“Everyone had a favorite here tonight and I did too – and I did not think it was me,” Feist said onstage, after hearing her album described as a work “of rare depth and beauty.” Her name was read by last year’s winners, Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara and Tim Kingsbury, who joked that no bank would accept their oversized novelty check.
“I’m just really shocked and really grateful to be part of the night and I’ll be going to all of these gigs,” Feist said. “I want to see at least an hour and a half of all these people who played tonight.”
Held at Toronto’s Concert Hall, a former Masonic Temple, Polaris is unique for its voting process. While the three-hour show – including tributes to all the nominees and performances by most – takes place in the fifth-floor “red room” lined with original throne chairs, the 11-member grand jury sits behind closed doors at a round table debating the merits of each album and casting secret votes.
Each juror champions one album, and must have selected it as his or her first pick on the shortlist. More than 200 Canadian music journalists, bloggers and broadcasters participate earlier in the year on voting for the longlist and shortlist. The prize is given to the year’s best Canadian album with no consideration to genre, professional affiliation or sales requirement.
No one – not even the grand jurors – knows the winner until it is announced onstage.
“An unmarked champion? That’s amazing. That’s like having a secret admirer,” Feist told Rolling Stone before the gala, adding that she pictured the voting process to be like on the TV show The Borgias, a 15th-century conclave of bishops “minus the robes.”
“I’ve heard rumors of what happens in that room,” Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham told Rolling Stone, joking, “I’ve heard it varies from a civilized conversation by measured reasonable people sharing their opinions of music and I’ve also heard it can evolve into a screaming match and death threats.” His band won the Polaris Music Prize in 2009 for The Chemistry of Common Life and was nominated this year for David Comes to Life.
The other shortlisted albums were Cold Specks’ I Predict a Graceful Expulsion; Cadence Weapon’s Hope in Dirt City; Grimes’ Visions; Handsome Furs’ Sound Kapital; Japandroids’ Celebration Rock and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s YT//ST.
All performed except Handsome Furs, which are broken up; Japandroids, who are on tour; and Drake, who was never slated to perform and pulled out of attending yesterday due to illness.
After her win, back in the red room for a 10-minute press conference, Feist told reporters, “I was really moved by Cold Specks. I thought that was coming from as true a place as Grimes, but on some opposite polar ends of some meter that has yet to be invented. Each of them is doing something super unique.”
Feist, who has been nominated for four Grammys and won eight Juno Awards, had been shortlisted for the Polaris three times before, in 2007 for The Reminder, and twice as a member of Broken Social Scene.
Knowing now what goes into the final vote, she said, “I think winning the Polaris tonight is a bit like getting a Valentine from the right boy at school – the one you wanted to give you the secret-admirer Valentine because it’s got this sense of secret-ness to it.”