TORONTO — The Weeknd has picked up a leading six nominations at the Juno Awards just a few months after he was snubbed by the Grammys.
The Toronto-raised singer is in the running for some of the biggest categories at the annual celebration of Canadian music, including artist of the year, single of the year for his chart-topping hit “Blinding Lights” and album of the year with “After Hours.”
He’s also nominated for the Juno songwriter award, contemporary R&B recording of the year and fan choice, which is voted on by viewers.
It’s another stunning chapter for the singer, born Abel Tesfaye, who recently headlined the Super Bowl halftime show, and just this week saw his single “Blinding Lights” spend a full 52 weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the first time a song has ever achieved this feat. His latest victories come after the singer criticized Grammy organizers as being “corrupt” for shutting him out of the nominations at the prestigious Los Angeles awards show, which takes place on Sunday.
Other major Juno contenders this year include Toronto pop singer/songwriter JP Saxe, whose breakout duet “If the World Was Ending” with Julia Michaels became a pandemic hit. He picked up five nominations.
Fellow five-time nominees this year are international pop superstar Justin Bieber and Jessie Reyez, who burst into the mainstream around the time of her 2018 Juno win for breakthrough artist.
She’s now contending for categories that include both artist and songwriter of the year.
Reyez said another round of Junos recognition allowed her to reflect on the impact made by her Colombian parents when they decided to move to Canada before she was born.
“I’ve always said how much I love being from Toronto, how much I love being Canadian,” she explained in an online press conference shortly after the nominations were announced.
“I love that my parents chose to come here. The experience of getting this sort of recognition is almost like feeling like I’m getting that love back.”
“It’s affirmation that my roots are thick at home,” she added.
The Junos will celebrate Canada’s impact on the global music scene during a 50th anniversary awards broadcast May 16 on the CBC.
However, the show won’t be anything like organizers had planned before the COVID-19 pandemic. They originally hoped to pack thousands of people into Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena for a splashy celebration. Once the pandemic hit, the 2021 Junos postponed from March to May in hopes of some sort of public gathering outdoors.
But with strict health measures still in place for Toronto, Allan Reid, head of the Junos, described an event that is still very much rolling with the punches. At this point, the plan is to have the performers, who haven’t been announced yet, play their songs from prominent small venues across the country.
“We will have to follow whatever the restrictions allow us to do,” Reid said.
“We would love to put people into seats (at outdoor venues)… but we just have to wait and see what’s going to happen.”
In the major categories, single of the year nominees include the Weeknd and JP Saxe’s tracks, as well as “Drink About Me” from Flat Lake, Alta. country singer Brett Kissel, and “Intentions” by Justin Bieber and Quavo. Rounding out the category is “Kissing Other People” by Oshawa, Ont.-raised singer and former “Nashville” TV star Lennon Stella.
Album of the year nominees are Ali Gatie’s full-length debut “You,” Celine Dion’s “Courage,” Justin Bieber’s “Changes” and Leonard Cohen’s posthumous release “Thanks for the Dance.” They will all compete with the Weeknd’s chart-topping “After Hours.”
Newcomers in this year’s breakthrough artist category include a number of musicians who rose to prominence with the help of TikTok.
Curtis Waters, the stage name of Nepali-Canadian Abhinav Bastakoti, saw his song “Stunnin’” explode in popularity on the platform while Vancouver’s Powfu, born Isaiah Faber, caught fire with his earworm “Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head).”
Rounding out the breakthrough category is Saxe, Ryland James and Tate McRae, a 17-year-old pop singer who has witnessed her stardom rise over the past year almost entirely while she’s been isolated at home.
McRae called her Juno nominations “the cherry on top” of a very strange year where she’s stayed connected with her fans mostly over social media. Adding to that surreal feeling, she’s up against one of her idols, the Weeknd, in the fan choice category.
“It’s little moments like this that make things feel like a huge, huge shock,” she said from a Toronto hotel room where she’s staying with her parents.
“I walked into the next room and was like, ‘Guess who got nominated?’ It’s the first time we legit screamed in a hotel room. This definitely is a bit of a pinch-me moment.”
Riding the wave of TikTok popularity, the Junos say they’re making it possible for people to vote for the fan choice award on the platform.
Organizers also plan to belatedly induct Jann Arden into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame after her original induction was sidelined when last year’s in-person awards show was cancelled.
Listen to a playlist of 2021 Juno Award nominees on Spotify: https://bit.ly/CPJunos2021
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2021.
David Friend, The Canadian Press