BEHIND CLOSED DOORS – WHAT’S BEHINDTHE POLARIS MUSIC PRIZE GRAND JURY
Each year, the Polaris Music Prize is awarded to the artist whose album has been chosen as the best album of the year, based on artistic merit and creativity. The winner is determined by the Polaris Music Prize’s Grand Jury, and the award is handed out at the Polaris Music Prize Gala in September. Clearly, the Grand Jury has a tough job to do. Exactly how does the panel come up with a winner?
In June, a jury of approximately 200 music journalists creates a list of 40 Canadian albums, known as the Polaris Music Prize Long List. In July, the Jury votes on the Long List albums to create a Short List of what they consider to be the year’s ten best albums. Each of those jury members is then considered individually by the Polaris Music Prize’s Board of Directors to participate on the Polaris Music Prize’s Grand Jury. Looking at each jury member’s first choice on their short list ballot, one jury member is selected for each of the ten albums on the short list. Each of these ten members is chosen to act as a champion for their respective first choice album. The Grand Jury members are expected to be prepared to defend its merits, and to debate its place as the best album of the year, based on Polaris’ general criteria of being “of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history”. The eleventh juror is chosen from among those who did not have their first choice make the short list. While selecting Grand Jury members, additional considerations are also made to include a balance or representation of east, west, male, female, experience, age, as well as a specialization in a particular genre of music. All music journalists who are invited to sit on the jury are also those whose background focuses on championing or promoting music or artists, or whose work is curative, as opposed to those who review live shows or interview artists. Creating this balance in the jury helps to provide equal opportunity for each of the nominees.
The Grand Jury meets for the first time the evening prior to the Gala. Over dinner, each juror presents their championed album to the rest of the panel, discussing its merits. At the end of the evening, each panel member goes home and has the opportunity to once again listen to each album, and to consider all the arguments presented. The next evening, the Grand Jury reconvenes and is sequestered in a room at the hotel. A preliminary vote immediately shortens the list by selecting each member’s top two choices. From this ballot, the top five are discussed again, and another blind ballot trims it down to three. A final blind vote is done reducing it to one. At this point, the Grand Jury is dissolved, and the members are invited to join the Gala. The Jury members learn the result of their final vote at the end of the evening, when the winner is announced.
Last year’s Grand Jury members included Adam Bowie (Daily Gleaner), Lorraine Carpenter (Cult MTL), Stephen Cooke (Chronicle Herald), Jessica Émond-Ferrat (Journal Métro), Luke Fox (Exclaim), Liisa Ladouceur (Freelance), Melody Lau (Much), Julia LeConte (NOW), Stephanie McKay (Star Phoenix), Alan Ranta (Freelance) and Mark Teo (AUX).
Selecting one album that stands out from the rest is a certainly a monumental, and seemingly impossible task. Somehow the Grand Jury manages to make a timely decision each year. Some years, that decision is reached quicker than others. When one looks over the list of past winners however, it would be difficult to deny that any of them didn’t deserve the prize.
Can’t wait to see what this year brings.