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Topless protester crashes Junos, as Weeknd wins 5th award with album of the year

Unexpected moment set tone for energetic Junos where Weeknd’s smash hit ‘Dawn FM’ took top honours
Avril Lavigne confronts a topless protester as she presents during the Junos Monday, March 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Timothy Matwey

A wildly unpredictable Juno Awards unfolded on Monday as a topless protester charged the stage, leading to some feisty words from Avril Lavigne, while an absent the Weeknd emerged as the top winner this year.

With a few twists and turns, Canada’s biggest celebration of music did away with its typically tame proceedings shortly after the broadcast got underway. Lavigne was interrupted by a topless woman who leapt on the stage wearing pasties with paint on her that read “land back” and “save the green belt,” a reference to Ontario’s decision last fall to open a protected area of land for housing.

The pop-punk princess appeared blindsided by the crasher and proceeded to swear at her, demanding she get off the stage. The person was quickly escorted away by security.

Unfazed, Lavigne moved on to introduce a performance by Punjabi-Canadian singer and rapper AP Dhillon.

She returned later to accept this year’s fan choice award with a few choice words and another expletive: “Nobody try anything this time or the Canadian is going to come out of me and I’ll (mess) a bitch up.”

The unexpected moment set the tone for an energetic Junos that saw the Weeknd’s smash hit “Dawn FM” earn him album of the year, adding to four wins he scored at a Saturday industry event, including artist and single of the year for “Sacrifice.”

When pop singer Tyler Shaw announced the Toronto native, born Abel Tesfaye, was absent from the Junos to accept his prize, the crowd expressed their disappointment and began to boo.

Tesfaye did send a written statement provided to The Canadian Press by Junos organizers:

“I am so honoured to be recognized like this from my home country that I love so much. I’m so humbled by all this and could never thank fans enough,” he wrote.

Other winners included Jessie Reyez who picked up contemporary R&B recording of the year for “Yessie” as her tearful father looked on and Tobi who won rap album/EP of the year for “Shall I Continue?”

Newcomer Preston Pablo, who sings “Flowers Need Rain,” won breakthrough artist of the year.

Special honourees Nickelback were present throughout the night, even before they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in a pre-recorded message by actor Ryan Reynolds.

Guitarist Ryan Peake offered a hand — and a guitar — in an opening bit where host and Marvel star Simu Liu showed off his vocal chops with a cover of Nickelback’s “Photograph.”

All of the band took the stage as Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid ushered them into the Hall of Fame, saying Nickelback is among those who “have changed the game forever.”

In his speech, a smitten Chad Kroeger reflected on his band’s humble beginnings in Hanna, Alta., saying they “had no idea what we were doing and most of the time still don’t.”

“But everything we did led us to this moment right here,” he added.

A little later, the band returned to close out the broadcast with a medley of their biggest hits that included more than its share of fiery pyro effects.

After the Junos, the organizers issued a statement saying they take “every step to avoid interruptions” to the program, but that live broadcasts always include risks.

“We hope tonight’s brief disruption doesn’t take away from the accomplishments of this year’s performers, winners and nominees,” they added.

Yet, artists continued to buzz about the topless fan backstage, with Lavigne telling the press room she was confident it was “going down as one of the highlights.”

Liu, who signed off the show saying “sorry about the boobs,” also joked about it backstage: “If you had told me before I hosted there would be someone who would take their shirt off at the Junos, and it wouldn’t be me, I would be shocked.”

—David Friend, The Canadian Press

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