November 27, 2019

Predictions: The Rock Hall Class of 2020

An eventful year and decade comes to a close, and still, this question lingers: What names will be read this January by museum CEO Greg Harris as he announces the Rock Hall Class of 2020? Judging by the Fan Vote stats, and to quote "Everything Counts" by Depeche Mode, "It's a competitive world." (And if you read Evelyn McDonnell's brilliant, mic-drop of a piece in Billboard this past November 15, another lyric from that song holds true, as well: "The graph on the wall/Tells the story of it all"). 

But back to the lecture at hand. It's time to be bold. It's time to be pragmatic. So, bombs away: This will be the first year where the Rock Hall Fan Vote Winner (presumably Dave Matthews Band) does not get into the Hall. Let's be clear — this prediction has nothing to do with Dave Matthews Band's arguable merits or Hall-worthiness, so DMB fans need not take offense; if any other act from the ballot was at the top of the Fan Vote, this (admittedly wild) prediction would still have been made.

Yes, it's true that Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chicago, Journey, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard each triumphed in the Fan Vote, and were subsequently inducted. The prognostication here is that this will be the first year that will not happen. Look, at some point, this streak has to end. Otherwise, the pattern of the Fan Vote winner automatically being swept into the Hall every year starts looking, well, a bit suspect. And does the Hall really want to throw even more fuel on the fire of what many observers view as a broken, exclusionary induction process in need of radical change? 

While the Hall's fan engagement initiatives are here to stay, there's no denying that the world, and its institutions, are places where electoral processes don't always favor the candidate with the most votes (but enough about the Dave Clark Five). Please view Exhibit A when it comes to artists at the top of fan-voted Rock Hall mechanisms: The museum kiosk vote found Mötley Crüe and Blink-182 in the top two slots right before last month's ballot announcement. Both of those bands failed to make the nominee pool (unlike Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks a year prior, both inducted). If the Hall is willing to disregard/leapfrog acts the public votes for at the museum, it's reasonable to speculate that this year's Fan Vote winner might just have to enter the race anew another year.

Here are E-Rockracy's predictions for the Rock Hall Class of 2020:

Pat Benatar 
Depeche Mode
The Doobie Brothers 
Whitney Houston
Judas Priest
The Notorious B.I.G.
Early Influences: Kraftwerk

So let's unpack this. This year's ballot, for all its faults and redundancies, is nonetheless genre-diverse. This predicted class keeps that eclecticism in mind. There's the untouchably cool rock icon Pat Benatar; representation of synth-pop/alternative with Depeche Mode; the FM radio-beloved, boomer-friendly American rock of the Doobie Brothers; a pop superstar in Whitney; an overdue nod to heavy metal with Judas Priest; and hip-hop achievement with Biggie.

By any standard, six performers, plus the Early Influences category, is a class that could certainly happen, and function tidily for a live HBO telecast. This may appear to be a hefty ballot with seven artists, but the Class of 2019 had that many, and it bears noting that two of these artists, Whitney and Biggie, are no longer with us. Right or wrong, deceased solo artists’ ceremony time is often shorter than time allotted to living nominees.

Regarding Early Influences and the prediction that Kraftwerk earns this honor, reference needs to be made to SiriusXM’s “Volume” show when the ballot dropped last month (thanks to Future Rock Legends for compiling and transcribing this on the FRL site)For context, this is regarding a possible redefinition of the Early Influences category, which, per the Rock Hall site is “Awarded to influential artists whose music predates rock and roll."

On  SiriusXM October 15, nomination committee member Alan Light and Rock Hall Foundation CEO Joel Pereman said the following:

Alan Light: "We've said this before, there's also some of these who at a certain point should you look at them as Early Influences? Should Kraftwerk be not in the general ballot, but moved to go in a different way because of everything in that whole universe tracing back to this one band. That's another thing that we would look at.

Joel Peresman: "Absolutely. As we get older and move on, when you think about Early Influences it's not the 50s and 60s anymore. The Early Influence can be 70s and 80s depending on the certain genre of music.

So there it is. The prediction here is that the Hall does exactly that, and gives Early Influences to the overdue electronic music pioneers of Kraftwerk. And why not? In the end, and for all the widely reported dysfunction in this institution — the sound, the fury, the easily avoidable, Jesus-wept outrages — the Hall, its executives, and its committees can do whatever they want. And so, in the spirit of optimism on the cusp of a new decade and a new era with chairman John Sykes, hopefully that intrinsic latitude can lead to to more just, inclusive, and contemplated Hall going forward. It's time for changes. Rock Hall, there are more eyes on you than ever. Watching. Waiting.