If you're normal, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is something you only think about once a year, if that. It doesn't affect your daily life even if your favorite act is recognized or snubbed and you rarely factor in a potential trip to Cleveland in 25 years when you're an aspiring rock legend picking up an instrument for the first time. You only think about it to either get mad at how they ignored artists in their annual nominees list or to check if acts like Steely Dan, Whitney Houston, and CHIC are already in (yes, in 2001; yes she finally got in last year; and no, even though they've been nominated 11 times).
Although the institution has lost some of its relevance for rarely recognizing the most deserving acts, these awards should matter as a marker for excellence and significance in popular music. Today, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the 2021 nominees and it's actually a pretty good class. There's a wealth of acts getting their first nods as potential inductees including Jay Z, Dionne Warwick, Fela Kuti, Iron Maiden, Mary J. Blige, Foo Fighters, and the Go-Go's. Carole King, who was inducted as a songwriter in 1987, received her first nomination as a solo artist while Tina Turner, already in the Hall of Fame with Ike and Tina Turner, also got her first solo nod. Both artists have a chance to be the second (or third) woman inducted twice next to Stevie Nicks. Rounding out the list are repeat nominees Kate Bush, Chaka Khan, Devo, LL Cool J, New York Dolls, Rage Against the Machine, and Todd Rundgren. Khan and Cool J both lead the pack with six previous nominations each (Khan has three as a solo artist and three with Rufus and Chaka Khan).
This is one of the more diverse classes of nominees ever, and it’s the first time that a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot could be feasibly composed of solely women and people of color, who have often been overlooked in favor of overwhelmingly white and male legacy acts. Before Houston finally made the 2020 class of inductees, women made up only 8 percent of total inductees into the Rock Hall of Fame. It's an indefensible statistic and the Rock Hall has been the subject of pretty intense criticism for years, especially from their own inductees. “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2020, induct more women,” Janet Jackson said in her 2019 acceptance speech. They didn't listen in 2020, inducting only Whitney Houston, but in 2021, the tide might be turning.
Out of these 16 acts, only a handful will be inducted in May when the ballots are counted (in 2020, six acts made the cut while in 2019 seven were selected). This is the first year in a long time, maybe ever, where each nominee truly deserves inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Whether it's a good-intention signal for change or the Rock Hall is just sick of people roasting overly white and overly crusty arbiters of prestige, it's a good first step in making the Rock Hall's inductees look a little more like the actual musical landscape. Though in many ways the event is still historically an exorbitantly expensive, self-congratulatory, and culturally irrelevant institution, and the fact that Tina Turner isn't already in there on her own is so silly, this is a step in the right direction.