Pop culture arguments can descend into chaos quickly. “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”? David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar? Dylan electric or Dylan acoustic? Marvel or DC? Which actor was the best Batman? Best Bond? Best Doctor Who?
But when it comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — one thing’s for sure. Everyone will have something to gripe about.
Please, whoever nominated these groups, step away from the ballot box.
The class of 2017 nominees have just been announced, with Pearl Jam and Tupac Shakur among the highlights, and already the arguments for and against the 19 new nominees are raging fast and furious. (The top five vote-getters will be inducted.)
In a piece for Salon, arts reporter Scott Timberg is dismayed by nominations from progressive rock icons Yes and “Don’t Stop Believin’” pop-rockers Journey. Timberg writes: “What stand[s] out here is two of the most overplayed bands is history: Yes, and Journey. Please, whoever nominated these groups, step away from the ballot box.”
He sounds like the owner of a lonely heart.
A writer for the Asbury Park Press fussed that New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi — who have been eligible since 2009 — were passed over yet again. Meanwhile, Twitter — always a good place for thoughtful, reasonable discussion of philosophical differences — had users go to war over whether Shakur (rap/hip hop) and fellow first-time nominee Janet Jackson (R&B-flavored pop) belong in something specifically named the “Rock and Roll” Hall of Fame.
A story on the nominations for Rolling Stone is decidedly evenhanded, and for good reason: Longtime publisher Jann Wenner is the co-founder of the Hall of Fame, and his particular tastes, many argue, have played too powerful a role in which artists and bands are deemed worthy of making the cut.
Writer Mike McPadden weighed in last year for VH1.com, saying the HOF is "a snooty self-love pit, wherein Wenner and his mainstream ‘tastemaker’ pals converge to ostensibly hand out awards to acts and artists that adhere to their rigid definition of what’s ‘acceptable.’" He noted particular concern that "heavy metal, punk, hardcore, and other ‘threatening’ elements are relentlessly snubbed."
This year’s nominees largely give credence to that notion, but at least the hall is showing a little bit of progress. Hardcore punk pioneers Bad Brains actually got a nomination, as did the rock band MC5, which is credited as a major influence on the development of punk. And while alt-rockers Pearl Jam and Jane’s Addiction (both first-time nominees) wouldn’t be properly defined as punk, that genre has played a role in their sound from the start.
Given the criticism the HOF has faced over the years, one presumes improving the diversity of nominees (much less inductees) was a priority. Gender is a particular issue: Last year, only one woman (Joan Jett) was inducted, and women comprise only 44 of the Hall’s 321 members — that’s less than 14 percent.
- Bad Brains
- Chaka Khan
- Depeche Mode
- The J. Geils Band
- Jane's Addiction
- Janet Jackson
- Joan Baez
- Joe Tex
- Pearl Jam
- The Cars
- The Zombies
- Tupac Shakur
In a story for Billboard last year, writer Rob Tannenbaum spoke to 10 members (some current, some former) of the hall’s nominating committee about the process. One member called the nominating board "too old, too male, too white, too rich," while another said Wenner "has completely taken over … He doesn’t try to rig anything, but it’s the Jann Wenner show."
Wenner has pointed to efforts to diversify the nominating committee, and this year’s nominees — while still heavily white and male — include some exceptions. Jackson is joined by Chaka Khan and Joan Baez; in addition to Jackson, Khan and Shakur, black artists are represented by Chic (its 11th nomination), Bad Brains and Joe Tex.
Of course, with something as subjective as rock ‘n’ roll, diversity isn’t always considered a plus. Gangsta rap fans celebrated the induction of N.W.A. last year, but some traditional rock aficionados objected to the choice — even though Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy and Beastie Boys were already in the hall.
As for the nominees we haven’t previously mentioned, your excitement or lack thereof will likely come down to personal taste: Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk for cerebral alternative types; Electric Light Orchestra, the Cars and J. Geils Band for '70s/80s pop-rock fans; and Steppenwolf for classic rock buffs.
This will be the fifth year in which fans will have a role in deciding which bands get in, which should be a boon for the highly popular Pearl Jam and Shakur. Fans can vote until Dec. 6, with their votes creating a ballot alongside those of committee members including artists, historians and music industry insiders. The inductees will be announced later in December, with the 2017 ceremony to be held in April.