We're not at the Waldorf-Astoria anymore.
In light of the dazzling, genre-diverse spectacular that went down at the Microsoft Theater two weeks ago, it's worth reflecting back on the original location of the Rock Hall ceremony, held in New York City starting in 1986.
Ah yes, the glitzy, champagne-drenched Waldorf-Astoria, home to a whopping 23 private inductions over the years. The event did escape from New York at times—it landed at L.A.'s Century Plaza in 1993 (still private), and in 1997, the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel had the distinction of hosting the first public ceremony. After a second public induction in Cleveland in 2009, the Waldorf-Astoria hosted two more closed-door ceremonies. Finally, in 2012, the walls came tumbling down, making this largely closed-off event open to everyday music fans.
Ten years later, so much has happened. There's been Rock Hall Foundation leadership and committee turnover (most notably, John Sykes in for Jann Wenner), the pandemic (which herded the 2020 inductees into a pre-packaged, documentary-style HBO program), and an erratic three-city rotation. This year, inductions returned to La La Land (or, in Alex Lifeson parlance, "blah-blah land") for the first time in nine years.
This was a big one. Super-sized. It will put the "Max" in HBO Max this weekend. In a first, there were even bleachers onstage packed with fans. This was Sykes' first Los Angeles ceremony, and the iHeartMedia President and co-founder of MTV (along with the foundation and production team) wasn't leaving anything to chance. "Delivering the goods" appears to be the key methodology of 2020s-era Rock Hall ceremonies. Cleveland next year? Or Brooklyn? No matter where this event lands on the map, it would appear that state-of-the-art production and God-tier rock star power will be on tap. Last year, McCartney. This year, Springsteen.
The 37th annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is getting a 4-hour window for broadcast on HBO. At the Microsoft Theater, it spanned five and-a-half hours (7:15 p.m. to about 12:45 a.m.). Having been in the room for ceremonies that ran about that long, but felt longer due to speeches and near-comical staging delays (looking at you, 2015), it must be said that apart from Duran Duran's brief sound collapse early on, the show mostly cruised along, with just a few plodding segments along the way. The final edit will likely jettison some of that excess baggage.
The baggage isn't limited to the show itself. The Rock Hall ceremony is an exhilarating bubble to be in, but it remains peculiar due to various tensions. Maybe it's the mixing of industry and commoners, and maybe it's the feeling that the Hall, with its obvious inductee backlog and well-documented failures of committee-think, has a lot to make right; the fans showing up are carrying both expectation and indignation.
If the show runners understand this, and they hopefully do, they'll work harder to find a balance between crowd-pleasing musical nirvana (knockout performances, once-in-a-lifetime moments) and the manner in which they recognize amazing individuals such as Harry Belafonte, Sylvia Robinson and Elizabeth Cotten. Those three inductees received only video packages, with no one onstage to even briefly announce their induction. In the late Robinson's case, her son Leland and granddaughter were there, so to not have them quickly accept the award on their mother's behalf was a mistake. Time truly must be made in these instances. Yes, it's a long show, time is of the essence, but some judiciousness was needed here.
And that's the problem with "big." Small, nuanced things get trampled upon. It's a vexing problem with shows of this scale, and with the Hall specifically. Much is done well, and much seemingly gets ignored. But flawed as it may be, the institution appears to be steering this colossal ship in the right direction. Vocal, intelligent observers have raised their voices for more women, more metal, more inductees, etc., and it would be inaccurate to say the Hall isn't listening. That said, Cleveland truly needs its first female hip-hop honoree, and hopefully 2023 brings that and much more.
But back to the ceremony. iHeartMedia boss Sykes is a different captain than Wenner, and there is an ambitious, new-look Rock Hall era upon us. With its 14 honorees and top-shelf list of special guests, the highly-produced 2022 edition could be split in half, and two ceremonies could be made from it. Goodness gracious, there were even two all-star jams, for all intents and purposes. (It seems the days of 5-7 inductees are a thing of the past.)
Speaking of Sykes, the inductions these last two years seem to parallel, in subtle ways, the genre-diverse, mainstream tilt of iHeartRadio Music Awards shows. In line with Sykes' references to "the sound of youth culture," there are several household names crossing over, and back, between that event and the Rock Hall ceremony (J.Lo! LL Cool J! Ed Sheeran! Olivia Rodrigo!). It's fitting, too, that SiriusXM looms so large in this annual affair (from backstage interviews to broadcasting audio of the ceremony), because its panoramic music station menu echoes the genre-inclusive approach that, at its best, the Hall manifests with its inductee slate and ceremonies each year. Where there is Dolly Parton, there is also Rob Halford. Where there is Eminem, there is also Steven Tyler.
Started at the Waldorf-Astoria and now we're here.