When I edit students’ papers, I always try to give them positive notes first. Then I hit them with what they did wrong. In that spirit, let’s talk about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023, announced today.
First and foremost, standing ovation for the induction of Missy Elliott! Misdemeanor is truly one of the GOAT. Her mix of Southern hip-hop and electronic dance beats emerged fully formed on Supa Dupa Fly in 1997, at once inimitably Missy and widely imitated. She was a rare woman behind the boards and the scenes, writing and producing songs for other artists, including Aaliyah. And of course her videos blew the game up for female fashion standards. The omission of women rappers from the Rock Hall up until this point was one of the institution’s most grievous failures. I love that the woman who showed how to rock a garbage bag broke that glass ceiling at the pyramid in Cleveland.
I’ve critiqued the hall’s nominating committee plenty in the past, but I am thrilled that they selected Chaka Khan for one of this year’s Musical Excellence prizes. To their credit, the committee has nominated her multiple times but the voters have never supported her. This was the right, honorable way to get her past the goon squad.
Overall, the list of inductees is good. I’m super stoked about Kate Bush, even if it took a TV show to get the voters’ attention. Sheryl Crow, George Michael, Willie Nelson, the Spinners: These are all worthy talents. And while I’m not 100 percent sure that Rage Against the Machine are more worthy than other chronic Rock Hall snubs (Queen Latifah) or peers (Bjork), I personally love them. Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.
That said … the Rock Hall ain’t nothing but a bunch of hound dogs. Since its first inductions in 1986, the Cleveland institution has year after year ignored Willie Mae Thornton, original singer of “Hound Dog,” among other accomplishments. The hall will induct Link Wray and DJ Kool Herc in the Musical Influence category. Why not Big Mama?
You know why not: SEXISM. It has been the hall’s tragic flaw since year one, when not a single woman was inducted. Including this year’s class, only 8.63 percent of total inductees are women. That percentage has changed little since I first began calculations in 2019. The good news: 20 percent of this year’s inductees are female. That’s not close to parity, but it’s better than the zero women inducted in 2016.
The induction of all-male groups and solo female artists is part of the continuing problem. For every Sheryl Crow that gets in (yay!), there are five Spinners (also yay!). All those bros on the nom comm seem scared of sister acts, of girls together outrageously. Sorry Salt N Pepa, Bikini Kill, Labelle, Shangri-Las.
But the biggest problem is in full evidence this year, despite the Rock Hall’s repeated recent vows to be less hegemonically white male: The circle jerk of the additional categories. The Musical Excellence, Musical Influence, and Non-Performer (named after legendary prick Ahmet Ertegun) nominees are not on the performers ballot that is sent to the voters. Instead they are chosen in a secret ritual held in a treehouse filled with cigar smoke on Jann Wenner’s Montauk estate, with a hand-lettered sign on the door: NO GIRLS ALLOWED.
Okay, they’re chosen by small committees in the back room of a restaurant in Little Italy where oaths of omerta are sealed with blood.
All right all right, they’re chosen by small committees about which little is known – but I’m guessing are testosterone-heavy.
The use of these categories has increased in recent years, which one might think would be part of that effort to diversify. Indeed they have been used to induct hip-hop artists, such as Kool Herc, who otherwise are ignored by the rockist, racist followers of Gene Simmons. But with the exception of Chaka Khan, the opportunities afforded by the supplementary categories have not been used to rectify the cock hall’s gender problem. Only four of the 62 managers, songwriters, DJs, journalists, etc., who have been inducted in the non-performer category are women. This year, there’s one inductee – Don Cornelius. The Soul Train creator is an important figure, but like so many men associated with the rock hall, he has also been accused of sexual misconduct.
I have to admit I’ve grown weary of carrying the torch on this issue. I’m extremely grateful for all the music lovers out there who have taken up this cause, including the folx at Future Rock Legends and Who Cares about the Rock Hall?, Twitter agitator Nick Bambach, the members of the nom comm who are trying to create change from within, and most recently, the formidable Courtney Love. Ms. Love, please keep using your platform to shame the boys club. In Janet Jackson’s legendary words, #InductMoreWomen.
Research assistance provided by Tyler Roland.