How the 2018 artist of the year nominees have shaped Canadian music

The success stories behind the five nominated artists.

The success stories behind the five nominated artists

Each Canadian artist has helped shape the landscape.

One of the longest running Juno categories, the award for artist of the year (presented with Apple Music) is given to the best individual Canadian musician each year.

In the running for the coveted award this year are Lights, Ruth B, Shania Twain, Daniel Caesar and Gord Downie — five artists who, over both long and short periods of time, have made outstanding contributions to Canadian music.

Below are timelines of each nominee's impressive achievements.

Daniel Caesar

In just four years, Daniel Caesar has skyrocketed to a level of success that many dream of. The Toronto (by way of Oshawa, Ont.) R&B singer has been credited as one of the artists who have helped usher in a softer side of the genre in the age of 808s. Ever since releasing his first EP in 2014, Caesar has crafted a sound that is like nothing else in the mainstream: soulful, moving and very much inspired by his gospel roots. (His father was a gospel singer.)

In 2017, Caesar made his triumphant debut with his first full-length album, Freudian. Not only has that album garnered lots of positive reviews, but it has also won over some high-profile fans including Liam Gallagher, Stevie Wonder and even Barack Obama.

Quote: "I feel like once I start believing that, that will mess me up. I smile, nod and just try to write." — Caesar on CBC's q, discussing hype and fame.


2014: Released debut EP, Praise Break, which was named as one of Rolling Stone's 20 best R&B albums of 2014.

June 2016: Caesar's second EP, Pilgrim's Paradise, was long listed for the Polaris Music Prize.  

October 2016: Zane Lowe premiered Caesar's new single, "Get You," featuring Kali Uchis, on his Beats 1 radio show on Apple Music. The song went on to get over 10 million online streams, making it a certified gold record.

2017: Released debut album, Freudian, which was named CBC Music's number 1 Canadian album of the year. He also became the first Canadian to be selected for Apple Music's global Up Next program.

2018: Got nominated for two Grammy Awards: best R&B performance for "Get You," and best R&B album.

Gord Downie

Gord Downie, the iconic frontman of Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip, passed away in 2017 after a nearly two-year-long battle with brain cancer. In his 30-plus years in the public eye, Downie proved to be so much more than a dazzling lead singer and lyricist; he was an activist, poet laureate, environmentalist and beacon of endless courage.

A Kingston, Ont., native, Gord Downie and his high school friends formed what would become one of the most legendary rock bands of the country's history — one that would go on to release 14 studio albums, two live albums, one EP, and 54 singles. As a solo artist, Downie released six solo albums. Known for his carefree onstage antics and tender, imaginative lyricism, Gord Downie will forever remain an inspiration and a permanent fixture in the hearts of Canadians.

Below are only a few highlights from Gord Downie's long and fruitful artistic journey.

Quote: "I can always see you even far away/ I can even hear and see and sing and dance/ Makes me feel everything/ Hope and love, a chance." — Gord Downie, "Nancy," Introduce Yerself.


1986: Gord Downie and his Tragically Hip bandmates were discovered by then-MCA President Bruce Dickinson playing at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.

2001: Downie released his first solo album, Coke Machine Glow, in 2001, and published his first poetry collection of the same title.

2011-14: Downie collaborated with a number of Canadian artists, including Dallas Green (City and Colour) on "Sleeping Sickness" in 2008, Rich Terfry (Buck 65) on "Whispers of the Waves" in 2011, and And the Conquering Sun, his 2014 collaborative album with The Sadies.

Summer 2016: Following the announcement of Downie's diagnosis, the Tragically Hip released Man Machine Poem, their final album during Downie's lifetime, and announced a farewell tour.

October 2016: Downie released Secret Path, a concept album and graphic novel that tell the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from the Marten Falls First Nation who died after escaping a residential school in 1966.

December 2016: At the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec, Downie was honoured with an eagle feather, a symbol of the creator above, for his activism and support of reconciliation in Canada. Downie was also given a Lakota spirit name, Wicapi Omani, which can be roughly translated as "man who walks among the stars."

June 2017: Downie and his bandmates were appointed members of the Order of Canada.

October 2017: 10 days after his death, Downie's stunning 23-song final album, Introduce Yerself, was released. It included the message, "This is my solo record. Each song is about a person."


Alt-pop star Lights took her creativity to the next level in 2017, releasing Skin & Earth, which is not only her fourth LP, but also a companion six-issue, dystopian comic book series that she wrote and illustrated herself. "I went all-in this time, pushed myself to the limits," she told CBC of this unprecedented burst of inspiration.

No stranger to the Junos, Lights got her fourth nomination for pop album of the year for Skin & Earth (she won in 2015 for Little Machines.) While sweet-sounding, her voice has an appealing, steely edge that engraves songs on your mind's ear, nowhere more indelibly than on 2014's "Running With the Boys." On Skin & Earth, singles such as "Savage" and "Moonshine" add a layer of grit to Lights' lineup of pop anthems ("Skydiving") and trippy, nocturnal tracks ("Morphine").

Quote: "You deliberate and agonize over making great music and great art … but in the big picture, that's a drop in the bucket. You've got to be happy and take the pressure off yourself." — Lights, interviewed on CBC Radio One's q.


2009: Lights won the Juno Award for best new artist and released her first LP, The Listening.

2010: She was busy getting her music out there, touring with Owl City, Rich Aucoin, Jeremy Fisher and Hedley.

2013: She released Siberia, including hits "Toes" and "Everybody Breaks a Glass."

2014: Lights' daughter, Rocket, was born; singles "Running With the Boys" and "Up we Go" propelled Little Machines to a Juno.

2017: She surprised her fans by publishing a comic book series to accompany her fourth LP, Skin & Earth.

Ruth B

Ruth B may be a relatively new name to the Canadian music scene, but she has made some big moves in a small amount of time. The Edmonton native first found fame on the now-defunct social media app, Vine, by posting short video clips of herself singing. Having amassed a huge following, she used that opportunity to expand her musical chops by signing to Columbia Records and releasing her own original music. It's a transition that has proven to be very successful, with her debut single, "Lost Boy," going triple-platinum in Canada.

The singer-songwriter continued to carry that success well into 2017 when she dropped her highly-anticipated debut album, Safe Haven, which she self-produced alongside big named producers, Joel Little (Lorde, Sam Smith) and Mike Elizondo (Ed Sheeran, Regina Spektor). It may be just the beginning for Ruth B, but it's been an incredible start.

Quote: "Once I get an idea, songs take 20 minutes to write. Once I'm in that place, it kind of just happens." — Ruth B to CBC Music.


2014: Posted a six-second video on Vine, which received over 84,000 likes.

2015: Based on the overwhelming response to the aforementioned Vine, B transformed those lyrics into a complete song, her first hit, "Lost Boy."

November 2015: Released her first EP, The Intro, which includes "Lost Boy" and another successful single, "Superficial Love."

April 2017: Won a Juno for breakthrough artist of the year. B was up for three awards last year, including Juno fan choice award and songwriter of the year.

May 2017: Released her debut full-length album, Safe Haven. The album has since gone gold in Canada.

​Shania Twain

Shania Twain barely needs an introduction: the country singer from Timmins, Ont., dominated the music industry in the '90s and early aughts, making pop-country crossover a bona fide genre and becoming the best-selling female artist in country music history. She then promptly retired from performing at the age of 39, so we didn't hear a lot, musically, from the country singer for years (Lyme disease and dysphonia diagnoses played a large part, as did her divorce from producer and co-writer Mutt Lange.)

2017 was the year she came back. Twain released "Life's About to Get Good," her first single in 13 years, in June 2017, and a long-promised album of original material came three months later. Now debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums, Canadian Albums and 200 charts, and is certified platinum in Canada.

Quote: "I think the only way that I do survive is through the optimism. I need to know and I believe change will come.... Maybe you're going to go down first but you'll eventually come back up again. I just believe in that." — Shania Twain to CBC's q. 


1993: Released her debut, self-titled album on April 20 to little success, compared to what the rest of the '90s would hold for her.

1995: Got her first country radio hit, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" It was the lead single from The Woman in Me, Twain's first album co-written with producer and now ex-husband Mutt Lange.

1997: Released her third album, Come on Over, which became the best-selling country album of all time — it hit 20 times platinum by 2017. Eventually, the album would contribute to making Twain the biggest-selling female artist of all time, any genre.

2004: Retired from performing, leaving her fans — and the next Hugh Grant movie — bereft.

2011: Got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2012-14: Came out of performance retirement with a big Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace, announced via video featuring a stampede of horses down the Vegas strip.

2017: Released Now, her first album of new material in 15 years that will kick off a worldwide supporting tour in 2018.

This is paid content produced on behalf of Apple Music.