Music Updates

The 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees: Who Will Actually Get In?

FELA KUTI

Awesome to see the Afrobeat pioneer and global musical icon be recognized here; Kuti is the kind of nominee that never would’ve been given a second thought by voters even five years ago, but whose impact is widespread enough that it’s hard to say he’s not deserving. Still, he’ll be facing an uphill battle for induction — without anything close to an obvious American hit, and no obvious precedent in terms of recent inductees, it might take a couple years’ worth of nominations and momentum for him to have a real shot.

Odds: 8 to 1

DIONNE WARWICK

What a year for Ms. Dionne, huh? After becoming such a social media sensation on Twitter that they did a skit about her on Saturday Night Live, she’s now up for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for the very first time, despite having been eligible for well over 30 years already. She certainly has the hits, the recognition and the importance, but there’s a reason why she hasn’t really been considered to this point — it’s still a little hard to wrap your head around Dionne Warwick being recognized by a rock-based institution, since most of her signature numbers (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) were deliberately soft, delicate pop confections. Not totally unprecedented, as 2020 inductee Whitney Houston wasn’t traditionally rocking very often either, but this one still feels unlikely.

Odds: 6 to 1

TODD RUNDGREN

This isn’t the Wizard of Philadelphia’s first RnRHoF rodeo; he’s been nominated each of the last three years now. A brilliant but pointedly difficult experimental pop-rocker, he’s a worthy inductee given the breadth and quality of his catalog, but he might just be the classic case of an artist who always has enough support to be nominated but never enough to be inducted. Still, with less competition from fellow crotchety old dudes than ever, he at least has a chance.

Odds: 5 to 1

KATE BUSH

In many ways, it’s staggering that the U.K. art-pop paragon hasn’t been inducted yet; few legacy artists from any era or genre are as universally celebrated by critics and fellow artists in 2021 as Kate Bush. But her mainstream recognition Stateisde has simply never been what it should be, and continues to lag behind — there’s still likely too many voters that only know her for “Running Up That Hill,” if even that. This is Bush’s second nomination, so perhaps she’s starting to gain the necessary momentum, but it might take a couple more tries for her yet.

Odds: 5 to 1

DEVO

May as well get through all the art-rockers here at once: Akron conceptual new wavers Devo have their following, they have a claim to enduring influence, and they have at least one hit that everybody knows, but like Rundgren, it’s unclear if they have the support wide enough to make the leap from nominee (their second time, following a 2019 nod) to inductee. Frontman Mark Mothersbaugh’s continuing relevance as a composer for film and television might give them a slight leg up in the industry over Bush and Rundgren here, though.

Odds: 4 to 1

CHAKA KHAN

Speaking of always-a-nominee: Chaka Khan has officially taken the mantle from Chic as the artist most likely to end up a perpetual Rock Hall snub. Khan has now been nominated seven times now, four as part of ’70s outfit Rufus and three as a solo artist. Will this finally be Chaka’s year? Possible, but sadly unlikely — unless she becomes a serious industry cause, her best chance of induction might be something like what eventually happened with Chic, where primary sonic architect Nile Rodgers was eventually given honorary induction via the Award for Musical Excellence.

Odds: 4 to 1

LL COOL J

Running just behind Chaka in terms of most-snubbed is hip-hop great LL Cool J — whose hard-hitting early hits and obvious rock star largesse seems to make him a more logical fit for the Hall than some other artists outside of the traditional rock genres, but who has still proven a bridge too far for voters in five prior years as a nominee. Maybe this year’s tilt towards inclusiveness finally puts him over the top, but best to be skeptical until proven otherwise at this point.

Odds: 4 to 1

MARY J. BLIGE

On paper, she should have the same roadblocks getting in as Chaka Khan and Dionne Warwick — outside of the occasional Elton John sample or U2 collaboration, she doesn’t have an obvious claim to being particularly rock. However, it’s easier to see Mary J. Blige bulldozing her way in there anyway: She’s a generational artist, widely recognized as the queen of hip-hop soul, as revered within the industry as just about any contemporary figure. As easy as it is to picture voters reflexively skipping over her name for genre reasons, it’s just as easy to picture them reflexively checking her name off without even giving her rock credentials a second thought.

Odds: 3 to 1

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Tough to peg Rage Against the Machine, rap-rock pioneers and perpetually relevant political songwriters who — despite releasing just three albums in their lifetime — check most of the boxes for a classic Rock Hall inductee. But this is their third time being nominated now, and if they didn’t get in the first two times, it’s hard to say why they necessarily would on their third go, after a planned 2020 reunion run was of course called off due to global COVID shutdown. Are they gaining momentum or losing it? We’ll have to see.

Odds: 3 to 1

IRON MAIDEN

Metal has always had a difficult time at the Rock Hall — it took genre GOATs Black Sabbath a decade to earn their way in, and genre elders Judas Priest have gone 0-2 on their pair of recent nominations. But Iron Maiden — somewhat shockingly a first-time nominee, despite having been eligible since the early ’00s — should have a fairly decent shot this year, as there’s not a ton of classic rock on the ballot, and they have one of the most rabid and devoted fanbases in rock history, and remain a high-level touring attraction to this day. They’ll have the inside on track on the fan ballot, at the very least.

Odds: 5 to 2

NEW YORK DOLLS

Hard to know exactly what to make of the Dolls’ case, as they seem like a classic Rock Hall band — influential and gritty and glammy and steeped in New York proto-punk mythology — but this is just their second time being nominated, and their first in 20 years. The Rock Hall has been busy playing catch up with ’70s glam the past few years — Roxy Music was inducted in 2019, and T. Rex last year — so maybe it’s finally just the Dolls’ turn. Once again, a relative lack of traditional boomer-era rock competition will certainly help.

Odds: 5 to 2

FOO FIGHTERS

Keepers of the flame for the classic rock mentality in the alternative rock era, Foo Fighters are as dead-center for the Rock Hall as you could possibly ask for — and frontman Dave Grohl is arguably as recognizably RAWK a figure as currently exists in popular music. The only thing potentially keeping them from being inducted on their first nomination (indeed, in their first year eligible) is that while the Foos are close to universally liked, they’re not quite as widely loved, and if Rock Hall members vote out of passion rather than duty, they might not quite be an automatic entry.

Odds: 2 to 1

THE GO-GO’S

It’s good timing for the Go-Go’s to land their first nomination after a decade and a half of eligibility, as recognition for them as pioneers — obvious greats of the new wave and early MTV eras, and the first all-female band to score a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 that they wrote and performed themselves — is at an all-time high, particularly following the late-’10s run of their Head Over Heels jukebox musical. Given the Rock Hall’s seeming new slant towards inclusivity, it seems like a natural fit that a beloved traditional rock band like the Go-Go’s would be close to a no-brainer, though a relative lack of traditional critical respect may still ding their chances the slightest bit.

Odds: 2 to 1

CAROLE KING
TINA TURNER

“How is she not in yet??” Well, both the epochal singer/songwriter and the peerless rock&B showwoman had previously been inducted along with their ex-husbands — King with Gerry Goffin as songwriters, and Turner with performing partner Ike as a duo act — but never as solo performers. That seems likely to change this year for both cases, as they’re on the ballot as solo acts for the first time in over 30 years (!!) While there might be a handful of Rock Hall members who think once is enough for either of them, you have to imagine it’s going to be more like Stevie Nicks in 2019 (previously inducted as part of Fleetwood Mac), where most voters are going to see their names on the list and reflexively check them off, because it seems silly to say either isn’t a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

Odds: 3 to 2

JAY-Z

Thought by many to be the greatest rapper of all-time — and certainly arguable as the most successful, most acclaimed and/or most generally venerated — Jay-Z is about as close to an insider here as a non-rocker could be. He remains a towering figure, both in the music industry and in popular culture at large, and he has enough rock connections — via Linkin Park, Rick Rubin, Coldplay and plenty others — that he’s hardly a stranger to that world, either. Simply put, if he doesn’t get in, it’d be the most shocking snub since Radiohead were denied entry on their first nomination in 2018.

Odds: Even

 

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