Rock Hall Says Don’t Forget About the ‘Rock’ With Surprising 2024 Inductions: Critic’s Take

If you’ve noticed one trend with the artists the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has officially let through its doors this decade, it’s probably been the institution drifting away from the classic rock artists (mostly bands, mostly all-male) that defined its ranks for decades, and towards a broader genre view rewarding artists (often solo and female) of wide cultural iconicity.

Artists like Whitney Houston, Carly Simon, Lionel Richie, Pat Benatar, Missy Elliott, Kate Bush and Dolly Parton did not fit the traditional mold of artist the Rock Hall would have looked towards in past decades — as evidenced by the fact that all of them except Missy had to wait at least a decade from their earliest eligibility until their induction. But of course, music has continued to progress further and further away from the late period traditionally considered the classic rock era, while modern audiences have come to place significantly less emphasis on rock as the sun that the world of Serious Music revolves around. It makes sense that Rock Hall voters would end up emphasizing game-changing pop, country and hip-hop artists whose relevance has endured into the 21st century over 20th century radio rock leftovers with little bearing on contemporary popular music.

And so of course, the 2024 inductees for the Rock Hall include Peter Frampton, Foreigner and the Dave Matthews Band.

Now, that snarky comment isn’t totally fair to either the Rock Hall voters or the artists inducted. For one, there are still two artists from this year’s recently announced class that absolutely fit the newer brand of Rock Hall inductees in Cher and Mary J. Blige: both unquestionably iconic artists with rich, expansive legacies and subsequent generations of major artists that their impact can be traced through. Neither is traditionally rock — Cher dabbled in the genre and likely would’ve gone further with it than she did had she been allowed the artistic agency more frequently afforded today’s pop stars, while Blige’s intersections with the genre have been mostly incidental — but you can’t properly tell the story of the period of popular music the Rock Hall covers without either, so their presence is hard to argue with.

And while they cannot compare with artists like Cher or Mary J. Blige in terms of enduring pop culture ubiquity, those aforementioned rockier acts have legacies of their own that at least elbow their way into the discussion of Rock Hall worthiness. Peter Frampton had one of the biggest rock albums of the ’70s and a tremendous amount of peer respect for his work solo, as well as in prior group Humble Pie and as a sideman. Foreigner were among the biggest hitmakers in any genre for a solid decade from the late ’70s to late ’80s, with a handful of songs that remaining enduring staples on classic rock radio, movie soundtracks and even on singing competition reality shows. And for 30 years, Dave Matthews Band have been the model for a beloved jam-band also thriving as a massively successful recording act, scoring No. 1 albums and alternative radio hits and even a major pop crossover or two.

In an older Rock Hall class, you might not have looked askance at the three of them getting in. Even now, you might not think it that strange for any of the three of them to get in on their own. But for all three of them to get in the same year is fairly surprising, especially considering some of the names shut out. That includes Mariah Carey, one of the most accomplished and longest-lasting pop superstars of all time, and Sinéad O’Connor, a genre-blending star whose stardom was curtailed by artistic risks she took on and off record, but whose legacy feels even more vital and timely in 2024 (sadly following her death in 2023) than it even did at her commercial peak three-plus decades ago. By modern Rock Hall standards, both would feel like obvious picks; both will nonetheless remain on the outside for at least one more year.

And it’s not just the rockers among the less-expected inductees for 2024. Kool and the Gang, funk hitmakers of the ’70s and ’80s who had been picked up as something of a cause in recent years for their longtime Rock Hall snubbing, have been granted entry on their first nomination. Meanwhile, the third time proves the charm for A Tribe Called Quest — among the most beloved and celebrated groups in hip-hop history, but one that never achieved the massive crossover success of recently inducted rappers like Missy, Jay-Z and Eminem. For those two groups to get in not just over Carey and O’Connor, but more traditional rock and roll flag-wavers like Oasis and Lenny Kravitz, is also something of a shock. (The eighth and final 2024 inductee not yet mentioned was this year’s most predictable: Ozzy Osbourne, who satisfies both classic rock cred and solo star recognizability and prototypicality.)

Nonetheless, the recognition of that trio of long-eligible 20th century rock acts (and male ones, as six out of this year’s eight artists inducted are) suggests that as much as the Rock Hall has shifted towards a less hemmed-in, genre-specific institution over the years– an evolution likely necessary for its continued relevance — there are still plenty of voters primarily concerned with rock representation. DMB were likely helped by their continued presence within the industry, while Foreigner were doubtless boosted in no small part by the celebrity campaigning on their behalf by insider’s insider Mark Ronson (stepson of the band’s guitarist and founder Mick Jones). But the recognition of Frampton in particular — who we pegged as having the second-lowest chances of induction among this year’s 15 years — feels indicative of pushback against the Rock Hall’s broadening definitions.

If there is more of a unifying theory to the new inductees to the Rock Hall this year, though, it might have to do with the breakdown of longstanding critical preconceptions in evaluating said artists. Of the eight artists granted entry this year, only A Tribe Called Quest could really be considered in any way to be critics’ darlings. Of the seven others, several (Dave Matthews Band, Cher, Foreigner) existed as critical punching bags at their commercial peaks, and others (Kool & The Gang, Mary J. Blige, solo Ozzy Osbourne) were largely shrugged at by rock critics outside their home genres. Perhaps the expulsion of Jann Wenner from the Rock Hall’s Board of Directors last year has also served as the final severing of the institution’s adherence to classic critical canons, in favor of a slightly more updated perspective less beholden to the received wisdom of previous generations.

In any event, the 2024 class makes it clear that while the Rock Hall’s constituency may be forever evolving in their tastes and priorities, the musical values of decades past have not yet been completely lost to time. We will have to wait and see from the next few years’ classes whether this year’s represents the beginning of a pendulum swinging back to more traditional rock hall definitions for voters, or a final emptying of the bench for the classic rock faithful.

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