Juno Awards 2021: The Weeknd emerges as big winner at virtual closing night

·5 min read
Jully Black, left, and Liberty Silver present at the 50th annual Juno Awards, June 6, 2021. Rapper The Weeknd won big on the final night of the awards, though didn't make an appearance.   (CARAS - image credit)
Jully Black, left, and Liberty Silver present at the 50th annual Juno Awards, June 6, 2021. Rapper The Weeknd won big on the final night of the awards, though didn't make an appearance. (CARAS - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

After a cancelled year and multiple delays, the final night of the 50th annual Junos took place virtually on Sunday — honouring some of the country's most popular artists in a tumultuous year for the arts.

And while R&B singer The Weeknd emerged as the big winner, his success wasn't the only notable moment. Presenters from actor Will Arnett to Shania Twain came together for a largely glitch-free showcase that saw impressive productions and surprising wins. And in some cases, a surprise in who we didn't see at all.

The Weeknd's sweep

Coming into the awards with the most nominations, R&B singer The Weeknd cemented his place as leader. But despite his triumphant night, the artist was a no-show. Many other stars accepted their awards by video feed, but the singer was surprisingly absent, and didn't make an appearance for either of his wins, including artist of the year and album of the year for After Hours.

Including his wins from the ceremony's opening night on Friday, The Weeknd ultimately came away with five wins out of six nominations. The only award he lost was audience-voted fan choice, which went to Shawn Mendes. Not only was it a thrilling sweep for the musician who was completely shut out of the 2021 Grammys, he is the only act at this year's Junos to win more than a single award.

That means a few artists, Justin Bieber, Jessie Reyez and JP Saxe, who all trailed The Weeknd with five nominations, came away with just one win each. It was a bit of a disappointment for Saxe, who impressively garnered those nominations in his first year at the ceremony.

Saxe beat out tight competition in the category he won — breakthrough artist of the year — as TikTok superstars Tate McRae, Powfu and Curtis Waters were in the running. They have all seen huge success in both streams and album sales, which account for 50 per cent of the decision-making to determine a winner in the category.

Big name performances

The ceremonies kicked off with a performance by Justin Bieber singing Somebody from his new album Justice. It was his first appearance at the show since he and Drake played a rendition of Baby at the 2010 Juno Awards. But, like The Weeknd, the singer did not make an appearance to accept his Juno for pop album of the year.

Bieber's performance helped start the show off on a good foot, and set the tone for what was to come. By award-show standards, Sunday's Junos included very few categories: most of the trophies were handed out Friday night, so that by Sunday, just seven of the show's 44 main awards remained.

That gave the more than two hour-long show ample time for its big name — though pre-taped — mini-concerts.

Watch | Justin Bieber performes Somebody at 50th Annual Juno Awards:

Many of those performances took place at prominent Canadian venues, a show element that had been in question in the lead-up to the awards due to Ontario's restriction on indoor performances. In the end, the highly produced shows were permitted and took place in locations such as Rebel nightclub in Toronto and the National Music Centre in Calgary.

Other musicians who took to the stage for Sunday's show included breakthrough artist winner JP Saxe, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Jann Arden, TikTok stars Ali Gatie and Tate McRae and more.

And closing out the night was a bombshell team-up between Feist and The Tragically Hip, playing the song It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken. It was the group's first televised performance since the death of frontman Gord Downie.

WATCH | The Tragically Hip and Feist perform It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken:

A hip-hop celebration for 30 years of rap

One of those seven performances had a bit more girth than the others. In a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the rap recording category at the Junos, Canadian hip-hop royalty assembled for a celebration of how the genre has grown.

Maestro Fresh Wes, Jully Black, NAV, Kardinal Offishall and more came together for the segment, though it wasn't all completely positive.

From the Rebel nightclub in Toronto, segment performer Kardinal Offishall noted the difficulties rap artists have faced in Canada — difficulties that, to some extent, persist today.

WATCH | Hip-hop artists perform tribute for 30th anniversary of rap recording category at the Juno Awards:

"Despite the lack of infrastructure to support rap music in our own backyard, the Rascalz — along with Checkmate, Thrust, Choclaire and myself — found some beauty in the struggle," Offishall said between performances.

"Despite the challenges we faced as rappers, we succeeded in bringing our up-North style to the rest of the world."

Grief and acknowledgements

On Sunday, singer-songwriter Buffy Saint-Marie opened the show by asking for compassion following the recent harrowing announcement by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.

"It's shocking to some people and a revelation, but it's not news to Indigenous people," she said, referring to the announcement that preliminary findings from a survey conducted by a specialist in ground-penetrating radar indicated the remains of what could be 215 children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

WATCH | 'The genocide basic to this country's birth is ongoing,' says Buffy Sainte-Marie:

"The genocide basic to this country's birth is ongoing," she continued. "We need to face it together and I ask for your compassion."

Later in the show, singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark also mentioned the Kamloops discovery, and acknowledged those who had lost their family members.

"We grieve with you, and we want you to know that they will not be forgotten," she said.


The Junos originally planned to take place months ago, but were beset by delays due to the pandemic. Before settling into the current date, they were postponed twice — first moving from mid-March to May 16 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, and then again to June.

At the opening night of the awards, Junos president Allan Reid announced next year's ceremonies will take place in Toronto for an "in-person" show.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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