The Junos head to the Prairies this Sunday, with first-time host Michael Bublé and a slew of homegrown superstars celebrating Canada’s musical achievements
It’s safe to assume that absolutely no one expected to find the host of the 42nd annual Juno Awards huddled beneath the sheets in the bed of Canadian music super-couple Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne. But that’s precisely how CTV chose to introduce Michael Bublé in a much-buzzed-about commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLVII.
You might have assumed this stunt was the brainchild of the CTV promo team, but the truth is it was actually Bublé’s idea — the first one that popped into his head when he got the gig, oddly enough.
“I sat with CTV and the producers,” the Burnaby-born crooner recalls, “and they said, ‘We’re going to announce it during the Super Bowl.’ I said, ‘You know what would be funny? This.’ And I wrote it. I know [Chad Kroeger]’s got a great sense of humour and can kind of laugh at himself like that. We called him, and he laughed his head off; he was into it.”
It’s an encouraging revelation for anyone who might have been skeptical about the Big Band singer’s ability to carry a show like the Junos, which this year is set to broadcast live from the Brandt Centre in Regina. But his comedic chops should come as little surprise to those who’ve attended one of his concerts, where music is only one aspect of the show.
“I’m a singer who does comedy . . . or a comedian who sings,” he puzzles. “It’s a big part of me, it’s a big part of what I do. From every live show I’ve done to Saturday Night Live to doing skits for [Late Night With Jimmy] Fallon or whatever . . . for me, it’s as much fun or more as writing a song.”
Michael Bublé Finally Hosts the Junos
John Brunton, who has produced 18 of the 41 Juno broadcasts, has been after Bublé to host for years. “I’ve been wanting Michael to host the show since he became a star. I probably asked him 10 times. He’s got a great sense of humour. [And] he’s a really proud Canadian; it doesn’t matter where he is in the world, he is an ambassador, not just for our music scene, but for our country at large.”
Despite being a natural choice for the position, Michael Bublé still had some doubts about hosting the Juno Awards (Image: CTV)
Despite the seemingly perfect fit, Bublé has been reluctant to take on hosting duties in the past. In part, this is because he wanted to focus on raising his profile as a musician before taking on other gigs. More than that, though, he was well aware that stepping onstage at any awards show is pretty much a no-win proposition.
“I think that it’s a pretty thankless job, to be honest with you,” he admits. “It didn’t help that not long after I accepted the gig, I watched the Academy Awards. And I was sitting at a table with all these A-list celebrities at the Elton John party. And I thought Seth MacFarlane was great, [but] half the people at the table were talking about how funny he was and the other half were talking about how much they hated it.”
But the opportunity this year was too good to pass up, on numerous levels. For one, Bublé’s profile has seldom been higher, his Christmas album having been the world’s No. 2 bestseller (behind only Adele) in 2012. Moreover, he’s got a new record called To Be Loved set to drop the day after the Junos, where he’ll perform the album’s first single “It’s a Beautiful Day” before a national audience. Most importantly, hosting affords him the chance to give back to an institution that helped launch his career.
“The truth is, for me, this wasn’t something I would have asked for. But the fact is that the Junos have done a lot for me and a lot for Canadian music, and I’m really thrilled to have the opportunity to do it. That’s not just like a line that I’m saying, it’s the truth. I was honoured to take the gig — scared, but honoured.”
The Junos Showcase Canada's Best in Music
Indeed, more than just an amusing variety show, the Junos represent one of the few chances our country has to tip its collective cap to a segment of homegrown pop culture that is truly world-class. And it’s an opportunity that most of Canada seems to relish.
"The ratings for the Junos are so huge by comparison to any other celebration like that, whether it’s the Screen Awards [or] the Governor General Awards and other shows,” exec producer Brunton observes. “Canadians really have come to recognize that our music is as good as anyone in the world; we’re not second-class to anybody. Every few months, we’ve got huge new acts that are breaking out and becoming big stars and cracking Billboard and touring around the world, but they don’t have to live in New York or L.A. to do it anymore. So I think Canadians don’t have an inferiority complex about the Junos . . . now, they tune in and they know that it’s not gonna suck.”
Among the acts that this year’s organizers have recruited to light up the stage of the Brandt Centre are Billy Talent, Hannah Georgas, k.d. lang, Marianas Trench, Serena Ryder and B.C.’s own global chart-topper Carly Rae Jepsen. But the biggest draw (for the home crowd, at least) might just be Saskatoon groove rockers — and one of the biggest breakout acts in recent years — The Sheepdogs, and Brunton will be relying upon them to “blow the roof off the joint.”
“You really want to celebrate the people who have had big hits, who are making noise. You want to deliver those stars that are — like, in Carly Rae’s case, she had the biggest hit in the world last year — you want to represent that,” the seasoned producer explains.
The 2013 Juno Award performers: (From Top Left) Carley Rae Jepsen; Marianas Trench; Serena Ryder; The Sheepdogs (Images: CTV)
“The Junos has also taken pride in being a point of discovery,” he continues, “[showcasing those] people who are on the verge of breaking out . . . I remember years ago when Leslie Feist made her first performance on the show; you could hear the next day at water coolers and social media that ‘This Leslie Feist is really fantastic.’ ”
The Evolution of The Junos
Having first been drawn to work on the Junos by the opportunity to help honour his childhood idols The Band, Brunton has served as the show’s puppet master on and off since 1989, and he’s played a big part in reshaping the gala from just another dull industry event to a premier nationwide event.
“[The Junos] used to look like a cheap game show — bright lights and tacky sets and people in bow ties. It used to be in conference halls and soft-seat theatres,” he says. “One thing that struck me in that first show I did was that there were no fans, really, except a handful in the balcony. One of the things that I’m really proud of [is] moving the show out of the movie theatres and into arenas. It became more of a rock-’n’-roll vibe, a rock-’n’-roll growl, a rock-’n’-roll howl.
“We took the industry off the floor of the arena and we put them out into the stands so that we could have fans pinching right up to the edge of the stage. When you watch the Grammys, you see all those guys in tuxedos, and they’re often too cool for school and they won’t let it rip. They won’t really get down and rock it out and start dancing in the aisles. On the flipside, we’ve got rabid fans that are on the edge of the stage, so I think we get better performances from the artists. I think they feel connected with real fans.”
Something else that sets the Junos apart from most major awards shows in North America and connects with people across the country: its commitment to being a truly nationwide production.
Bublé says it's an honour to host the Junos, and he's looking forward to the challenge (Image: Warwick Saint)
“The Grammys, it’s either Los Angeles or it’s New York, but they fly over the rest of the country. We’re quite the opposite,” Brunton explains. “Let’s take this show to the people, let’s celebrate the music in the Prairies, let’s celebrate the music in the East Coast, let’s give people from coast to coast a chance to feel like they’re part of the music scene and that it doesn’t just exist in Toronto. Let’s take it town to town to town, like pitching a tent on the edge of town like a travelling circus . . . [this is] an entire four- or five-day music festival almost. There are so many different elements from songwriter circles, to Canadian musicians playing in bars and venues all over town. It’s sort of like the Grey Cup of rock ’n’ roll in this country.”
Of course, it’s not uncommon for people to refer to the Juno Awards as the “Canadian Grammys,” but clearly for those involved — onstage, behind the scenes and at home — there’s more to this ceremony than just rewarding the year’s top songs and albums. It’s about coming together as a country and shining a light on a music scene that can rock out with the best of them, making sure they’re not overshadowed by the pop-culture juggernaut to the south.
“Honestly, getting to connect with Canada,” Bublé responds without hesitation, when asked what he’s most looking forward to about this year’s show, “getting to show up there at this incredible party with my friends, my idols, an audience in Regina that I’m sure is going to be appreciative and excited, and then to look into those cameras and talk to my extended family all over Canada. I really am looking forward to it.”
The 2013 Juno Awards air Sunday, April 21st, at 8 pm and 12:05 am on CTV.