Polaris Music Prize

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Not to be confused with Polar Music Prize.
Polaris Music Prize
Polaris Music Prize logo.png
Awarded for Best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label.
Country Canada
First awarded 2006
Official website polarismusicprize.ca

The Polaris Music Prize is a music award annually given to the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label.[1] The award was established in 2006 with a $20,000 cash prize;[2] the prize was increased to $30,000 for the 2011 award.[3] In May 2015, it was announced the Polaris Music Prize winner will now receive $50,000, an additional $20,000, thanks to the sponsorship of Slaight Music. Additionally, second place prizes which go to the nine other acts on the Short List will increase from $2,000 to $3,000. Polaris officials also announced they will be creating The Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize, a sort of hall of fame award that "will annually honour five albums from the five decades before Polaris launched in 2006." Details about the selection process for this prize are still to be revealed.[4]

The Polaris Music Prize is modeled after United Kingdom/Ireland's Mercury Prize[5] and in turn, inspired the Atlantis Music Prize for Newfoundland and Labrador.[6]

The 2014 Polaris sponsors included Aux, FACTOR, Ontario Media Development Corporation, Slaight Communications, Radio Starmaker Fund, SiriusXM, Recording Artists' Collecting Society (RACS), Stingray Music/Galaxie, Long & McQuade, The Carlu and Ticketfly. Past sponsors have included Rogers Communications and Scion.

The Polaris Music Prize gala is video streamed live on CBC Music and AUX TV.[7]

Jury and selection process[edit]

There is no submission process or entry fee for the Polaris Music Prize.[1] Jurors select what they consider to be the five best Canadian albums released in the previous year. The ballots are tabulated with each number one pick awarded five points, a number two pick awarded four points and so on. A long list of 40 titles is tabulated, released in mid June and promoted to the public. The long list is then sent back to the jury. The jurors then re-submit five top picks from this long list.[1]

These ballots are re-tabulated and the top ten titles form the Polaris short list. This list is released in early July and promoted to the public.[1] The ultimate winner is decided by a smaller group of 11 jury members ("The Grand Jury") who convene in Toronto at the Polaris Music Prize gala in late September, and the decision is finalized during the gala as the nominated bands perform.[2] Grand jurors are selected so that each of the shortlisted albums has one person in the jury room to advocate for it; ten are selected on the basis of having named one of the shortlisted albums as their top pick in the balloting, while the remaining jury position is given to a person who had voted for none of the shortlisted albums.[8]

Jurors are selected by the Polaris Music Prize board of directors.[1] The jury list includes more than 200 Canadian music journalists, bloggers and broadcasters. To ensure an impartial outcome, no one with direct financial relationships with artists is eligible to become a jury member.[1] The organization itself is a registered, not-for-profit corporation. Another key benefit of enlisting music journalists, broadcasters and bloggers as judges is the increased media coverage and creates the conditions to draw attention to quality music in a cluttered commercial landscape and increasingly fractured music scene.[9][10]

Notable jurors have included former MuchMusic VJs Hannah Sung and Hannah Simone, Toronto Star music columnists Ben Rayner[11] and John Sakamoto, Darryl Sterdan (Winnipeg Sun), Mike Bell (Calgary Herald), Stuart Derdeyn (Vancouver Province), Stephen Cooke (The Chronicle Herald), T'Cha Dunlevy (Montreal Gazette), Sandra Sperounes (Edmonton Journal), Brad Wheeler (The Globe and Mail), Alan Ranta (Exclaim!), Explore Music broadcaster Alan Cross, CBC Radio personalities Jowi Taylor, Patti Schmidt, Jian Ghomeshi, Matt Galloway, Grant Lawrence, Lana Gay, Lisa Christiansen and Amanda Putz, Voir music journalists Stéphane Martel, Patrick Baillargeon and Olivier Robillard-Laveaux and The Hour host George Stroumboulopoulos.

On November 3, 2014 Jian Ghomeshi, the disgraced former CBC Q host and host of the very first Polaris Gala, was dropped from the Polaris juror pool. Polaris officials have made no official announcement on the subject.[12]

Polaris Heritage Prize[edit]

In 2015, the Polaris jury also launched the Polaris Heritage Prize, an annual award program to honour classic Canadian albums released prior to the creation of the Polaris Prize.[13] Each year, the Heritage Prize will present four awards to one album from each of four time periods.[13]

In the first year, the Heritage Prizes were awarded in the categories 1960s-70s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000-2005, selected by public vote from a shortlist of five nominees. In the second year, the process and categories were revised with the initial shortlists increased to 10, the categories shifted to 1960-75, 1976-85, 1986-1995 and 1996-2005, and the addition of a second prize to be selected by a critical jury alongside the winner of the public vote.[14] The purpose of the jury award is to ensure that albums which were artistically important, but not necessarily as commercially popular, still have a fair shot at being selected as winners; to ensure that two different albums are selected, however, the jury does not meet to vote on its choice until after the popular vote winner has been determined.[14]

Non-winning nominees in a Heritage Prize category can be renominated again in a future year.

Winners and short list nominees[edit]

Final Fantasy at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2006
Patrick Watson at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2007
Caribou at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2008
Fucked Up at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2009
Karkwa at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2010
Arcade Fire at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2011
Feist at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2012
Constellation Records' Ian Ilavsky accepting 2013 Prize on behalf of Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Year Winner Shortlisted Nominees & Albums[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22]
2006 Final FantasyHe Poos Clouds
2007 Patrick WatsonClose to Paradise
2008 CaribouAndorra
2009 Fucked UpThe Chemistry of Common Life
2010 KarkwaLes Chemins de verre
2011 Arcade FireThe Suburbs
2012 FeistMetals
2013 Godspeed You! Black Emperor'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
2014 Tanya TagaqAnimism
2015 Buffy Sainte-MariePower in the Blood
2016 Kaytranada99.9%


The Polaris Music Prize can be the subject of intense scrutiny from fans, media and music industry insiders. A number of recurring debates have emerged throughout Polaris' history. Some of these include: perception the prize is either too "indie" or too "mainstream,"[23] concern about gender balance amongst nominees and jurors, concern about racial balance amongst nominees and jurors, concern about geographical representation amongst nominees and jurors, and concern about fair representation of specific musical genres. These topics are discussed at length during the open-to-the-public "Polaris Salons" which usually feature Polaris jurors as panelists in various cities across North America during the lead-up to each year's Polaris Gala.

Polaris Prize winners are often the centre of specific controversies as well.

  • 2014 During Tanya Tagaq's victory speech she declared "Fuck PETA,"[24] in reference to the organization for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Tagaq also used her gala performance and post-Polaris victory interviews as a platform to discuss the instances of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.[25]
  • 2013 Godspeed You! Black Emperor refused to attend the 2013 Polaris gala. So when the band won for their album Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, representatives from their label Constellation Records accepted the $30,000 prize on their behalf. Constellation's Don Wilkie said in a statement, "Godspeed will use the prize money to purchase musical instruments for, and support organizations providing music lessons to, people incarcerated within the Quebec prison system."[26] The next day the band released their own statement, saying "holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do" and that "maybe the next celebration should happen in a cruddier hall, without the corporate banners and culture overlords."[27] This was also the first year the Polaris winners were not presented with what had up until that point been a traditional giant novelty cheque to represent their victory. The presenting of the giant novelty cheque has since been discontinued.
  • 2009 Publishing the words "Fucked Up." When Fucked Up won in 2009 many mainstream media outlets were forced to wrestle with how they'd present the band's name. The Canoe.ca news service used the headline "F***** Up (language alert , language alert below) wins the 2009 Polaris Music Prize on Monday night,"[28] The Globe and Mail went with "Toronto hardcore band wins Polaris Music Prize,"[29] while The New Yorker's "The Prize That Dare Not Speak Its Name"[30] monitored what they called "semantic yoga."[31]

Polaris Prize Music Releases[edit]

In 2006 compilation CD/souvenir program guides featuring one song each from every Short List artist were given out at the Polaris Gala. The same was done in 2007 with all Short List artists contributing to the compilation CD except Arcade Fire.

Between 2008–2011, the souvenir program guides instead included download cards for recipients to obtain one song from each of the nominated Short List artists.

Polaris began releasing promotional split seven-inch singles beginning in 2012 which were separate from the souvenir program guides. These singles were often given away through campaigns with independent record stores, via contests, at Polaris Salons, or at Polaris Galas.


  • Grimes "Genesis" + Handsome Furs "Serve The People" on grey vinyl
  • Kathleen Edwards "Going to Hell" + Cold Specks "Blank Maps" on white vinyl
  • Japandroids "The House That Heaven Built" + Cadence Weapon "Conditioning" on yellow vinyl
  • Fucked Up "What Would You Do (For Veronica)?" + YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN "Queens" on orange-red vinyl

Feist and Drake did not participate.


  • Tegan And Sara "I Was A Fool" + A Tribe Called Red "The Road ft. Black Bear" on orange vinyl
  • Zaki Ibrahim "Draw The Line" + Whitehorse "Achilles' Desire" on white vinyl
  • Purity Ring "Fineshrine" + Colin Stetson "High Above A Grey Green Sea" on purple vinyl
  • Metric "Dreams So Real" + Young Galaxy "Pretty Boy" on blue vinyl
  • METZ "Get Off" on yellow vinyl

Godspeed You! Black Emperor did not participate.


  • YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN "Windflower" + Tanya Tagaq "Umingmak" on white vinyl
  • Shad "Progress (Part 1: American Pie)" + Mac DeMarco "Brother" on red/orange vinyl
  • Owen Pallett "The Riverbed" + Arcade Fire "Normal Person" on blue vinyl
  • Basia Bulat "Never Let Me Go" + Timber Timbre "Grand Canyon" on yellow vinyl
  • Jessy Lanza "Move Closer" (previously physically unreleased) on "trippy pattern" grey vinyl

Drake did not participate.

Additionally, Polaris, the Banff Centre and Scion Sessions teamed up for a collaborative residency project featuring past Short List artists Shad and Holy Fuck. The result was the Scion Sessions-sponsored Holy Shad "Legend of Cy Borg Parts I and II" seven-inch single as well as a documentary video produced by AUX TV.[32]

Presentation Venues[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Frere-Jones, Shasha (September 22, 2009). "The Prize That Dare Not Speak Its Name". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  2. ^ a b Molotkow, Alexandra (October 1, 2010). "The Indie Rock Swindle". The Walrus. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  3. ^ "2011 Polaris Music Prize Long List announced". aux.tv, June 16, 2011.
  4. ^ "Polaris Music Prize Increased To $50,000 In 2015 - Polaris Music Prize". May 9, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Polaris Music Prize: An Oral History as told by its founders, jurors, and winners". AUX.TV. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  6. ^ McLean, Steve (June 2, 2006). "The Polaris Music Prize Will Go To Canada's Best Album". Chart. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  7. ^ Wheeler, Brad (October 1, 2010). "Should it be called the Polaris 'Indie' Music Prize?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  8. ^ Here and Now, September 22, 2014.
  9. ^ Finn, Brad (September 1, 2010). "Should it be called the Polaris 'Indie' Music Prize?". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. 
  10. ^ "Predicting Polaris: Picking Canada's Best Album". Retrieved September 26, 2008. 
  11. ^ Sindrey, Curtis (September 19, 2012). "Toronto music journalists debate 2012 Polaris Music Prize short-list on eve of gala". Aesthetic Magazine, Toronto. Retrieved September 9, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Polaris Music Prize removes Jian Ghomeshi from its jury". Toronto Star, November 3, 2014.
  13. ^ a b "Polaris Music Prize Announces Heritage Prize Nominees". Exclaim!, September 18, 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Arcade Fire, Neil Young and Rush Among Winners of Polaris Heritage Prize". Billboard, October 25, 2016.
  15. ^ "Indie favourites among finalists for Polaris Music Prize". CBC News. July 4, 2010. Archived from the original on May 23, 2007. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  16. ^ "Rockers dominate Polaris prize short list". CBC News. July 7, 2008. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  17. ^ "Ladies and Gentleman, the 2009 Short List" (Press release). Polaris Music Prize. July 7, 2009. Archived from the original on November 21, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  18. ^ "Feist, Fire get Polaris noms". Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  19. ^ Love, Noah (July 10, 2007). "Arcade Fire, Feist and the Dears Among Polaris Nominees". Chart. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  20. ^ "Polaris Prize short list unveiled". CBC News. July 6, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  21. ^ "Polaris Music Prize Rolls Out 2011 Short List". Exclaim! Magazine. July 6, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  22. ^ "Polaris Music Prize 2013 Short List Is Here". Polaris Music Prize. July 16, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-16. 
  23. ^ "Should it be called the Polaris 'Indie' Music Prize?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  24. ^ "People Hating on Tanya Tagaq's 'Fuck PETA' Polaris Speech Are Missing the Point". VICE. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Tanya Tagaq: Being An Aboriginal Woman Is Like Being Scared At A Horror Movie. All The Time". The Huffington Post. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Godspeed You! Black Emperor Win The 2013 Polaris Music Prize". Polaris Music Prize. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Statement from Godspeed You! Black Emperor on Polaris – Constellation Records". Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  28. ^ james-reaney. "F***** Up (language alert , language alert below) wins the 2009 Polaris Music Prize on Monday night, Ancaster's Simone Caruso wins the 29th youth talent competition at the Western Fair on Sunday before a packed London City Music Theatre". James' Brand New Blog. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  29. ^ "Toronto hardcore band wins Polaris Music Prize". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  30. ^ "The Prize That Dare Not Speak Its Name". The New Yorker. September 22, 2009. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  31. ^ Rob Harvilla (May 11, 2009). "A Brief History of the Times' Valiant Attempts to Give Fucked Up Press Without Mentioning Them by Name". Sound of the City. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  32. ^ AUX (September 8, 2014). "Shad and Holy Fuck (Holy Shad) 7-inch Collaboration (Behind-the-Scenes)". Retrieved September 25, 2016 – via YouTube. 

External links[edit]