Tonight, HBO will air the Induction Ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 2014 Class. This year's inductees includes Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, KISS, Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt, and Cat Stevens. Though they are all deserving in their own ways, it is Nirvana that is really the significant choice here. The grunge trio is the first quintessential 90's band to get into the Hall and their honoring raises a very interesting and obvious question: what other contemporary rock bands have any kind of chance of getting in?
Sure their are some guaranteed first ballot Hall of Famers like Pearl Jam, but for the most part after Nirvana's demise, multi-platinum, arena rock groups became an endangered species. From the late nineties right up until now, The charts have been dominated by rappers and pop stars. It's artists like Eminem and Beyonce that have moved 1 million units in a week and sold out Yankee Stadium, not The Killers or Kings of Leon. So what is the Hall going to do? Will it embrace these kinds of pop and rap artists and induct them in? I suspect that ultimately they will have to. Really there is no other choice.
Let's first look at the kind of artists that the Hall's Committee selects. Though some critical darlings (Elvis Costello) and early influences (Robert Johnson) get selected, for the most part the Hall selects big-time acts that have made the industry a lot of money. Critical success matters a little (it took KISS a long time to get in) but not nearly as much as financial success and popularity (KISS still ultimately got in).
Additionally, the relevant contemporary artists that sound the most like traditional rock bands are indie groups like Wilco, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and some others. And let's face it. None of them are ever getting in (even more popular indie groups from past decades like Sonic Youth and Pavement haven't even gotten in yet). They just simply aren't popular enough and just exist in today's fragmented music landscape as niche artists. Popularity is what gets the most fans to tune into the induction ceremony and then to visit the museum later on. Tupac, Beyonce, Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Taylor Swift are the kinds of artists that have been consistently popular. These are the rock stars of the last 15 years.
This will be contentious no doubt. Many purists will decry that these artists are not rock musicians! Rock music has to have guitars and snare drums to be authentic! But "rock" is really just another way of saying, "popular music that young people listen to." Rock n' roll initially referred to a type of music from the 1950s that bears only a passing resemblance to most of what we have come to consider part of the genre. How much do The Police and Metallica (both inductees) really have in common with Fats Domino (also an inductee)? I certainly hope that guitar rock comes back, but lets face it: this type of music wasn't the dominant force over the past 15 plus years and there are very few guitar/bass/drum bands during this time that will meet the Hall of Fame's traditional criteria for admittance.
Some traditional rock acts like The White Stripes, No Doubt, and Radiohead will still get in, but for the most part the Rappers held sway over this era. As Jay-Z reminds us "that bloke from Oasis said I couldn't play guitar, Somebody shoulda told him I'm a fuckin rock star." When the time comes, I don't think the Hall of Fame Committee will need too much reminding.