Polaris Music Prize 2021 | Our Jury



By: Dakota Arsenault with contributions from Gemma Mastroianni, John Mendoza, Stephanie Prior, and Amanda McMillan


It’s that time of year again, the annual Polaris Music Prize is about to be bestowed to the best Canadian album of the year.


Not familiar with the process? Allow us to explain: the award gets handed out to an album deemed best of the past twelve months regardless of genre or sales. Last year the in-person ceremony was cancelled and instead of the usual ceremony (featuring performances from nominees) a series of short films were filmed and screened for the at home audience. Typically at the end of the show, the grand jury reveals who they voted for.


This year they are returning back to the live show (albeit with limited capacity) and it marks the first time in six years that I will not be attending (not counting last year obviously) as I have moved from Toronto to Vancouver. Getting to see the room shattering performance of Tanya Tagaq in 2014, the outpouring of love to the icon Buffy Sainte-Marie in 2015, the unbridled excitement of Kaytranda winning in 2016, the pissed off victory speech from Lido Pimienta in 2017 and others are currently a thing of the past for me now.


Once again, I am running my own jury pool through The Soundtrack. I have assembled a small jury of my peers to listen to all ten of the nominated albums and then rank them all from how they would vote if they were actual Polaris jury members. I want to thank Gemma Mastroianni, Stephanie Prior, Amanda McMillan and John Mendoza for joining me. Without further ado, here is how our voting turned out after every jury member was asked to rank the albums 1-10.


Check out our playlist featuring the top songs from all nominated artists HERE.


10. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson - Theory of Ice


Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is much more than just a Polaris nominated singer. She is Mississauga Nishnaabeg and a member of Alderville First Nation and she is a writer and educator who focuses on anti-colonialism and protection of Indigenous homelands. Her music reflects the themes she studies, writes and teaches about too. Theory of Ice is her fourth album. This is Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s first nomination.


“Leanne Betasamosake Simpson invites you to listen closely, very closely. She has a story to tell and won’t raise her voice or paint it in big red letters. But her power is in the intimacy she possesses. For those that dare to pay attention will be blown away by a powerful record of epic proportions and calling out all people who dare to hold back the rightful heirs of this land.” - Dakota Arsenault


Top tracks: I Pity The Country, Break Up

Total Points: 17

Number of times ranked first: 0

Highest Ranking: 6th

Lowest Ranking:10th


9. The Weather Station - Ignorance

The Weather Station is a project of singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, a Toronto born artist. Her roots and folk music have a quiet intensity with strong emphasis on her lyrical writing. Over the course of her career she has released five albums since 2009. The Weather Station was long listed in 2018 for The Weather Station and in 2015 for Loyalty.


“Stunning vocals, intricate storytelling, and folklike instrumentals is a concise but accurate description of what you can expect from "Ignorance." Singer Tamara Lindeman covers the intimacy and reality of what heartbreak truly feels like through soft and detailed instrumentation accompanied by her very personal lyricism.” - Gemma Mastroianni


Top tracks: Parking Lot, Robber

Total Points: 17

Number of times ranked first: 0

Highest Ranking: 4th

Lowest Ranking: 10th


8. Cadence Weapon - Parallel World


Cadence Weapon aka Roland Pemberton is no stranger to the Polaris game as he has been around since the beginning of the Prize’s history back in 2009, where he was a nominee for the inaugural award making him the elder statesman of the show. The rapper is deft with his ability to weave in social consciousness with the ability to make you laugh as well. Cadence Weapon was short listed in 2006 for Breaking Kayfabe and 2012 for Hope in Dirt City along with being long listed in 2009 for Afterparty Babies and in 2018 for Cadence Weapon.


“An experimental and engaging LP with elements of hip-hop and electronica, influenced by the upside down world we are currently residing in. It features a variety of collaborations which adds a ton of flavour to this already exciting collection of tracks, including last year's Polaris winner Backxwash.” - Gemma Mastroianni


Top tracks: SENNA, ON ME

Total Points: 20

Number of time ranked first: 0

Highest Ranking: 2nd

Lowest Ranking:10th


7. Klô Pelgag - Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs


Klô Pelgag is the stage name of Chloé Pelletier-Gagnon and despite the beautiful sounding music journey she takes us on, her lyrics are quite dark. Between reeling from the death of her father and coping with loneliness this French-language album has a lot of pain to it. This is Klô Pelgag’s first nomination.


“In her third studio album, Klô Pelgag takes us through an atmospheric journey of whimsy, mystery and melancholy. "La maison jaune" is a stand out track, spinning a cinematic tale of wistful intensity.” - John Mendoza


Top tracks: Mélamine, Umami

Total Points: 22

Number of time ranked first: 0

Highest Ranking: 5th

Lowest Ranking: 9th


6. TOBi - ELEMENTS Vol. 1


The Lagos, Nigerian born artist Oluwatobi Feyisara Ajibolade performs under the name TOBi, with his silky smooth voice and commanding presence. He has been featured on tracks by Ralph, Big Gigantic and The Game in his short career so far. TOBi seamlessly is able to sing about being a lover, his family and social issues facing the black community from one song to the next without ever losing steam. TOBi was longlisted in 2019 for STILL.


“TOBi mixes jazz, r&b, soul and hip hop into his second album Elements Vol. 1, creating a smooth, easy listen. Packed full of smart, cheeky lyrics and flowing beats, Elements Vol. 1 brings to life the topics it tackles, from mental health, relationships and the power of music. There are also some great collabs that really round out the album making it a diverse listen that flows from track to track.” - Stephanie Prior


Top tracks: Made Me Everything, Family Matters

Total Points: 31

Number of time ranked first: 0

Highest Ranking: 2nd

Lowest Ranking: 8th


5. Zoon - Bleached Wavves


Zoon is the project of core member Daniel Monkman who is Anishinaabe hailing from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. He was born in Selkirk, Manitoba, but he moved around frequently before eventually landing in Hamilton, Ontario. Monkman struggled with drug and alcohol addiction before utilizing traditional Anishinaabe teachings to help him overcome his problems. Originally his project was called Zoongide'ewin, which means bravery and courage. This is Zoon’s first nomination.


Shoegaze has typically been, like many genres, dominated by a sea of same (ie mostly white artists). With Bleached Waves, Hamilton-based Anishinaabe musician Zoon makes way for new voices, new creative inspiration, and a new name for the sound: "moccasin-gaze." - Amanda McMillan


Top tracks: Vibrant Colours, Bleached Waves

Total Points: 31

Number of time ranked first: 1 (Gemma)

Highest Ranking: 1st

Lowest Ranking: 9th


4. Mustafa - When Smoke Rises


Toronto’s Mustafa Ahmed may only be 25, but he is already far more accomplished than most people his age. Ahmed is a poet by trade and his writings have gotten him global attention. His writing often focuses on poverty and hardships experienced both in Africa and in Canada. Despite being someone who grew up in a rough neighbourhood with gang activity, Mustafa has risen above it all to spread his word. This is Mustafa’s first nomination.


“Mustafa embraces his grief and vulnerability in this debut solo album. Deftly weaving gentle R&B verses with intimate folk music, this Regent Park born singer mourns the loss of his friends with this stunning project.” - John Mendoza


Top tracks: Capo (feat. Sampha), What About Heaven

Total Points: 32

Number of time ranked first: 0

Highest Ranking: 2nd

Lowest Ranking: 6th


3. Dominique Fils-Aimé - Three Little Words


Montreal’s Dominique Fils-Aimé is one the preeminent jazz vocalists of this generation. Her light touch and ability to make you lean in to get a closer listen make her special. The fact that she has one of the most gorgeous voices regardless of genre in music is just the icing on the cake. Dominique Fils-Aimé was nominated in 2019 for Stay Tuned!.


“Three Little Words is a warm, lush, soulful album overflowing with emotion. Fils-Aimé's vocals are pure and beautiful, taking centre stage amongst some great acapella work and grounding drums. This album manages to balance between old nostalgic genres without being too warm and fuzzy, by bringing in modern arrangements and contemporary lyrics. It's a heartfelt listen that'll leave you wanting more.” - Stephanie Prior


Top tracks: While We Wait, Three Little Words

Total Points: 32

Number of time ranked first: 1 (John)

Highest Ranking: 1st

Lowest Ranking: 10th


2. The OBGMs - The Ends


Toronto’s OBGMs, which in case you were wondering stands for The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores, are making a lot of noise and it isn’t just on their album. They are daring to stand out in any way you could categorize them and by the time you have thought of one inspiration or genre, they have already moved on. This is The OBGMs first nomination.


“The OBGMs bring a fresh approach to the rock and Afro-punk genre. Their in your face attitude and don’t give a fuck what you think mentality is all over this album. Densil McFarlane raps and screams across the tight ten track, twenty-three minute record while Cola Humphrey never lets you forget about his drumming prowess and Joe Brosnan blissfully straddles the line between crunchy fuzzed out riffs and soaring melodic moments.” - Dakota Arsenault


Top tracks: All My Friends, Triggered

Total Points: 36

Number of time ranked first: 2 (Dakota, Amanda)

Highest Ranking: 1st

Lowest Ranking: 8th


1. DijahSB - Head Above the Waters


DijahSB is making huge waves in the Toronto rap scene. They are quick witted and no matter how heady their lyrics get, the beat remains steady with your head bobbing along. Dijah has been busy releasing three projects in the span of just under two years. They look like this is just the beginning of a very promising career. This is DijahSB’s first nomination.


“Head Above The Waters is the perfect blend of smooth bouncing beats, witty wordplay and honesty. Covering topics like depression and burning out, this album is as relatable as it is soulful. Not to mention just what everyone needs right now. Dijah reminds us that no matter how hard life gets, keep your head above the waters, stay true to yourself and groove it out!” - Stephanie Prior


Top tracks: Throw That Back, New Harrison

Total Points: 37

Number of time ranked first: 1 (Stephanie)

Highest Ranking: 1st

Lowest Ranking: 8th


Who do you think will win this year’s Polaris Music Prize? With so many great options, you can’t go wrong! Let us know what you think of our picks.