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When a protest is the highlight …

You know the Junos are sagging, when a climate demonstrator
can steal the show by taking off her shirt

The scene at the Junos show at Rogers Centre. An attempt at excitement came across as drab. (Kieran Fong)

By Kieran Fong

YOU DON’T often see a celebrity slap a topless woman’s breasts at an awards show.

Did Kanye West make a surprise appearance? No, it was none other than Canadian punk-rocker Avril Lavigne, who told a topless protester, “Get the f*ck offstage,” at the 2023 Juno Awards show, here in Edmonton.

Sadly, this embarrassing incident drew most of the headlines. The 2023 Junos revealed everything wrong with Canadian culture: an obsession with hockey, a facade of politeness, and a lack of artistic interest.

There were also a lukewarm host, aging rockstars, and mostly forgettable musical performances.

Only the heartfelt rendition of “We Were Here” from Cree artist Aysanabee, about residential schools, had emotional resonance. That and solid showings from Jessie Reyez and Alexisonfire were all that managed to save the Junos from being a complete train wreck. Well, and the protester.

Canadian actor Simu Liu (Shang Chi) hosted the show for the second time in a row. Wearing a flashy emerald-green suit with a thick gold chain, he deliver a poised yet flavourless monologue, taking digs at his hometown of Toronto by mentioning mayor John Tory’s “uncomfortable sex scandal” and praising Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi for being faithful.

Less than two minutes into his monologue, Liu resorted to using ChatGPT (supposedly) to come up with the rest of his intro. This idea may have been original, but it came across as lazy. Liu was eager to remind us of his Hollywood success by mentioning his role in the upcoming film Barbie and showing the audience a boring still on the big screen – a pose of him with his torso twisted, with five background actors in identical black shirts and pants.

The worst part was sitting
in the audience

He ended his monologue by performing a parody of Nickelback’s hit song “Photograph,” which referenced Liu’s silly pictures as a stock photography model – a joke he’s made numerous times in late-night interviews. Liu can competently carry a tune, but this came across as self-aggrandizing on a night that’s supposed to be dedicated to Canadian musicians.

The worst part of the show was being in the audience. On TV, it was made to look more exciting. The dazzling camerawork, eye-popping pyrotechnics, and sardine-packed crowd near the front of the stage created a convincing spectacle.

But in the arena this wasn’t the reality.

The venue was at around 75 per cent capacity, and the crowd near the stage was almost motionless. Their movements looked more like half-hearted squirming than dancing. The boorish audience applauded most of the award winners, but booed Album of the Year winner The Weeknd for not coming to scoop up his award.

None of the performances seemed to captivate the crowd – until Oilers captain Connor McDavid took the stage  to induct Nickelback into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In Edmonton, he is the closest thing we have to a local hero.

When he stepped on stage, the building erupted. Before he could speak, many in the crowd started religiously chanting, “MVP, MVP, MVP.” He acknowledged it with a sheepish, “You guys are too much. You know how much I love playing here.” McDavid, known for his camera shyness, managed to put some enthusiasm into his tribute for one of his favourite bands.

Afterwards, Ryan Reynolds, with his predictable bland sarcasm, gave a recap of Nickelback’s career on the big screen, from their founding as a small-town Alberta band called “Village Idiot” to their rise to international superstardom.

Chad Kroeger, with his aging voice, missed a few notes but managed to give a mediocre performance of hits “Rockstar,” “How You Remind Me” and “Animals.” It didn’t matter to the crowd  – only upping their energy slightly. Older millennials near the front stood up from their seats to support the fading rock stars.

It was enough to make you wonder whether Edmontonians are interested in anything other than hockey.

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