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Shad's postscript: Why the Polaris Music Prize matters

Shad reflects on the cultural importance of the merit-driven Polaris prize, which turns 10 this year.
Shad's postscript offers a regular glimpse into the mind and musings of our host. (Ben Shannon/CBC)
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Shad's postscript offers a regular glimpse into the mind and musings of our host. Each week he shares ideas, opinions and insider information, in his own words. Listen to today's entry above, and find the transcript below.


The Polaris Music Prize just celebrated its 10th anniversary last night, with the honour and $50,000 prize going to Buffy Sainte Marie

Even after just ten years, it's easy to forget what the prize was created in the first place.

In the mid-2000s, a thriving independent music scene in this country just wasn't being recognized. Not by the Junos. Not by the industry at large. 

Then, Owen Pallett — known at the time as Final Fantasy — became the Polaris' first winner. He's since gone on to gain two more nominations, and an Oscar nod for his work on the score for the film Her.

But for all its contributions, the prize has been at the centre of of some controversy over its 10 year history.

Some say it's too white, too focused on rock records. Those critics often point to the fact that no hip hop or R&B artist has ever won. 

In 2013, Godspeed You Black Emperor won the prize and blasted the awards for its corporate partnerships and competitive aspects. 

Another controversy has been whether the prize should exist to boost new artists and underdogs — or whether it's okay to honour world-conquering records like The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, which won in 2011. 

All these controversies, have helped to encourage critical conversations — especially in today's increasingly political climate.

Tanya Tagaq, last year's winner, used her performance and acceptance speech to highlight the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and to speak out in support of the seal hunt, angering some folks over at PETA. 

This year, the big topic of conversation was the name of one of the short-listed bands: Viet Cong. The band is now going to change their name

The music business and culture have shifted a lot over the last ten years. And Polaris has played an important role putting a spotlight on those issues — and highlighting great albums in all genres, considering only excellence, and bringing them to wider attention.

I'm looking forward to more critically acclaimed music and conversations in the years to come.

— Shad

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