made our list of breakout artists in 2022: RealestK, Devon Cole and Aysanabee. RealestK and Cole are up for breakthrough artist, which has been won in the past by superstars including the Weeknd and Avril Lavigne, while Aysanabee is up for contemporary Indigenous artist or group of the year. 

RealestK released his hypnotic debut album, Dreams 2 Reality, in 2022, while Cole had a big year with her addictive pop song "W.I.T.C.H." Cole and RealestK have seen major success on TikTok, where their videos have gone viral and racked up millions of likes, and on Spotify, where they each have millions of listeners. For Aysanabee, last year was also huge: he released his debut album, Watin, named after his grandfather, and it was a stunning and layered look at his Oji-Cree roots — the album also landed high our list of the year's best of 2022, and its powerful lead single, "Nomads" was named one of our top 100 songs.

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Another Juno newbie who scored her first nomination this year is Luna Li, whose debut album, Duality, is nominated for alternative album of the year. Duality ended up on the 2022 Polaris Music Prize long list and was also named one of CBC Music's best Canadian albums of last year. To see Li also nab a Juno nomination for it feels deserved, considering the recognition the album has received in the industry. (The millions of listens on Spotify aren't too shabby, either.)

Arcade Fire earns nomination despite accusations of sexual misconduct against Win Butler 

One of the more unexpected nominations this year is the inclusion of Montreal indie-rock band Arcade Fire, which is up for group of the year. The band has won 11 Junos over the past 17 years, and performed at the Juno Awards gala multiple times including at last year's ceremony in Toronto, but in August 2022 the band's frontman, Win Butler, came under fire when a number of people accused him of sexual misconduct, as originally reported by Pitchfork.

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When reached for comment, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences sent CBC Music this statement: "We look at Arcade Fire's nomination for group of the year as one for the entire band. While we take the allegations very seriously, in this situation, we are also honouring the rest of the band for their success. we hope the allegations against Butler will not detract from the achievements of the other group members."

To be considered for a Juno this year, someone would have had to first submit the band, likely its record label. From there, the Juno Awards website states that the nominees were determined by "50 per cent consumption, 25 per cent academy delegate vote, 12.5 per cent social data and 12.5 per cent radio audience." Academy delegates will then decide a winner for group of the year by a final round of votes.

Women shut out of major categories 

Whether an issue of there not being enough submissions, a lack of concerted effort to seek out and consider varied artists or something else, it's disappointing to see entire categories void of any women nominees at this year's awards. 

The rock album category seemed to be heading in the right direction in previous years, with the Beaches winning in 2022 and JJ Wilde winning in 2021, but Wilde was still the first woman to win that award in 25 years and one of only a handful to be nominated since Alanis Morissette won for Jagged Little Pill in 1996. We're back to an all-boys club with this year's lineup: Alexisonfire, Billy Talent, the Sheepdogs, Nickelback and Three Days Grace.

Another genre where recent strides seem to be slipping backward is rap. In 2022 both rap awards (single of the year and album/EP of the year) were won by women, Charmaine and Haviah Mighty, respectively. This year, there are no women nominated. Before 2022, the last time a woman had been nominated for rap recording of the year was Tasha the Amazon in 2017. Even in the underground dance music category, there is an overwhelming overrepresentation of men — especially considering that the underground space is where women and non-binary producers tend to thrive, as we outlined in our roundup of eight artists shaping the future of Canadian electronic music. 

Behind the scenes, in production and engineering, it's much the same. It was a triumph in 2022 when Hill Kourkoutis became the first woman nominated for a recording engineer Juno, but this year we're back to all-men nominees. As Kourkoutis told CBC Music last year, it's not because of a lack of talent. It speaks to a larger issue, that women get shut out of these award categories because they're also shut out of the profession, and that there's little opportunity to get recognized when you're not always welcomed in the first place. 

"[For] women and non-binary folks entering the profession, it's something people want to do, but they're just really daunted by where to start," she said. 

In a lesser slight: artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Jessie Reyez and Tegan and Sara (who released some of our favourite music of 2022) have surprisingly few noms. Tegan and Sara's only nomination is for the cover art for their 2022 album, Crybaby. Both Jepsen and Reyez received noms for their actual songwriting and music-making ability — pop album of the year and contemporary R&B recording of the year, respectively — but considering they charted in our top 20 for best songs of 2022, and made our list of best albums, we were expecting them to get a bit more love throughout. 

Drake snubs the Junos (again)

Although Drake, one of Canada's most recognizable and influential music artists, released two albums that would be eligible for nomination for the 2023 Junos, his name is nowhere to be seen on the list. That's because the Toronto rapper stopped submitting his albums for consideration in 2018. Drake's 2022 albums, Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss, both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and singles "Jimmy Cooks" and "Rich Flex" both reached the No. 1 spot on the Canadian Hot 100, so they'd easily be in contention. But Drake hasn't historically had the best luck at the Junos: he's been nominated 33 times in the past and won seven awards — and when he hosted the awards show in 2011, he won none of the six categories for which he was nominated.

Polaris shortlisters and year-end favourites shine

This year, four out of the 10 artists shortlisted for the 2022 Polaris Music Prize also earned a nomination at the Junos: Pierre Kwenders, Lisa LeBlanc, Hubert Lenoir and Ombiigizi. LeBlanc's danceable Chiac Disco and Lenoir's Pictura de ipse: Musique directe are both up for francophone album of the year, while Ombiigizi's Sewn Back Together is nominated in the alternative album category. 

Kwenders, who won the Polaris last year for his colourful album José Louis and the Paradox of Love, is nominated for global music album of the year. The genre-fusing record landed at the third spot on our list of the best albums of 2022, alongside previously mentioned shortlisters Ombiigizi and LeBlanc. But it doesn't stop there: the Weeknd, Aysanabee, Tanya Tagaq, Reyez, Avril Lavigne, Luna Li, Dylan Sinclair, the Bros. Landreth and Alvvays all picked up Juno noms this week, and were counted as our best albums of the year — and it's really nice to see them get more shine.

East Coast artists break through

At first glance, it's not overly surprising that Lisa LeBlanc's Chiac Disco is nominated for best francophone album this year: as previously mentioned, the Acadian singer's fifth record was shortlisted for the 2022 Polaris Music Prize, and we obviously loved it. But what is surprising is that LeBlanc is the first East Coast artist nominated in the francophone category in 10 years — since the last time she was nominated, for her self-titled debut album. Despite a flourishing francophone music scene in Atlantic Canada, there have only been seven East Coast artist nominations over the francophone category's 31 years, and two of those artists have won: Roch Voisine (1995) and Wilfred Le Bouthillier (2004). Nova Scotia's Radio Radio and New Brunswick's Natasha St-Pier make up the rest of the total East Coast nominees, with Voisine and LeBlanc counting for two nominations each.

Atlantic Canadian artists did fare better overall in Juno nominations this year, though: they've racked up more than 10 nominations across categories, including nods for the East Pointers, Fortunate Ones, Alvvays, Maestro Fresh Wes and more. One notable missing name, though, is Halifax's Aquakultre, whose summer 2022 album Don't Trip was on multiple best-of lists last year, including ours. 

Where is Yannick Nézet-Séguin?

At the 2023 Grammy Awards, conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the top-nominated Canadian musician, with five nods in four categories. But he's conspicuously absent from this year's Juno nominations. His set of all nine Beethoven symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe seemed like a shoo-in for the large ensemble category. In fact, Nézet-Séguin has never won a Juno Award, despite receiving 13 nominations since 2004. It's a head-scratcher.

Apart from that mystery, the four classical categories are fleshed out with strong contenders — familiar names (James Ehnes, ARC Ensemble, Karina Gauvin, Vincent Ho), but also some deserving first-timers: Bruce Liu, Philip Chiu, and Nicolas Ellis's Orchestre de l'Agora being foremost among them.

Simu Liu is back to host the 2023 Juno Awards on Monday, March 13, at 8 p.m ET. Tune in on CBC, CBC Gem, CBC Radio One, CBC Music and CBC Listen, and stream globally on cbcmusic.ca/junos.

An image of actor Simu Liu, lying on the ground, holding a Juno Award, with the words "Join host Simu Liu at the Junos live on March 13."