Since 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation has been bestowing what they deem “rock’s highest honor” on musical artists, inducting them into a hall of fame so long as they meet their criteria: have a debut album that’s 25 years or older, be or have been “influential,” and make it through their voting process after being nominated. What ultimately separates the nominees from the inductees is the third thing on that list, which is the source of the grievances I have with the Rock Hall. Since the latest class was inducted on October 30, I thought now would be as good a time as any to air them out.
The process begins with the members of the Rock Hall nomination panel creating a list of nominees, usually including 15 or so artists. Seemingly, why given artists are chosen in a given year is random; it’s just what the panel felt like going with that year I guess. As long as they’re deemed influential and released their first album 25 years ago or more, they’re fair game to be nominated. From there, the list is released to the public, and to yet another panel, this time ultimately responsible for choosing which nominees will become inductees. A poll is also released, where fans have the opportunity to vote daily for as many inductees as they like. The idea is that this poll will contribute to the panel’s decision. At the end of April, the fan vote is closed, and in May, the new class of inductees is announced, usually including 5 to 7 artists.
At its core, the process is a pretty flawed one, considering the subjective nature of a lot of the decisions that need to be made. One person might not agree with another’s definition of influential, artists that have made significant contributions to pop culture could be snubbed because of the board member’s personal preferences, etc. It doesn’t help that Rock Hall isn’t exactly transparent about the inner workings of the process; about all they’ll provide in the way of explanation is similar to the short summary that I gave above.
But my biggest problem is the fact that there is a voting process at all after the nomination. I don’t understand why there needs to be so many steps here. In the initial voting for the nominees, the panel picks artists that they deem to be influential and worthy of induction into their hall of fame. Shouldn’t that just be the end of it? What makes these artists any less or more worthy after the voting process, besides the fact that the panel subjectively chose who they felt like letting in that year? This isn’t like the Oscars or something where there’s only one award that has to be given to someone. If your whole mission is about recognizing artists’ accomplishments, why is there more to this process than just inducting them in? Oh, it’s an honor just to be nominated. But is it though? Is it if you’re just going to end up slighting people on grounds that are rooted in opinion, even though you have the freedom with this model to let in as many people as you want? My favorite is when they nominate people again after they didn’t make it the first time. “Hey Chaka Khan, we love your stuff! We think you’ve made really great contributions to the industry. Anyways, we’re going with these other guys, you get it. But hey, we’ll nominate you six more times in the coming years and still never let you in, cool?” If you’ve deemed Chaka Khan as influential, shouldn’t she then, by your logic Rock Hall, just be let in? Why do you have to pit people against each other in a gauntlet with weird rules and advantages for certain parties when no one even knows what they’re fighting for? Is this about measurable things, like record sales, or stuff impossible to gauge like pop culture influence? Oh, it’s both. Then how is anyone ever supposed to clearly understand what it takes to be let in? With a process that is already so subjective in nature, it just doesn’t make any sense to me to add additional hoops that need to be jumped through. If you have deemed someone as an influential contributor to the music industry, that should be the end of it. They have already proven themselves to the world, they shouldn’t have to now prove themselves to your council. If Leonardo DiCaprio loses an Oscar to Jamie Foxx, you can argue it’s because Foxx gave a better performance in that given year. Next time around, there is the potential for something to change: for Leo to give a better performance and get the Oscar. There’s no change here since we’re looking at whole careers. It doesn’t make sense that Kraftwerk wasn’t good enough last time, but they are this time.
If it’s not enough that the process doesn’t make sense, and that the committee’s end of the decision is rooted in unclear factors, the fan vote is basically a joke. What do you mean Pat Benatar came in second in the fan vote…but wasn’t chosen to be inducted, while Nine in Nails, who came in 11th were? That same year, 2020, T. Rex was also chosen to be inducted after coming in last on the vote. Only one of the artists who made it into the top five, which are supposed to be the artists entered on the fan ballot, made it in that year. Nothing about this process is rooted in anything tangible.
Not only is it a slap in the face to nominate these artists year after year just to not let them in, but I also think it’s incredibly insulting that they’ve included memorabilia from artists that they’ve failed to induct in their museum, or even asked them to induct other artists! How are you going to ask Duran Duran to induct Roxy Music when they’ve been eligible for induction themselves for years and you keep snubbing them? How are you going to put Depeche Mode adverts in your museum, in 2017 before they were inducted, when they’re not in your hall of fame? It’s just more of the same: let’s recognize people’s worth, and Rock Hall’s favorite, their influence, but then not do anything with it because we’ve decided based on nothing to go with someone else.
In essence, I appreciate what the Rock Hall is trying to do. I like them as an organization. I went to the museum when I was 13 and loved it. But every year, I get more and more fed up with the way they run their induction. Some of it is based on my own biases of course. Was it the final nail in the coffin seeing them nominate and not induct Kate Bush? I mean, not quite: that’ll be if they do that to Duran Duran, but it still hurt. Overall, it’s about the unfairness in telling these artists that they deserve a place after a successful career and then not giving it to them when there’s nothing stopping them from doing so. I believe that major fundamental changes need to be made in order to really make it “rock’s highest honor.” If Johnny Rotten sends you a handwritten note comparing your museum to “urine in wine” at the news of being inducted, I think you’ve got a problem. Do away with the second vote. Find a way for fans to be involved with the initial process, and leave it at that.