Debby Friday has won the 2023 Polaris Music Prize for her album “Good Luck.”
The debut full-length release from the Nigerian-born Canadian was selected on Tuesday for the $50,000 prize by an 11-member grand jury. They named it the best Canadian album of the year based on its artistic merit.
The stunned musician took the stage at Massey Hall in Toronto to accept the cash award from last year’s winner, Pierre Kwenders.
After regaining her composure, the 29-year-old thanked many of the people who helped her career and reflected on her upbringing. She was born in Nigeria before she immigrated to Canada when she was around two years old, she said.
“This is something that I didn’t realize was a possibility,” she said from the stage.
“Now, I’m here today and it just feels like a miracle.”
The Polaris Music Prize is considered one of the country’s most prestigious music awards with previous winners who include Haviah Mighty, Jeremy Dutcher and Kaytranada.
Friday, who was born Deborah Micho, started her music career as a DJ in the Montreal club scene, learning her early skills from YouTube tutorials.
She later moved to Vancouver to get a master’s degree in fine arts, a significant pivot from her bachelor’s degree in political science. She said all the money from her Polaris win will likely go towards paying off student loans.
“There’s quite a bit,” she said backstage with a laugh. “I’ll need Polaris and then some.”
“Good Luck” finds her Debby Friday alias building on the industrial sounds of her two EPs with more soulful vocals.
Music critics likened the album to artists as diverse as industrial metal band Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, rappers Run the Jewels and Beyoncé.
It was written during the pandemic, she said, as she spent “a lot of time sitting and reflecting on life.” Winning the Polaris was never part of that vision, she added.
“I didn’t have the imagination for this back then,” she said.
An eclectic group of Canadian musicians were up for this year’s prize, including Feist, Aysanabee, the Sadies, Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Dan Mangan.
Many of them showed up at the awards show to perform from their nominated albums.
Winnipeg’s Begonia sang tracks from “Powder Blue” earning some of the loudest applause of the night for her powerful voice.
Toronto band the Sadies performed from “Colder Streams,” their final studio recording with founding member Dallas Good, who died last year.
Oji-Cree alternative soul musician Aysanabee played guitar beside a painting of his grandfather made by Toronto artist Montina Hussey. The work doubled as the album cover of “Watin,” which was inspired by daily phone conversations with his elder during the pandemic.
Four-time Polaris-nominated duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids closed the show with a live comedy skit as a precursor to songs from their album “I’m Good, HBU?” The sketch involved a late-night TV host interviewing them about their careers — claiming himself a fan but having little knowledge of their music — before the pair jumped into an energetic rap performance.
While accepting her Polaris win, Micho urged other musicians to “protect your strangeness” because she now realizes what was in her was a “superpower all along.”
“Protect the things that make you different. These are gifts you are given,” she said.
Not all of the Polaris nominees were present for the event. Organizers say Feist and Daniel Caesar, had touring commitments and were unable to be there. However, a few members of Alvvays were in attendance but did not perform.
This was also a year of big changes at the Polaris awards show.
Most notably, the evening’s proceedings used to take place at the CARLU event space in Toronto, which holds up to 1,500 people. But organizers decided to upgrade to the larger Massey venue to draw more music fans.
The Polaris also only awarded its winner a cash prize and did not give $3,000 to each of the short-listed artists as it has in recent years.
The show also didn’t stream live on CBC Gem this year, though organizers say a compilation of highlights will broadcast on “CBC Music Live” which airs Friday on the FM station CBC Music.