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Clockwise from top left: Ceréna, Pressa, Jessia, and Charlotte Cardin.
Clockwise from top left: Ceréna, Pressa, Jessia, and Charlotte Cardin.

The Rising Artists & Underdogs of the 2022 Juno Awards

Charlotte Cardin, Jessia, Valley, and Pressa are among the breakout acts being celebrated at this year’s ceremony. 

by Ben Boddez

Back on a real-life, in-person stage for the first time in three years, it’s time once again for the Juno Awards to celebrate Canada’s most notable contributions to the music industry. Set to take place on May 15 on Toronto’s Budweiser Stage with the nation’s most lovable sitcom star-turned-superhero Simu Liu as your host, the broadcast will feature performances from Canadian icons of the past and present. Acts like Arcade Fire, Avril Lavigne, bbno$ and Lauren Spencer-Smith are set to take the stage, while Deborah Cox is set to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, an annual tradition at the ceremony.

While Canadian artists like Justin Bieber, The Weeknd and Shawn Mendes continue to infiltrate their way into the culture in bigger and brighter ways south of the border and continue to rack up an impressive number of nods year after year, we here at RANGE always appreciate a little more of an underdog story. Here are some of the rising stars stepping into the ring with the titans in the night’s major categories, as well as some artists with a powerful story further down the board.

Artist of the Year
Charlotte Cardin

While it might be strange to call Montreal electro-pop singer Charlotte Cardin an underdog after racking up the most nominees of any artist this year, her competition have all achieved multiple international hit singles. A former nominee for Breakthrough Artist of the Year back in 2018, Cardin has experienced a breakthrough to an entirely new level in the past year with her bilingual debut studio album Phoenix, which hit the top spot in Canada after she steadily built a dedicated fanbase. Props to her for keeping the underdog spirit alive by opting for 13 straight sold-out shows at an intimate hometown venue instead of a single show at the Centre Bell on her recent tour. 

Also nominated: Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, JP Saxe, The Weeknd

Group of the Year

If Toronto alt-pop quartet Valley are able to snag this award from their more established competition, it’ll certainly be thanks to their prolific release pace and tireless dedication to their craft that they’ve shown over the past couple of years. Dropping three EPs in 15 months during the pandemic and taking their talents over to TikTok to achieve a couple of viral singles, Valley’s combination of bubblegum pop melodies and an alt-rock undercurrent and their penchant for lyrical nostalgia continue to win over fans. 

Also nominated: Arkells, Loud Luxury, Mother Mother, The Reklaws

Breakthrough Artist of the Year

Toronto rapper Pressa’s latest project, Gardner Express, was named after an imaginary high-speed motorway connecting his hometown of Toronto to his current city of Los Angeles. The concept is also oddly appropriate for how much he has expanded his reach outside of his home country in recent years, landing some guest appearances from stars like Rowdy Rebel, Coi Leray and Swae Lee and offering a Canadian spin on the burgeoning sound of drill music. 

Also nominated: 347aidan, Faouzia, Jessia, Tesher

Album of the Year
Charlotte Cardin – Phoenix

Once again doing battle with the Biebers and Mendeses of the world in one of the biggest categories of the night – as well as Tate McRae, the Calgary teen who we highlighted in last year’s Juno underdogs edition and has since become an international superstar – Charlotte Cardin’s Phoenix is the only album on this list that didn’t hit the Billboard 200 despite racking up a significant amount of critical acclaim. With big singles like “Meaningless” and “Anyone Who Loves Me,” Cardin will be representing for the nation’s French-speaking crowd. 

Also nominated: Justin Bieber – JusticeTate McRaeToo Young to be Sad, Shawn Mendes – Wonder, JP Saxe – Dangerous Levels of Introspection

Single of the Year
Jessia – “I’m Not Pretty”

Other than the aforementioned Cardin, Jessia’s self-love anthem is the only single on the list not to have hit #1 on a Canadian chart – except for maybe the TikTok charts. The 21-year-old from Vancouver Island’s song has been used in over 40,000 videos on the app as its users celebrate body types of all shapes and sizes. Attracting the attention of some megastars as Bebe Rexha jumped on a remix and super-producer Ryan Tedder sliding into the DMs with a major-label deal, Jessia is yet another Gen-Z star who made outstanding use of the TikTok algorithm. 

Also nominated: Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar and Giveon – “Peaches”, Charlotte Cardin – “Meaningless”, Brett Kissel – “Make a Life, Not a Living”, The Weeknd – “Take My Breath”

Dance Recording of the Year
Ceréna – “see”

The Toronto singer and producer’s first Juno nomination is for the closing track of her album resurrection, an ode to resilience and continuing to fight on a project built to celebrate all aspects of her identity from her Colombian heritage to her place in the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Said to have been inspired by fellow transgender electronic producer SOPHIE, Ceréna has already been making waves through co-founding Club Quarantine, a Zoom-based queer dance party featured in the New York Times that was built for support during the tough times of the past few years.

Also nominated: DVBBS – “Sleep”, Karl Wolf – “Get Away”, Kaytranada – “Caution”, Rezz and deadmau5 – “Hypnocurrency”

Contemporary Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year
Adrian Sutherland – When The Magic Hits

You wouldn’t be able to find a much better underdog story than if Adrian Sutherland were able to pull off the win for an album he recorded inside of a shipping container. The frontman of Midnight Shine’s debut album as a solo artist was created while Sutherland’s fly-in community of Attawapiskat, located on Ontario’s James Bay, was cut off from the rest of the world due to the pandemic. Sutherland built a makeshift recording studio himself and recorded a roots-rock journey through many of the problems facing his community. 

Also nominated: DJ Shub – War Club, Shawnee Kish – Shawnee Kish, Snotty Nose Rez KidsLife After, Jayli WolfWild Whisper

Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year
Manitou Mkwa Singers – Manitou Mkwa Singers II

This family band made up of a mother and three daughters from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation use their traditional hand drum music to advocate for Indigenous women and emphasize the need for intergenerational healing. The name translates to Spirit Bear Singers, playing on the animal’s symbolism of open-mindedness, strength and confidence to take action. 

Also nominated: Nimkii and the Niniis – Nang Giizhigoong, Fawn Wood – Kakike, Joel Wood – Singing is Healing, Young Spirit – Angel Eagle: Cree Round Dance Songs