The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame needs to adapt to the changing times or risk becoming irrelevant
The award is in its 35th year and has faced increasing amounts of criticism from artists, publications and fans alike in the recent past. Here's what makes the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not-so-rock-and-roll anymore.
On March 29, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will yet again induct a new class of legends into their ranks. This year's inductees include Radiohead, The Cure, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Roxy Music, Def Leppard, and The Zombies. The final seven acts were whittled down from a long list of 15 after a committee of 1,000 artists, historians, and music industry members gave their valued opinions, combined with the official fan vote. This means several worthy acts including Rage Against the Machine, Devo, Kraftwerk, MC5, Rufus and Chaka Khan, and Todd Rundgren will, unfortunately, have to wait another year before possible inclusion into the esteemed Rock Hall.
Congratulations #RockHall2019 Inductees @thecure, @defleppard, @janetjackson, @stevienicks, @radiohead, #RoxyMusic and @thezombiesmusic Now's the time to celebrate with us: https://t.co/9aY5FNQFd7 🍾 pic.twitter.com/3WnI1xOEPY— Rock Hall (@rockhall) December 13, 2018
Perhaps the most deserving of all the honorees this year are indie champions Radiohead, who for some inexplicable reason were snubbed last year in their first year of eligibility (artists must have been active for at least 25 years to be nominated). While Radiohead's impact on the shape of modern rock history is unquestionable, the band members have publicly shown their indifference towards the honor in the past.
"I don’t care. Maybe it’s a cultural thing that I don’t understand." That was Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood speaking to Rolling Stone in 2017 when asked his thoughts on the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame that nominated his band that year, but it took another 12 months to give them the official nod. Guitarist Ed O’Brien was slightly more diplomatic in expressing his opinions. "I don’t want to be rude about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because for a lot of people it means something, but culturally I don’t understand it," he said. "I think it might be a quintessentially American thing."
However, when Rock Hall made Radiohead's induction official, the Oxfordshire rockers adopted a more gracious tone. "The band thanks the Hall of Fame voting body and extends congratulations to this year’s fellow inductees," the band said in a statement.
Keeping to their tradition, on Wednesday, Rock Hall announced the full list of presenters at the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The list of presenters boasts some of the biggest stars in rock history, with most of the presenters being well chosen to suit the occasion. Talking Heads frontman and musical visionary David Byrne will present the honor to Radiohead. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor will be introducing The Cure, while Harry Styles will be introducing Stevie Nicks. Other presenters include Janelle Monáe, who will introduce Janet Jackson; Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Simon Le Bon, who will introduce Roxy Music; Queen’s Brian May, who will introduce Def Leppard; and The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, who will introduce The Zombies.
The choice to tap Byrne to present the honor to Radiohead is perhaps the most poetic decision by Rock Hall. Considering the fact that Radiohead derives their name from the 1986 Talking Heads track 'Radio Head', there couldn't have been a more apt choice. Byrne himself was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002 along with The Talking Heads. In spite of Radiohead adopting a gracious tone, it's unfortunate to note that frontman Thom Yorke will not be attending the ceremony due to prior engagements. Yorke explained in a recent interview with Variety that although he has “always been very blasé about that stuff,” the band did not intend to disrespect the honor.
We just think that we just don’t quite understand it,” Yorke said in the interview. “We’ve had it explained to us, so it’s cool. But we don’t really understand it as English people. I think our problem is essentially that every awards ceremony in the UK stinks. We grew up with the Brits, which is like this sort of drunken car crash that you don’t want to get involved with. So, yeah, we don’t really know what to make of it.”
With Yorke's absence, it'll also be interesting to see how Radiohead adapts to his absence during the customary live performance that honorees put up every year.
A similar situation of awkwardness presents itself with Trent Reznor introducing The Cure. Firstly, for a band like The Cure that reveled in being celebrated in the underground margins of rock and consciously stayed away from the mainstream spotlight, the induction must come across as strange, to say the least. Former Cure drummer-keyboardist Lol Tolhurst joked that he's got his "Goth tuxedo" ready for the ceremony while discussing the induction with Rolling Stone.
As for Reznor, the notorious frontman has not held back in the past while expressing his dissent for Rock Hall. When asked about what it would be like if they were ever inducted, Reznor said that he "honestly couldn’t give less of a sh*t," before clarifying that "it's nice to be appreciated" but there's nothing less rock and roll than the idea of a hall of fame! It's worth noting that Nine Inch Nails was named as a nominee for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, its first year of eligibility. The band was nominated again the following year but was not inducted. In that context, it certainly is strange that Reznor has been invited as a presenter. But it looks like Reznor doesn't mind doing the honors because of his love for The Cure, who he has been an ardent fan of since his teenage years.
Considering Radiohead and The Cure are both receiving honors on March 29, it feels unfair that Rage Against The Machine - whose politically charged antics and fusion of rap and rock added a whole new dimension to rock - have been left out. But If RATM's exclusion feels harsh, Rufus & Chaka Khan's feels even more bitter. Especially considering the fact that this is Chaka Khan's third snub - she was first nominated as a member of Rufus in 2011 and then again as a solo artist in 2015.
The snub is also incongruous with the decision to induct Stevie Nicks this year. Nicks is now the only woman to be inducted twice — once as part of Fleetwood Mac in 1998 and now, 10 years later for her solo material. It could be argued that although her induction was most deserving as part of Fleetwood Mac, her solo career hasn't been as prolific. At least not as impressive as the Queen of Soul, Chaka Khan's solo career. One might interpret the decision to induct Nicks twice and make Rock Hall history as a sign of pandering to the pressures of the current political climate, what with award ceremonies constantly picking up flak for their lack of female representation. But even if Rock Hall is pandering, the decision to leave Chaka Khan out doesn't add up.
For Def Leppard, the award has been long overdue as they've been eligible for the honor for the last 16 years. The band swept the majority of the fan voting this year with 547,647 votes, which accounted for 17 percent of all votes cast. Frontman Joe Elliott said they are "cautiously optimistic" about the possibility of being enshrined into the hall. But three years ago, in an interview with HuffPost Live, the singer insisted that his band would "politely refuse" an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying it’s "not that important".
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. As is evident from the many remarks made by artists above, the Hall of Fame has steadily lost relevance today. With streaming numbers, social media and digital publications leading the way for tastemaking in the industry, it was bound to happen anyway. But the fact remains that we as humans love to make lists and our fascination for awards and recognition is not going away any time soon. Then perhaps the time is here for Rock Hall to adapt to the times to keep the honor still relevant. The Nobel committee broadened their horizon last year when they gave Bob Dylan the Nobel for literature. Both the Grammys and the Oscars have opened up their nominations to better represent minorities. Maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of fame would benefit by taking a leaf out of their books.
Some of the steps they can take to make the ceremony more inclusive is to increase the number of honorees every year, clear the massive backlog of snubbed artists through the years which includes legendary names like Iron Maiden, Soundgarden, Slayer, Pixies, New Order, Fugazi, Dead Kennedys, Blue Oyster Cult,Beck, Jeff Buckley, Kraftwerk, and many many more worthy contenders. Another nice touch would be to recognize up and coming artists who are still wielding the ax proudly in an era when guitar-driven music is losing its mainstream edge.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will surely adjust to the changing pulse of the times, but as always, change is always slow to come. For now, though, we can watch the ceremony on Saturday, April 27 at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT).