2020 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees
And my personal RRHOF 2020 ballot.
|Stephen Thomas Erlewine||Jan 15|| 3|
From the moment the nominees came down the pike, 2020 seemed to be a transitional year for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The candidates appeared to be designed to appeal to every demographic, balancing perennial favorites of the nominating committee (Kraftwerk, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan) with staples of AOR (The Doobie Brothers, Pat Benatar, Thin Lizzy), mavericks of metal (Motörhead, Judas Priest) and pop (Todd Rundgren), pioneers of synth-pop (Depeche Mode) and glam (T. Rex), jam-band warriors (Dave Matthews Band), alt-rock heroes (Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails) and icons of pop (Whitney Houston) and hip-hop (The Notorious B.I.G.).
Something for everybody, then, all assembled in a way that pleases nobody--a situation compounded by the final class of 2020. As a whole, it feels balanced in a way last year's class didn't. Much of that is due to how this year's group of inductees is, on the whole, a bit younger—there are no relics of the '60s, although I suppose a case could be made for the earliest years of Marc Bolan—and some space was made not just for hip-hop, but gnarly sounds from the underground that were made with keyboards, not guitars. Nine Inch Nails is the first group to emerge from the ugly industrial underbelly but Trent Reznor won an Oscar nearly a decade ago, so it's not a secret that members of the showbiz industry admire him. Depeche Mode, on the other hand, is a surprise: a group that eschews all notions of authenticity that the Rock Hall generally embraces. Whitney Houston's induction will dredge up the tired "it's the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, not the Pop Hall of Fame" arguments, but in some respects, she's a paragon of authentic musical authenticity, working her way up through NYC's art scene and singing with Bill Laswell's Material. She also helped transform the style of popular singing, too, so her induction is warranted. It's also telling that the Notorious B.I.G. made the cut. An undeniable hip-hop legend, Biggie Smalls never quite crossed over to rock audiences the way previous RRHOF hip-hop inductees have (think Run-DMC and Public Enemy, who both cut tracks with hard rock bands), so his induction suggests that the Hall is indeed taking the task of laying the groundwork for a post-classic rock Rock Hall quite seriously.
This kind of diverse yet divisive class is likely to be the norm from this point out. There are plenty of old rockers who should get in, but they're receding further into the past as the Hall races to rock & roll's last great hurrah of 2001. Once we get past the White Stripes and the Strokes, there are vanishingly few rockers of note who could make it into the Hall, so the Hall needs to put in more nominally non-rock acts or it'll wind up being a relic of the past.
The RRHOF Class of 2020:
The Doobie Brothers
Nine Inch Nails
The Notorious B.I.G.
Whither The Fan Ballot?
Dave Matthews Band
They may have garnered the softest tallies since the Rock Hall Fan Ballot was inducted, but it's telling that neither Dave Matthews Band nor Pat Benatar--the top two finalists in the poll--wound up getting inducted. I've long thought the moment where the Hall didn't follow the popular lead would arrive and I am not surprised it happened this year. DMB may have a devoted fanbase but it's on the wane, and no matter their deep industry connections, they've never been a favorite of tastemakers. Furthermore, they don't have a powerful narrative arc to their career: they've suffered some enormous personal loss, but they've generally got to the top and stayed there. The same can't be said of Benatar, who basically had a hot streak that lasted around five years filled hits that turned into album rock staples. There are a bunch of great songs there—"Hit Me With Your Best Shot," of course, and I'm partial to "Shadows of the Night"—and it's been enough to give Benatar and partner Neil Giraldo (who, let us not forget, would've been inducted alongside her) a successful career, but as a catalog, it feels fairly thin. It also feels like it belongs to a specific moment in time, an assessment that could apply to other artists who are sitting comfortably in the Hall but in Benatar's case, she lacks an X factor that would garner votes: she's a workaday rocker who had a good moment.
Who Should've Gotten The Nod
Grousing about who should've been inducted is a Rock Hall tradition: the year wouldn't feel complete without it. Of the acts that were on the ballot this year, I feel Kraftwerk, Motörhead and Judas Priest are all stylistic innovators who need to be enshrined in the Hall, particularly since so many of the groups they've influenced have wound up making it in somewhere along the line. But my personal advocacy would be for Todd Rundgren, who was a major force in shaping the sound of mainstream and AOR pop/rock in the 1970s, along with being a pioneer in production and music video. Too bad that he's too prickly of a personality to drum up widespread support among the industry.
In Danger Of Never Getting In
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
At this point, it's verging on cruel to continue to put Kraftwerk and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan on the nominating ballots. Kraftwerk has been in contention a whopping six times, which indicates they'll never garner enough support among the voters to get in. Considering how often they're (rightly) cited up as an influence on synth-pop, techno, hip-hop, and dance music, it's a surprise they're not in but as Mark Richardson surmised on Twitter, Kraftwerk may just be too much of an "underground/cult/record nerd thing" to break into the voting bloc at large. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, in contrast, had many big hits in the mid-1970s and Chaka Khan wound up as a formidable solo force, but they clearly do not translate to rock-centric voters or younger generations who likely know Chaka better for her cover of Prince's "I Feel For You" than "Tell Me Something Good."
My personal 2020 ballot
Nine Inch Nails
Given the final inductees, I must confess that I'm a bit amused that my ballot wound up being the most traditionally rock & roll ballot I've done in some time. Personal taste drove this more than any kind of musical politics. Of the five artists I voted for, Rundgren and T. Rex were the ones I hoped would get in. For the personality reason I stated above, I was sure Todd wouldn't make it, but I'm delighted that T. Rex stepped into the Roxy Music role as the overdue British icon who finally got the nod. I chose Thin Lizzy because I believe Phil Lynott is one of the best singer/songwriters in hard rock, I went for MC5 partially out of hometown pride but also because they're a catalyst for a ton of punk and politically-charged rock & roll. Given this very guitar-heavy ballot, I threw in Nine Inch Nails to push this away from the realm of AOR.