First-time nominees Iron Maiden, Foo Fighters, Go-Go's, Carole King, Jay-Z, Fela Kuti and Dionne Warwick are joined by returning candidates Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, Devo, Chaka Khan, LL Cool J, New York Dolls, Rage Against the Machine, Todd Rundgren and Tina Turner.
So, who are the most surprising candidates and snubs? Who should get in and who will get in? Five UCR writers answer those burning questions below.
1) Who’s the most surprising nominee this year?
Michael Gallucci: It's great to see Fela Kuti on this year's list. The Rock Hall typically steers away from world artists, especially ones who don't sing in English. Maybe this will open the door to similar artists in the future.
Corey Irwin: I’m shocked to see Fela Kuti on the list – not that he’s undeserving. The Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer has undoubtedly had a massive influence on generations of musicians, but he’s not an artist most mainstream music lovers would be familiar with. Back when there were record stores (remember those?), his music would have been found in either the jazz or “world music” sections – not exactly the most popular spots. His nomination shows the Hall’s further willingness to branch out from its traditional rock roots. I think Kuti is a bold inclusion, and while I don’t think he’ll earn enshrinement this year, it’s exciting to see such an eclectic and important artist receiving attention.
Allison Rapp: It's almost certainly because of the hoopla that surrounded Biggie's induction last year, but I'm a little surprised to see Jay-Z and LL Cool J on the 2021 list. It's great to see the Rock Hall giving some attention to some of the New York R&B and rap artists who made the scene what it was, but I'm just not sure those two fit in the same line.
Matthew Wilkening: Fela Kuti, Dionne Warwick and Carole King, in that order. All three would be welcome additions to the Rock Hall, and I'll admit that before today I was unaware of exactly how successful and impactful Warwick's career has been so far.
2) Who’s the most surprising snub this year?
Gallucci: I wouldn't call it surprising, but every year I sorta expect to see Jethro Tull or King Crimson on the list, especially given the HOF's recent trend of playing catch-up with classic rockers. Maybe they're finally getting past this phase.
DeRiso: Judas Priest, mostly because I figured they’d waited long enough for their turn – and they were a Top 5 finisher in the fan voting last year.
Irwin: It remains baffling to me that Judas Priest, Motorhead and Soundgarden are not in the Hall. At some point all three will be inducted, and we’ll wonder why it took so long. Sadly, that’ll be at least another year from now, as they were all inexplicably excluded from the 2021 nominee list.
Rapp: I'm still wondering where Warren Zevon is. Looking back on all his collaborations and relationships with so many different musicians, it's hard to believe he hasn't been acknowledged yet.
Wilkening: Judas Priest. They seemed to be so close last year. I get it, I'm supposed to just be happy with Iron Maiden instead. But both acts should have been in a long time ago. While Iron Maiden have the bigger following, Judas Priest had more impact on the mainstream and played a bigger role in the evolution of heavy metal as a whole.
3) Who do you think should get in?
Gallucci: I'd love to see Kate Bush, Devo, Carole King, Fela Kuti and New York Dolls make it in this year. Most of them were forward-thinking artists during their time. That's something the HOF honored in its early days but has moved away from more recently.
Irwin: All of the nominees have impressive resumes, but I’m going with Foo Fighters, Devo, Rage Against the Machine, the Go-Go’s, Fela Kuti and Jay-Z as the most deserving. Each has had dynamic effects on the music landscape, breaking down barriers and pushing boundaries along the way. The Go-Go’s shattered the glass ceiling for all-female bands; Rage delivered blistering, unapologetic political rock in a way that had never been seen before; Foo Fighters have been the strongest rock force for the last two-plus decades; Fela Kuti brought the Afrobeat genre to the world almost single-handedly; Jay-Z is a hip-hop icon who helped the music move from the underground to the mainstream; and Devo are Devo, a revolutionary group that mixed studio wizardry with its own distinctive style to create something so engagingly bizarre, it’s unlikely to ever be matched.
Rapp: This is tough, but for me I'd like to see Tina Turner, Carole King, Dionne Warwick, the Go-Go's and Kate Bush. Yes, I know that's all women. We've got some catching up to do.
Wilkening: I'd have no objection if they let all 16 in. Iron Maiden, Go-Go's, Kate Bush, LL Cool J, Carole King and Tina Turner is probably what my ballot would look like.
4) Who do you think will get in?
Gallucci: Foo Fighters, Go-Go's, Jay-Z, Carole King and Tina Turner seems like a diverse class. And it would be nice to see three influential women artists dominate the inductions for once.
DeRiso: Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, Tina Turner, Carole King … and Go-Go’s? The last one, however, might just be wishful thinking. (Sigh.)
Irwin: There’s no such thing as a guarantee in these kinds of things, but I think Foo Fighters are as close to a slam dunk as an artist can get. With commercial and critical success, generations of fans, the respect of their peers and Dave Grohl’s involvement with the Hall, the Foos really check off every imaginable box. Iron Maiden and Rage Against the Machine, two deserving bands that have patiently been awaiting their turns, should also get in. I’m less confident on Devo, though I lean toward saying they make it. I also think LL Cool J, the Go-Go’s and Tina Turner get the call.
Rapp: I definitely think this is Iron Maiden's year — they've been left out too many times to ignore now. I also think that Todd Rundgren and Carole King will finally be given their due, along with the New York Dolls. Sylvain Sylvain's recent death has definitely kept that band fresh in everyone's mind. And I think the Foo Fighters will get in, too – Dave Grohl hasn't stopped grinding since the day he started.
Wilkening: Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, Go-Go's, Carole King, Tina Turner and, please, Iron Maiden. And if that doesn't happen, they'd be smart to put both Maiden and Priest in next year. They could hold the first presumably post-pandemic ceremony in a football stadium that way.
5) What’s your overall take on this year’s nominee class?
Gallucci: For the most part, I like most of the choices: Kate Bush, Devo, Carole King and the New York Dolls all should have been inducted years ago. I think there are a few safe ones here – Foo Fighters are boring, but Dave Grohl is a Rock Hall favorite and they're the closest we have to a traditional rock band these days for fans who require guitars and three chords – but every artist here has made a record worth celebrating.
DeRiso: I like the diversity here – the Foo Fighters are really the only traditional “rock” act – and I love the idea that the Rock Hall might add a clutch of important, long-overdue female contributors.
Irwin: I think it’s the most diverse and inclusive list in the Hall’s history. Women are well represented, as are artists of color. Not to bring up the old (tired) debate, but only half of the nominees are rock acts. Whether these moves are for better or worse is a matter of opinion, but one thing seems emphatically clear: The Rock Hall believes it is the preeminent honor for all genres and music makers, despite what its name implies.
Rapp: It can't be overlooked: This is the most female-heavy ballot in the entire history of the Rock Hall – seven out of the 16 artists are women. That's a huge deal considering less than 8 percent of the Rock Hall's inductees are women. Especially for women like Tina Turner and Carole King, whose works have always been inextricably tied to the work of their husbands, I'm really excited to see this kind of lineup and am hoping to see the shift continue in the coming years.
Wilkening: It's a very diverse, very worthy list of candidates. They're way behind on heavy metal and should choose more than one candidate from that field every year. Also, if they're going to honor artists from so many different genres, it's strange that country and jazz have been so underrepresented over the years. If it's a yes for Foo Fighters, why not Garth Brooks, for example?