Juno Awards host Sarah McLachlan on the music industry's 'unspoken rule' she battled to succeed

Her sound might be ethereal on instantly-recognizable tracks like Possession, I Will Remember You and Building A Mystery, but Sarah McLachlan's voice is booming when it comes to feminism and equality.

'Thank God for women finally being able to stand up for themselves,' singer-songwriter says

Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan says despite improvements for women's rights, it's no time to be complacent. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Her sound might be ethereal on instantly-recognizable tracks like Angel, I Will Remember You and Building A Mystery, but Sarah McLachlan's voice is booming when it comes to feminism and equality.

The multiple Grammy and Juno Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter — who will host this year's Juno Awards on March 17 — said "we cannot be complacent" when it comes to women's rights and shifting societal attitudes.

She said she learned early in her career that she'd have to battle an "old-school male attitude" if she wanted to achieve success.

McLachlan, a 12-time Juno Award winner, will host this year's awards show on March 17. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"You couldn't put two women back-to-back on the radio," she told The National's Andrew Chang during a sit-down interview in Toronto. "You certainly couldn't have two women on the same bill if you were touring. It wasn't even an unspoken rule. It was just kind of there."

The double standard led her to co-create what would become a game-changer when it came to female musicians and the top-grossing touring festival of 1997: Lilith Fair.

The travelling musical showcase featured a slate of all-women artists including Sheryl Crow, Jewel and Tracy Chapman. In its first three years, it raised more than $10 million US for charity and drew sell-out crowds. It was resurrected in the summer of 2010.

From left to right: Martie Maguire, Sara Bareilles, Emily Robison, Sarah McLachlan, Serena Ryder and Jill Hennessy attend Lilith Fair July 28, 2010, in Camden, N.J. (Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)

Even as the face of the Junos, McLachlan said it was "surprising" and "sad" when she heard women make up about a third of this year's nominees. At at a news conference in January, she said she "thought it would be a little more equal."

She told The National when it comes to gender parity across all industries, it can take "centuries to change, to truly change a societal mindset."

"What we've grown up with, and what our history in the deepest sense of our bones tells us, is that men are in charge. They've always been. So we get to fight against that. Now we have the power to fight against it. Thank God for #MeToo and thank God for women finally being able to stand up for themselves and start to feel that power that they intrinsically have."

Watch as Junos host Sarah McLachlan addresses the gender gap in award nominations:

Sarah Mclachlan addresses the gender gap in Junos nominations 0:27

At 51, the Halifax-born musician said she's also learning to harness that power. McLachlan said a few years ago, she probably wouldn't have agreed to take on the daunting task of hosting the Canadian music awards show — she said she isn't the biggest fan of public speaking. But these days, she feels more up for the challenge and will also perform on stage.

The Possession singer joked that the emotional music for which she's so well-known might lead some people to believe she's "living in the dark with candles, writing poetry and reading Sylvia Plath all the time," so hosting the Junos will showcase a side of her personality the public doesn't often get to see.

"​I know that people take me — or assume that I take myself — seriously," McLachlan said. "I'm actually really light-hearted, and I love to laugh. I love to poke fun at myself. So I think this is going to be a good opportunity to show Canadians who I am in a different light."

• Watch The National's interview with Sarah McLachlan tonight on CBC Television and streamed online

With files from CBC's Andrew Chang


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