During his opening monologue at the show, the host noted that the broadcast was live, “so if anyone has ever wanted to go viral like around the world now’s your chance,” tapping his cheek and clearly referencing Will Smith’s Oscars slap. “Come on, the floor is open. Have at ‘er.”
While nobody took the bait, there was still plenty to write home about at the 51st iteration of the event, held outdoors at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage. The Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star absolutely slayed his first time hosting the ceremony—singing, dancing, cracking specifically Canadian jokes (“I grew up on Ketchup chips, roti, and Jamaican beef patties”), and leading Allan Reid to call it one of the best shows they’ve ever held. It was the first in-person Junos since 2019, thanks to the pandemic, and was a night of many firsts, in fact.
Charlotte Cardin was the first Montreal artist we’ve seen in a while clean house at the Junos, with four wins, including single of the year for “Meaningless” and album of the year for Phoenix. Backstage on opening night, the 27-year-old pop artist, who hails from a family of scientists, remarked that she was glad she didn’t follow in her parents’ footsteps.
“I would probably be a terrible scientist, so I’m glad that I didn’t pursue that,” Cardin told Complex Canada. “But my parents have been nothing but supportive from the start, and I’m extremely lucky because a lot of my artist-musician friends haven’t had that luck.”
Other multiple Juno winners included The Weeknd—who took the songwriter of the year award for the third time, and contemporary R&B recording of the year for “Take My Breath”—and Shawn Mendes, who won the TikTok Juno Fan Choice Award and the International Achievement Award.
Cardin performed “Meaningless” at the show, starting off on the piano before walking the catwalk and getting less socially distant with fans. Other performers from the evening included the Arkells, Arcade Fire, Avril Lavigne, Haviah Mighty, and Snotty Nose Rez Kids with DJ Shub.
Mustafa also performed a hair-raising rendition of his single “Stay Alive,” bringing out a crowd of friends from his Regent Park neighbourhood to help close out the song. The Toronto singer-songwriter won a Juno for alternative album of the year for When Smoke Rises, becoming the first Black Muslim winner of the category. But when accepting the award on opening night, he asked the audience to reconsider how we view such milestones.
“Being the first of anything should now be critiqued more than celebrated,” Mustafa said to huge applause.
This year also marked the first time the Junos’ rap category was split into two: rap album or EP of the year, and rap single of the year. The decision is meant to better highlight the diversity in Canada’s hip-hop scene, and came after the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) was lobbied for several years.
Two women wound up picking up the newly minted awards—Haviah Mighty won the Juno for rap album of the year for Stock Exchange, and Charmaine grabbed the Juno for rap single of the year for “Bold.” Mighty happens to be the first woman to be awarded the Juno for rap album.
“A large part of why I write the music that I do is to break down the narratives of ignorance based on unfamiliarity,” Mighty said backstage after accepting the award. “As a Black female in Canada, I recognize that a lot of the issues I’ve experienced come from the unfamiliarity of the majority. So I think it’s very important that when you are the first to do anything, our first reaction should be definitely to be celebrating—celebrating for that individual, and for how that can shift the [perspectives] of all of us also experiencing that first with them.”
Superproducer WondaGurl and engineer Hill Kourkoutis each made Juno history as well. WondaGurl became the first female to win producer of the year twice, after also winning last year. Kourkoutis became the first female to ever win recording engineer of the year.
R&B legend Deborah Cox became the first Black woman to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and none other than Chris Bosh was there to do the honours. The former Toronto Raptor told the crowd that Cox’s late ’90s hit made an impact on him when he first heard it.
Backstage, Savannah Ré, who grabbed the Juno for traditional R&B/soul recording for the second year in a row, paid her respects to Cox and others who paved the way. “It’s about time, you know? I’ve had other women in R&B that came before me always extend so much love and grace to me,” she said. “I’ve had the chance to work with Deborah, and of course I was starstruck, but she was nothing but kind and sweet. Jully Black took me to my first studio session ever. These torches, these women, they deserve their flowers.”
The host of the evening, Liu, teased a potential first of his own—his debut music project. He showed glimpses of his musical side throughout the evening, dancing with Saskatchewan’s Tesher along to this TikTok smash “Jalebi Baby,” and belting a purposely bad rendition of Avril Lavigne’s complicated. Backstage, the actor revealed that he’s been working on music of his own, but isn’t ready to reveal it to the world yet.
“I’m having a lot of fun building it up by myself and seeing what it can be,” Liu told us. “I feel like that’s one of the cool things about discovery, about the self-discovery of art. When I think back to when I was acting for the first time and I really didn’t tell anybody, I just loved that moment where I had that all to myself. I didn’t have to share it with the world yet. There is something, but we’ll see. Maybe it’ll be nothing, maybe it’ll be something.”
Here are Sunday night’s winners:
Rap album of the year
Haviah Mighty, Stock Exchange
Group of the year
Canadian Music Hall of Fame
International Achievement Award
Breakthrough artist of the year
Album of the year
Charlotte Cardin, Phoenix
TikTok Juno fan choice
Check out the full list of winners here.