On Tuesday (Sept. 19) night in Toronto, Debby Friday gained the 2023 Polaris Music Prize for her debut album, Good Luck.
Accepting the award for greatest Canadian album of the yr and an accompanying $50,000 prize, the Toronto-based industrial digital artist was as pleasantly shocked as anybody within the viewers at Toronto’s Massey Corridor.
“I’m in shock!” she mentioned by way of each laughter and tears. “This is something I didn’t even realize was a possibility. I was born in Nigeria in a small village. Now I’m here today, and it just feels like a miracle.”
Now in its 18th yr, the award continues to evolve and shock. Chosen by a panel of music journalists and professionals, it’s the closest factor the nation has to a pure critics’ prize – an award that disregards components like report label, style and chart place to focus solely on the all the time slippery idea of “artistic merit.” That makes it more durable to foretell than every other award within the nation, but it surely makes it an excellent barometer for the vital dialog in Canadian music.
As soon as criticized for awarding solely indie rock artists, the Polaris Prize is now a testomony to the genre-less range of expression throughout the nation’s borders. Debby Friday’s music is uncategorizable – a mixture of pulsing beats, adventurous manufacturing and brash, swaggering vocals equally influenced by hip-hop and punk.
On a purely sonic stage, it’s distinct from earlier winners similar to Afrobeats artist Pierre Kwenders, rappers Cadence Weapon and Backxwash and producer Kaytranada, but it surely suits throughout the current pattern to reward artists who push on the limits of style and create new sounds out of deeply private influences. If Canadian music is outlined by something, it’s simple cultural fluency, a capability to combine completely different sounds and multicultural traditions virtually by second nature.
Regardless of her assured and aggressive supply, Debby Friday’s reside efficiency of “So Hard to Tell” as a substitute stood out with dreamy melodicism. Over digital manufacturing, reside guitar and a mini-string part of viola and cello, her vocals sounded craving and emotional. It stood out as a memorable efficiency in an evening full of many.
With prolonged changeovers between performances that appeared to cater extra to the CBC Music cameras than the in-person viewers, final yr’s gala on the Carlu in Toronto dragged on over a tiring 4 hours. This yr, they swung onerous within the different course. Seven out of 10 of the shortlisted artists performed reside on the well-known stage of Massey Corridor (Daniel Caesar, Feist and Alvvays have been on tour and unable to be there), and it typically felt extra like a live performance than an awards present. It moved briskly over two hours and stored the give attention to the music – no livestream, no prolonged gaps and, notably, no host in any respect.
In a approach, that method stayed true to the Polaris ethos, protecting the main target solely on the music. But when the intention is to place the highlight on Canadian music individuals won’t know, it lacked some essential context. There’s a potent story behind The Sadies’ shortlisted album Colder Streams, but it surely wasn’t instructed instantly. It was the long-running psychedelic nation band’s last album with founding guitarist Dallas Good, who tragically handed away throughout its recording. The Sadies aren’t any stranger to Massey Corridor’s stage, collaborating over time with legendary performers like Neil Younger and Gord Downie, so seeing them play as a trio – Dallas’s brother Travis Good taking heart stage – felt jarring but poignant. The late Dallas wasn’t talked about by identify, however a picture of him onscreen spoke a thousand phrases.
Indigenous songwriter Aysanabee, in the meantime, performed a recording of his grandfather speaking about his harrowing expertise at residential faculty. (From the time of the primary settlements till shockingly current, Indigenous kids have been typically taken from their households and forcefully assimilated, which is now acknowledged by Canada as a type of cultural genocide). It added shades of emotion to an already highly effective efficiency, aided by his intense, soulful vocals.
Indie-folk singer-songwriter Dan Mangan additionally injected some heaviness, singing songs “for anyone feeling the weight” and taking part in to the venue’s well-known acoustics by gathering his two bandmates to sing three-part harmonies into one mic.
With no host, it was as much as the artists to do the heavy lifting. Or, within the case of the evening’s greatest efficiency, deconstruct the entire awards present context. Hip-hop duo Snotty Nostril Rez Youngsters, who hail from the Haida nation, constructed an entire discuss present set, with a bunch named “too tall Paul” who mispronounced their identify and interrupted their banter. Then, the current Sony Music Canada signees received up on stage and introduced the home down with the bouncing “Damn Right” from their EP I’m Good, HBU? Their infectious power and bratty punchlines (possibly the one tune performed at Massey Corridor with the phrase “dingleberry”) gained over a notably low-energy trade crowd and earned the largest ovation of the evening.
That raised spirits for the announcement of the winner. When final yr’s winner Pierre Kwenders revealed Debby Friday’s vinyl report from a Polaris Prize briefcase, the home got here down. She thanked anybody who had been along with her since her early EP BITCHPUNK and spoke to the facility of being completely different. “I’ve always been a bit strange,” she mentioned. “In retrospect, I see that’s a superpower.”
At a time when the nation’s music critics are going through a disaster of disappearing retailers for arts protection, the Polaris Prize additionally feels prefer it’s looking for an id below government director Amber Moyle, who took over final yr. The very best route is to comply with Debby Friday’s recommendation: preserve it bizarre.