In an odd twist of transparency, a NOW Magazine music writer explained to me last week what the process was for selecting the winner of the annual Polaris Prize. An locked, invite only, online forum is set up where journalists, DJ’s, editors, and media personalities alike explain to each other why one album was better than the other one, then votes are cast.
It definitely opens the floor for discussion and it certainly exposes biases. Imagine getting some sort of kickback in exchange for your vote (something rampant in the Academy Award and Emmy Award voting process) but then trying to convince your peers that your ‘opinion’ is the best possible option – the pocket you’re in would be exposed very quickly.
For better or worse, the Polaris Prize isn’t big enough to warrant the kind of corruption that’s prevalent in other award ceremonies, but it still smacks of either childish music critic games or blatant mainstream media bias. How else does Drake and Arcade Fire make the short list (and in some cases even win) every year they release an album?
Then there’s 2014 – and with complete full disclosure, I lost a bet on this one – but I was ecstatic to learn that our feature artist for this month, Tanya Tagaq, had won the Polaris Prize for best Canadian Album of 2014. I was incredibly happy to have lost that bet. Maybe I’m a little jaded about the process and the caliber of past short-lists/winners, but I was certain that she had no chance. Honestly, put yourself in my shoes, a Nunvut throat singer who had very little radio play outside of the late-night CBC radio show The Signal with Laurie Brown, is supposed to overcome social and mainstream media darlings like Mac Demarco, Owen Pallett, Drake, and Arcade Fire? It’ll be a cold day in hell. I would’ve never guessed it possible.
Tagaq’s Animism is the best Canadian album of 2014, that goes without question. Just listen to this Inuk throat singer from Cambridge Bay (Ikaluktuutiak), Nunavut, on the south coast of Victoria Island, it sounds like she’s yelling to the permafrost, it sounds like icy-isolation, I can’t think of a better sound that so perfectly encapsulates exactly what I perceive (of course, from a southern-Ontario perspective) what it is to live in the Arctic.
The isolation that Tagaq grew up in and represents in her music is no longer evident in the media coverage she is receiving. She is now the darling of the Canadian music scene, especially after this mind-blowing performance at the Polaris Prize Gala itself:
Rightly so, the Twitter-verse immediately exploded with a sort of, “where the fuck did that come from?” This girl is crazy talented as well as politically contentious as she blasted not only opponents of the annual seal hunt in the Arctic, but also the animal rights group PETA for their effect on her culture and way of life in the North.
Also, listen to the interview Tanya Tagaq gave to Studio Q fresh off her win here.