This writer has had the pleasure of contributing to the Polaris Music Prize’s long list on a number of occasions, and is grateful to have been and to continue to be a part of a worthy endeavor. The rise of the prize in stature has been rather remarkable, given that last night’s ceremony was but the seventh in the annual event’s history.
And, as you will have heard/read by now, this year’s winner of the trophy and accompanying cash, is one Leslie Feist. All part of the award’s ongoing mission to reward “albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation or sales history.” Yet, for the second consecutive year, this has resulted in the 10-person panel adjudicating the short list, selecting an album whose sales history, professional affiliation and indeed musical genre are that of an established artist — a household name, if you will.
Which is not to take anything away from Feist, whose 2011 release Metals is indeed a stunner. But, as every successful hipster magazine and website has discovered once thrust into mainstream recognition, it’s difficult to fight one’s way back up that slippery slope. Arcade Fire’s (also deserved) 2011 Polaris win followed victory at the Junos and the Grammys for the same celebrated disc. It’s difficult to imagine the band needed that $30,000 cash injection as desperately as did fellow contender Colin Stetson. Likewise, Feist’s 2012 prize comes on the heels of Juno recognition as artist of the year, prompted by the same LP.
Again, that slope is slippery. And the concept behind the prize — ask a nationwide sample of music critics to choose the best of the best (well, the better of the best… the final choice is made on the night) — is commendable. At the very least, it pretty much guarantees Nickelback’s name will never be heard at the Polaris gala. Yet, one has to figure the Polaris Music Prize grew out of a perceived need to counter the Junos’ predictability and focus on sales and hype, with a “purer” award for artistic accomplishment. This year, like last year, the result somehow made Polaris seem redundant.
The solution? It’s obvious: a newer and hipper award. After all, one can hardly expect an established event like the Polaris Music Prize to remain relevant for as long as seven years, right?