Polaris Music Prize

The Polaris Music Prize was founded by Steve Jordan in 2006 and is awarded annually to the Canadian artist or group who creates the best full-length album. The mandate of the Polaris Music Prize has been likened to that of the UK’s Mercury Prize; all genres of contemporary music are eligible, and albums are judged on artistic merit rather than on commercial success. The winner is announced at the Polaris Music Prize Gala held each September in Toronto . The original cash prize of $20,000 was increased to $30,000 in 2011 and to $50,000 in 2015. Shortlisted artists have often performed at the Gala, which is broadcast live on CBC Radio 3 and YouTube.

Polaris Music Prize

Selection Process

Artists and their representatives are not permitted to submit an album for consideration. A jury of nearly 200 music journalists, broadcasters, bloggers and academics from across Canada is chosen each year by the Polaris Music Prize’s board of directors to select the nominees. Each jury member recommends five Canadian albums released during the previous year. Album sales are not taken into consideration, unlike the Juno Awards, where the nominees in eight categories are determined at least in part by sales figures. 

A long list of 40 nominees, released in June, is reduced by the same jury to a short list of 10 nominees, which is made public in July. (The short list has been made public from the prize’s inception, but the long list was not available to the public until 2008.) A second 11-member jury — the grand jury — then meets in private during the three-hour-long gala in September to select the winner. The grand jury reduces the short list from ten albums to five, then three, then one. The winner is then announced at the gala.

Cash Prizes and Sponsors

The cash amount of the Polaris Prize was originally $20,000. This was increased to $30,000 in 2011 and $50,000 in 2015. Also in 2015, the cash prize awarded to short list finalists was increased from $2,000 to $3,000. In 2018, the award was sponsored by Sirius Satellite Radio, the Government of Canada, FACTOR, Slaight Music, the Radio Starmaker Fund, MuchMusic, Steam Whistle Brewing and the Drake Hotel.

Other Initiatives

Compilation albums featuring tracks from shortlisted albums were released by Warner Music Canada in 2006 and 2007. In 2009, the prize’s board of directors announced a partnership with the charity MusiCounts to support music education in Canada. In 2015, the prize launched the Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize. Essentially a hall of fame award, it will “annually honour five albums from the five decades before Polaris launched in 2006.” 

Impact and Critical Response

The Polaris Music Prize has been credited with raising the profile of Canadian independent music both nationally and internationally. While the short list has been criticized for featuring primarily anglophone albums and for excluding genres such as classical and jazz, it has been praised for attracting attention to many of its nominated artists.


Nominees and Winners


2006 Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds (winner)
Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene
Cadence Weapon, Breaking Kayfabe
The Deadly Snakes, Porcella
Sarah Harmer, I’m a Mountain
K’naan, The Dusty Foot Philosopher
Malajube, Trompe-l'oeil
Metric, Live It Out
The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary
2007 Patrick Watson, Close to Paradise (winner)
Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse
The Dears, Gang of Losers
Julie Doiron, Woke Myself Up
Feist, The Reminder
Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye
Miracle Fortress, Five Roses
Joel Plaskett Emergency, Ashtray Rock
Chad VanGaalen, Skelliconnection
2008 Caribou, Andorra (winner)
Black Mountain, In the Future
Basia Bulat, Oh, My Darling
Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers
Holy F—k, LP
Plants and Animals, Parc Avenue
Shad, The Old Prince
Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War
Two Hours Traffic, Little Jabs
The Weakerthans, Reunion Tour
2009 F—ked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (winner)
Elliott Brood, Mountain Meadows
Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels
Hey Rosetta!, Into Your Lungs
K’naan, Troubadour
Malajube, Labyrinthes
Metric, Fantasies
Joel Plaskett, Three
Chad VanGaalen, Soft Airplane
Patrick Watson, Wooden Arms
2010 Karkwa, Les Chemins de verre (winner)
The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record
Caribou, Swim
Dan Mangan, Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Owen Pallett, Heartland
Radio Radio, Belmundo Regal
The Sadies, Darker Circles
Shad, TSOL
Tegan and Sara, Sainthood
2011 Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (winner)
Austra, Feel It Break
Braids, Native Speaker
Destroyer, Kaputt
Galaxie, Tigre et diésel
Hey Rosetta!, Seeds
Ron Sexsmith, Long Player Late Bloomer
Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Timber Timbre, Creep On Creepin’ On
The Weeknd, House of Balloons
2012 Feist, Metals (winner)
Cadence Weapon, Hope in Dirt City
Cold Specks, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion
Drake, Take Care
Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur
F—ked Up, David Comes to Life
Grimes, Visions
Handsome Furs, Sound Kapital
Japandroids, Celebration Rock
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, YT//ST
2013 Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (winner)
Zaki Ibrahim, Every Opposite
Metric, Synthetica
METZ, METZ
Purity Ring, Shrines
Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob
A Tribe Called Red, Nation II Nation
Whitehorse, The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss
Young Galaxy, Ultramarine
2014 Tanya Tagaq, Animism (winner)
Arcade Fire, Reflektor
Basia Bulat, Tall Tall Shadow
Mac DeMarco, Salad Days
Drake, Nothing Was the Same
Jessy Lanza, Pull My Hair Back
Owen Pallett, In Conflict
Shad, Flying Colours
Timber Timbre, Hot Dreams
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, UZU
2015 Buffy Sainte-Marie, Power in the Blood (winner)
Alvvays, Alvvays
BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah, Sour Soul
Braids, Deep in the Iris
Caribou, Our Love
Jennifer Castle, Pink City
Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late
Tobias Jesso Jr., Goon
The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers
Viet Cong, Viet Cong
2016 Kaytranada, 99.9% (winner)
Black Mountain, IV
Basia Bulat, Good Advice
Grimes, Art Angels
Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TION
Jessy Lanza, Oh No
PUP, The Dream Is Over
Andy Shauf, The Party
U.S. Girls, Half Free
White Lung, Paradise
2017 Lido Pimienta, La Papessa (winner)
A Tribe Called Red, We Are the Halluci Nation
BADBADNOTGOOD, IV
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
Gord Downie, Secret Path
Feist, Pleasure
Lisa LeBlanc, Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?
Tanya Tagaq, Retribution
Leif Vollebekk, Twin Solitude
Weaves, Weaves
2018 Jeremy Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (winner)
Alvvays, Antisocialites
Jean-Michel Blais, Dans ma main
Daniel Caesar, Freudian
Pierre Kwenders, MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
Hubert Lenoir, Darlène
Partner, In Search of Lost Time
Snotty Nose Rez Kids, The Average Savage
U.S. Girls, In a Poem Unlimited
Weaves, Wide Open
2019

Haviah Mighty, 13th Floor (winner)
Marie Davidson, Working Class Woman
Elisapie, The Ballad of the Runaway GIrl
FET.NAT, Le Mal
Dominique Fils-Amié, Stay Tuned!
Les Louanges, La nuit est une panthère
PUP, Morbid Stuff
Jessie Reyez, Being Human in Public
Shad, A Short Story About A War
Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Trapline


Further Reading

  • Ostroff, Joshua. "Why Polaris Prize matters to Canadian music," Times-Colonist (Victoria), 18 Sep 2006

    "What the heck is the Polaris Prize?" Winnipeg Free Press, 22 Nov 2007

    Sperounes, Sandra. "Polaris Music Prize shines its light at just the right time: As arts funding gets slashed, others pick up the slack," Edmonton Journal, 29 Sep 2008

    Liepins, Larissa. "Not so polarized over Polaris Prize: Musicians find all kinds of reasons to celebrate award," The Ottawa Citizen, 20 Sep 2010

  • Ostroff, Joshua. "Why Polaris Prize matters to Canadian music," Times-Colonist (Victoria), 18 Sep 2006

    "What the heck is the Polaris Prize?" Winnipeg Free Press, 22 Nov 2007

    Sperounes, Sandra. "Polaris Music Prize shines its light at just the right time: As arts funding gets slashed, others pick up the slack," Edmonton Journal, 29 Sep 2008

    Liepins, Larissa. "Not so polarized over Polaris Prize: Musicians find all kinds of reasons to celebrate award," The Ottawa Citizen, 20 Sep 2010

External Links