TORONTO - The Weeknd is back atop the nominees at this year's Juno Awards while newcomer Tate McRae and pop-punk favourite Avril Lavigne trail close behind.

The Toronto-raised “Blinding Lights” and “Starboy” hitmaker earned six nods across some of the main categories heading into the annual celebration of Canadian music.

They include album of the year for “Dawn FM,” single of the year for “Sacrifice” and artist of the year.

“Dawn FM” also earned a nomination for pop album of the year while the Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, will vie for songwriter of the year and the TikTok Juno Fan Choice prize, which is voted on by viewers.

It's a repeat performance for Tesfaye, who was the leading Juno nominee most recently in 2021. He emerged that year as the top winner, scoring five Junos, but didn't show up for what was a hybrid COVID-19 pandemic ceremony of taped and live appearances.

Whether the superstar plans to attend the Junos at Edmonton's Rogers Place still hasn't been announced. The event will be broadcast March 13 on CBC and CBC Gem, hosted by actor Simu Liu.

Other big contenders include Lavigne, the Napanee, Ont., pop-punk princess who competes for the throne with Calgary pop royalty McRae, a teenager who rose to fame in the pandemic with “You Broke Me First.” The two singers go up against each other in four categories - single, album, pop album and fan choice.

Lavigne's fifth nomination is for artist of the year, while McRae's is for songwriter.

Heading to the Junos with three nominations each are pop newcomers Preston Pablo and Reve. Both artists are slated to hit the Junos stage in a performance alongside Banx and Ranx, their producer collaborators who also hold three nominations.

The Montreal duo, whose real names are Zacharie Raymond and Yannick Rastogi, met in a local recording studio to watch a live feed of the nominations together. Shock ensued when they were named as contenders.

“We couldn't stop screaming,” said Raymond in a phone interview.

“As proud Canadians, it just feels amazing,” Rastogi added. “We couldn't feel more blessed.”

Also holding three nominations apiece are country siblings the Reklaws and rapper Nav.

This marks the first time the Junos have toured since the start of the pandemic - the show has been held in Toronto for the past two years - but the planning process encountered one big hitch last year.

Shortly after Juno Awards organizers made public their usual Sunday night broadcast, they were blindsided by the Oscars picking the same night. The Junos then bumped their show ahead one day to Monday. The majority of the music awards will still be handed out at the Saturday industry dinner.

Stuart Walker of the Reklaws said seeing Canada's music industry reunite in person after several years of COVID-19 uncertainty is encouraging as he focuses on his upcoming tour dates.

“We can't wait for this year ahead,” he said.

“And the fact that this (nominations ceremony) hasn't happened since 2020 - it's such a good sign that things are actually happening again and we're back at full force.”

Junos organizers added some extra splash by announcing that Jessie Reyez, Alexisonfire and Aysanabee will perform on the broadcast, joining previously announced acts that include Tenille Townes, Nickelback and AP Dhillon.

Asked whether the Junos plan to mark the 50th anniversary of hip hop this year, Junos president Allan Reid offered some assurance.

“We've been talking about that,” he said. “It will likely be something on the broadcast.”

The Junos have been criticized in the past for falling short of adequately celebrating Canada's hip hop and rap communities. Reid pointed out that effort has been made for improvements in recent years.

“We've been working really hard to mend fences,” he added.

Nominees for single of the year include Lavigne's “Bite Me,” Pablo's “Flowers Need Rain” with Banx and Ranx, McRae's “She's All I Wanna Be,” Shawn Mendes' “When You're Gone” and the Weeknd's “Sacrifice.”

Joining the Weeknd in the album of the year category are Ali Gatie's “Who Hurt You?,” Lavigne's “Love Sux,” Nav's “Demons Protected By Angels” and McRae's “I Used to Think I Could Fly.”

Other notable names include Arcade Fire, who landed among the group of the year contenders.

Their nomination appears to be a vote of support from the Canadian music industry at a troubled time for the Montreal act. Lead singer Win Butler last year faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct that he has denied, saying all encounters took place between consenting adults.

Nickelback picked up their 38th career nomination as “Get Rollin”' appeared among the rock album of the year contenders.

And scarcely a year after 13-year-old Kairo McLean became the youngest winner for the reggae recording Juno, he was named as a nominee again. Now 14, McLean returns with two more nods in the category, one for his album “In The Streets” and another as a featured artist on Kirk Diamond and Finn's “Reggae Party.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.