Polaris Music Prize 2019: Which Albums Stand Out?
The 2019 Polaris Music Prize short-list features ten artists, all unique, and many I had not heard of before writing this article. My first thought when I saw the list: “Who are these people?” Here is the rundown of names: Dominque Fils-Aimé, Elisapie, FET.NAT, Haviah Mighty, Jessie Reyez, Les Louanges, Marie Davidson, PUP, Shad, and Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Really, Jessie Reyez is the only artist that I have seen live, and I know her music well. Each artist has talent, though, that the Polaris “expert jury of broadcasters, bloggers, programmers and other media authorities on Canadian music” feel should be recognized and celebrated. So, if you go along with the idea, this is your chance to explore some new music! I have picked my personal top three albums that registered with me. Usually I listen to music either to calm my mind or when I feel in a certain mood and want the music to match. Most of the time I will sit in my room in comfy clothing with the lights off, close my eyes, and allow the music to affect my mood in a positive way.
Quick background: the Polaris Music Prize is an annual award which has a jury of 199 members all dedicated to discovering great music, regardless of commercial sales. Members of the jury suggest albums, and eventually these get assembled into a forty-album long-list. From there, the jurors will select their top five, and all votes are counted to make the official Polaris short-list. The members of the jury are not allowed to consider anything in their decisions other than the merit of the artist. There are no categories specific to certain genres. The Polaris also has a history of recognizing individuals who have not made a big splash in the music industry, but have a lot of potential to do so. I have discovered some of my favorite artists this way.
Jessie Reyez is truly unique. I had the opportunity to see her live at the London Music Hall back in November 2018, and I will never forget that. She is strong, vibrant, extremely talented and does not care what people think of her. She empowers so many people, myself included, and she writes from the heart. Her album Being Human in Public is amazing. My favourite song is ‘Fuck Being Friends’ because it talks about realizing your worth and not allowing others to take advantage of you no matter what you may be getting in return. ‘Apple Juice’ is a slower song that sounds like it may be a goodbye to an important person in her life. Jessie is begging them to stay and promises that she will teach them how to love another human, which obviously is herself.
I also like PUP. Punk is rarely my go-to music style, but I enjoyed the lyrics and overall message on Morbid Stuff. The album focusses a lot on mental health and frontman Stefan Babcock seems to open up a lot. I find that, when an artist reveals their personal life and some of the struggles they go through, it makes them more relatable. Poets are there to be open to the world, right? Mental health is extremely important to people of all ages, but this album feels directed to teenagers. The song that I feel represents this most emphatically is ‘Kids’. This specific song talks about going from one depressive state to another. After this song sparked my interest, I looked up the music video, and I will admit that I teared up. It shows the band members in the future all split apart, and then the journey they take to reunite and what they have all gone through. I also appreciate that PUP did not stick to stereotypes with punk and embraced other styles, too. This album definitely addresses some difficult issues, but it is necessary to do so.
Haviah Mighty surprised me. I find it difficult to enjoy new music sometimes and usually it takes me a couple weeks before I actually get there, but this album was different. Her style and the message in her lyrics struck a chord with me. Again, this album is all about breaking stereotypes and defying what others expect. Haviah grew up in a mostly white neighbourhood in East York, never feeling quite safe there. When she was eight, her family moved to Brampton and she found that community more accommodating. Still, she has talked about the impact of being treated differently than others, and was determined to make a name for herself and not allow others to define her future. The title of her album 13th Floor comes from the stereotypes associated with the number 13. It is considered an unlucky number and Haviah used this number to represent marginalized people, including young women of colour in poverty, forced to live on the 13th floor and breaking the stereotypes associated with that. She shows us the downside of living as a minority and highlights the importance of perseverance. The struggle is the key.
Haviah Mighty has an amazing story, and it is now a success story. Once again, her music inspired me not to care if others think that I can’t make it. Your own mind-set is what matters, and you have to stick to it, pushing yourself to do the things that allow you to grow. Haviah is truly an inspiration and I would encourage everyone to check her out – not just her music, but her story as well. See if she inspires you to become the best you can because that is what I found with her.
The Polaris Music Prize gala is set for Monday, September 16th in Toronto. For more details on the event and the short-list, check out www.polarismusicprize.ca