7 Highlights of the 2022 JUNO Awards

Simu Liu stands up for abortion rights, Haviah Mighty makes history, and more from Toronto's Budweiser Stage
7 Highlights of the 2022 JUNO Awards
Photo: Alex Hudson
In March 2020, one of the key moments that marked the onset of the pandemic in Canada was the last-minute cancellation of the JUNO Awards — so the return of the event for its first in-person ceremony since then was a symbolic moment. But, aside from host Simu Liu making a few light jokes about being stuck inside for the past two years, the 2022 JUNO Awards felt more or less like business as usual — last night (May 15) brought together industry titans (Avril Lavigne, Deborah Cox) and notable up-and-comers (Tesher, Haviah Mighty) for a celebration of Canadian music.

Charlotte Cardin was the big winner of the 2022 JUNOS; last night she won Album of the Year for 2021's Phoenix, and she took home three additional awards at a pre-show event (including Artist of the Year). While she was one with the most hardware, the night offered many highlights, ranging from star-making performances to heartfelt speeches. These are the seven highlights of the 2022 JUNO Awards.

"My name is Simu Liu, and I am Canadian"

Remember that cringey "My name is Joe, and I am Canadian" beer ad from the early 2000s? Liu did an updated twist on that, this time emphasizing Canada's diversity instead of beavers and toques. It was a welcome twist on the familiar concept, but the most powerful moment came towards the end of the speech when he stood up for abortion rights, saying that "a woman always has the right to choose."

Once that was done, he hung onto the mic to perform a song and dance with Tesher just moments after, providing vocals and totally nailing the dance routine. What a superhero.


Tesher runs the show

Speaking of Tesher, his reggaeton banger "Jalebi Baby" was an early highlight of the night, his rap-singing and dance routines helping to raise the energy as tardy audience members filtered in. He had great chemistry with Liu, as the two looked instantly comfortable sharing the stage.

Liu may have been the television host, but for the in-person audience at Budweiser Stage, Tesher was the one who did the legwork to carry the show. He acted as DJ during commercial breaks, spinning dance tracks and interacting with fans. He even helped with crowd control when attendees up front became clustered on one side. He lost the JUNO for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, but he definitely make his mark on this night.


JESSIA's supporters

Tesher lost the Breakthrough Artist of the Year to pop singer JESSIA, who scored a big hit last year with her song "I'm Not Pretty." She seemed surprised and thrilled to win her award — but the real highlight of her victory were a handful of supporters, seated towards the back of the amphitheatre, who went absolutely wild when she won. When she thanked her family, they turned up the excitement even more (so I'm assuming they were family members or friends). Even if you happened to be rooting for Tesher after his earlier performance, it was impossible not to be charmed by JESSIA's ardent supporters.


Haviah Mighty makes hip-hop history

The JUNO for Rap Recording of the Year had been won by men every single year since its introduction in 1991. Now rechristened Rap Album/EP of the Year, Haviah Mighty became the first woman to win the award (for Stock Exchange), and she dedicated her victory to "women in hip-hop."

Not long after, she returned to the stage to rap, sing and dance through powerful renditions of "So So" and "Protest." The performance included overt references to police brutality and systemic racism — harrowing themes that took on particularly tragic resonance given the weekend's events in Buffalo.


Legends take a victory lap

In addition to celebrating the next wave of Canadian talent, the JUNOS took plenty of time to celebrate the titans of the industry. Deborah Cox was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame — a deserving and long-overdue honour for the '90s R&B sensation. Retired NBA star (and famed Toronto Raptor) Chris Bosh introduced her with a heartfelt speech, and Cox herself gave the speech of the night, reflecting on her early struggles and celebrating her family. Cox proved exactly why she deserved the honour when she returned to perform a medley of her hits.

Avril Lavigne also performed an impressive medley on a stage decorated with black balloons, tearing through sections of "Complicated," "Bite Me," "Girlfriend," "Sk8er Boi" and "I'm with You" in a matter of minutes. Avril has officially entered the "legacy artist" stage of her career, as this appearance nicely proved.

Shawn Mendes was on hand to collect the International Achievement Award. He's only 23 years old, but he carried himself with a poise that was practically regal, and the screams every time his name was mentioned showed that many fans showed up specifically to see him. He shared some lessons about self-worth and learning to enjoy the process — wise words for someone so young, reinforcing the impression that he's already an elder of the industry.


bbno$ loses his virginity

The strangest, most memorable performance of the night came from Vancouver rapper bbno$, who opened with a phone call to his mom, reassuring her that he remembers to brush his teeth. The songs "Lalala" and "Edamame" were more silly than good, but he gave it his all with a marching band, prancing around the stage and accosting Shawn Mendes in his seat. After the music stopped, he proudly announced, "Public service announcement: last night, I lost my virginity, so make some noise!" He was then roughly dragged away by security, which I'm about 70 percent sure was a scripted joke. It was more like sketch comedy or performance art than actual music, but it was totally weird and entertaining.


The perfect venue

After two years without an in-person event, the JUNOS went the more COVID-safe route by holding the 2022 ceremony outdoors. In mid-May, that's a bit of a gamble — as I write this the morning after, it's raining in Toronto — but the weather was excellent and it completely paid off. The temperature was comfortably in the 20s, the sun set during the first part of the ceremony, and the outdoor setting made it a safer way for thousands of people to gather. The night was made all the more sweet by this glorious evening following a long pandemic winter.