Tag Archives: Go-Go’s

The Rock Hall Class of 2021: 3 Steps Forward, 7 Steps Back

It sounds great. The Go-Go’s, Carole King and Tina Turner — my top three choices among the year’s nominees — all being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as performers, at long last. (Turner and King were inducted previously, but not for their solo performance work.) Half of the six acts being inducted into the performer category are female, and almost half (46.67%) of the individual musicians are women. (If, say, original drummer Elissa Bello were being inducted with the Go-Go’s, there would be total gender parity.) Given the hall’s horrible track record – a paltry 7.63% of total inductees prior to this year are female – this looks like progress. “Head over heels,” I tweeted when I awoke this morning to the news, referencing a Go-Go’s song (but you probably knew that).

But scroll down a little further. In addition to the six acts being inducted as performers (the men are Jay-Z, the Foo Fighters, and Todd Rundgren, if you care), the hall took the unusual step this year of inducting three acts under the Early Influence category, three under Musical Excellence, and one for the Ahmet Ertegun Award, for non-performers. Guess how many of those seven inductees are or have female members? Here’s a hint: It’s the same number of women who were in the 17 acts inducted into the hall during its first year, 1986.

That’s right: zero.

After years of criticism for their entrenched sexism and creeping racism, Cleveland’s music institution seems to be attempting to change course. Under the leadership of new chairman John Sykes, who has called for more diversity and inclusion at the clubhouse founded by the patriarchs of the record industry, the hall offered a diverse selection of nominees this year, yielding a fairly strong slate of inductees. (Though Foo Fighters over Fela Kuti? Todd Rundgren over Dionne Warwick? Really?!)

Three steps forward, seven steps back: the all-male slate of additional inductees skews the count back toward its stone age past, making the total percentage of female inductees 28 percent. Okay, that’s nine times better than the 3.45 percent of 2020’s winners (ie, Whitney Houston), but then that was a pathetically low bar. This year’s class rectifies the long-term trend of gender imbalance by a measly half a percentage point: Now, 8.17% of inductees to the hall over the past 35 years have two X chromosomes.

And most egregiously, still not a single business woman has ever been inducted into the Ahmet Ertegun non-performer category. (King, Ellie Greenwich, and Cynthia Weil have all been inducted as songwriters, along with their male partners.)

I applaud the Rock Hall’s efforts to honor artists who have been too long snubbed by voters, particularly Kraftwerk and LL Cool J. I have no issue with any of the seven deserving acts that have been added onto the main category; Gil Scott-Heron, Charley Patton, and Clarence Avant add diversity to a hall that started with impressive racial balance but has increasingly skewed white. But given that special committees handpicked by the Rock Hall selected these inductees, you might have thought they would have checked their gonads at the door. Why not honor Chaka Khan, Big Mama Thornton and Sylvia Rhone as well?

La plus ca change …

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The Problem with 1/12th: Armchair Art Walk Talk

On March 4, I took part in the San Pedro Armchair Art Walk. Following are the remarks I prepared on Women’s History Month, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Women Who Rock, and the problem with tokenism. You can watch the video with slideshow here. I was joined by two brilliant artists, Anne Daub and Monica Orozco.

I want to thank Linda Grimes, Sharyl Holtzman, and the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District for putting together this event. First Thursdays is one of my favorite things to do here in Pedro, and I can’t wait to be able to do it in person again: lobster rolls from the lobster truck, or sushi at Senfuku, wine and snacks and great art at Arnie and Ray’s gallery, all the galleries and restaurants and trucks and people. But I’m glad we have this to tide us over until those good times return.

Like all of us I’m sure, I have mixed feelings about Women’s History Month, because of course, half of the planet should get more than 1/12th of the year. But the fact is, we don’t. Women, like people of color, get disproportionately ignored the other 11 months of the year, so we better shout our achievements every second of the month of March, and keep shouting until it’s women’s history year, decade, century and millennium.

Interestingly, 1/12th is almost exactly the fraction of artists who are women who have been inducted into the rock’n’roll hall of fame since it was founded in 1986. It’s actually less than that: 7.63 percent. These appalling figures are why we need recuperative efforts such as Women’s History Month, or books about Women Who Rock: To set the record straight by shining a spotlight on the legions of women who get left out of the institutions, the history books, the archives, the museums, the playlists, the algorithms. Uplifting female musicians has been a mission for me ever since I was just a kid and heard Patti Smith singing about the sea of possibilities and Poly Styrene shouting Oh bondage, up yours! I created this book to celebrate what I call this rhythm movement, a century of female artists making great, glorious, gutsy music – some of them in the rock hall, most of them not. I hired dozens of women writers and artists to create portraits of these sheroes in words and in ink; here are a few examples . If you want to buy this book, it’s available here in Pedro at the Corner Store and the shop next door to it as well as the Cabrillo Aquarium Gift shop. And of course on Amazon.

But it’s important not just to celebrate women, but also to continually point out the way they are systematically disenfranchised, ignored, abused, and silenced by a male-dominated society and its institutions. We can’t stop with the ghettoization of dedicated history months; we need to be heard every month. That’s why for 10 years, in multiple articles, wielding statistics, graphs, historic examples, and suggested solutions, I have been documenting the Rock Hall’s abominable gender record. And I’m happy to say that in 2021, they listened, and acted. Women make up almost a quarter of the nominees announced last month, which granted, is not parity – but it’s three times better than 7.63 percent. Of course, these nominees – including Kate Bush, Mary J. Blige, and the Go-Go’s — have to get inducted. And the rock hall has 34 years of manhandling music history to make up for: the fact that every inductee gets a vote skews the rock hall voting body male. If every female act nominated – and only those acts – were inducted, the total percentage of women in the hall would rise more than one percentage point, to 8.73 percent – slightly more than 1/12th. That’s the best case scenario. In 2020, only one woman was inducted, Whitney Houston. As Janet Jackson said in 2019, Induct more women.

The industry, press, hall of fames, and history books have a long legacy of treating women musicians like shit. And they are increasingly getting called out on it. In 1994, the Grammys temporarily dropped the Best Female Rock Vocal category because they couldn’t think of any women to nominate for it – no PJ Harvey, no Ani Difranco, no Melissa Etheridge, no Kristin Hersh. A group called Strong Women in Music protested that year. In 2018, the Grammys were denounced for their failure to award women artists. When the Recording Academy president responded women need to “step up” to the plate – as if it was women’s fault their work was being shafted – he was forced to step down. This year, all the nominees in the Best Rock Performance category are female or female-fronted. That’s progress, and it’s progress caused not by women stepping up, but by women speaking up and demanding change.

So in March, we celebrate history, her story, our stories, but now and all year, we must also march, and protest, and demand not just our 8 percent, but our 50 percent. In the rock halls, in the history books, on the airwaves, on the streaming services, in our ears and in our hearts.

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The Rock Hall course corrects

After decades of snubbing female artists and increasingly ignoring artists of color, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made an impressive course correction yesterday. Of 16 nominated acts announced, seven (43.75 percent) are solo female artists or all-female acts. If you count the number of individual performers nominated – ie, the five members of the Go-Go’s plus Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, Chaka Khan, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner and Carole King – women account for almost a quarter (24.44%) of all nominees. Admittedly, that’s still not parity, but it’s a great deal better than the 7.63% of total individuals inducted since the hall was founded in 1986, or the 3.45% of the class of 2020 that was female: Her name was Whitney Houston. Turner and King, if inducted, would become the second and third women to be inducted into the hall twice (they were previously inducted with their former male romantic and artistic partners). It’s about time.

Tina Turner

The hall has also reversed its slide away from being an institution that began with almost half non-white artists to one that, in the class of 2020, had less than 15 percent people of color. Almost a third (31.11%) of this year’s individuals nominated are non-white; if you count by act rather than individual, more than two-thirds (68.75%) of the acts include POC.

Even if it’s not the all-female ballot I suggested in 2019, this is still probably the highest percentage of female acts ever nominated to the hall. There were a few years when the hall inducted a slate that was around a quarter female: 28.57% in 1999, 25.93% in 1996, 24% in 1995. Interestingly, the ‘90s were a time of high visibility and activism for female musicians; possibly the hall’s choices reflected that feminist consciousness. And that era’s sheroes – Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, TLC, Bikini Kill, PJ Harvey, Alanis Morissette, Hole, L7 –are becoming eligible for nomination themselves. Queen Latifah is past due. There are no female rappers in the Rock Hall.

Numbers tell an important story, and the extremity of the figures that I have been crunching for the last decade, in articles for Salon, Goodreads, and Billboard, got people’s attention. Even the hosts of The View were spouting my statistics last nomination round, and an amazing army of podcasters, bloggers, and social media activists took the fight to a level of erudition and specificity that left me in the dust.

But this year’s nominees are not just a relief quantitatively; qualitatively, it’s a pretty damn good list. The diversity of styles – hip-hop, punk, metal, pop, new wave, hard rock, soft rock, medium rock – show that the committee has taken to heart Ice Cube’s induction speech of 2016, in which he said rock’n’roll is not a style, “it’s a spirit.” Beyond the stellar female choices, the committee finally acknowledged rock’s global role by nominating the late Nigerian Afrobeat artivist Fela Kuti. (Though sadly, they left Kraftwerk – arguably the hall’s biggest repeated snub – out this year.) After years of controversy over whether hip-hop acts should be included, they nominated Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Rage Against the Machine, and Blige. (Kiss this, Gene Simmons.) And they played to us old punks with the New York Dolls, thank you. Yes, there are still too many dudes-with-guitar acts – five. Those groups’ multiple members throw off the individual nominee count, skewing it white and male. But I understand they appeal to their own demographics, so let the metal fans have their Iron Maiden. Or their Rage. But not both.

It took 15 years of being eligible for the Go-Go’s to be nominated to the Rock Hall. The Foo Fighters were nominated the first year they were eligible.

After all, what’s good about this ballot is its expansive embrace of popular musical culture. To me, that’s what rock’n’roll was, at its best. I know the music – like most American culture — harbors a hideous history of racial and gender appropriation. Elvis was King but Big Mama Thornton has still never been nominated to the rock hall. But I also know there was an integration that happened at the Moondog dance parties, at studios such as Stax, on regional radio and even on the charts that offered an aural vision of a different kind of united states. One we need more than ever today. In Eric Lott’s words, there is love and theft. So for once, the nomination announcement made me not want to give up on rock and its Cleveland institution. Now let’s finish the job: As Janet Jackson said in 2019, “Induct more women.”

The complete list of 2021 nominees:

  • Mary J. Blige
  • Kate Bush
  • Devo
  • Foo Fighters
  • The Go-Go’s
  • Iron Maiden
  • JAY-Z
  • Chaka Khan
  • Carole King
  • Fela Kuti
  • LL Cool J
  • New York Dolls
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Todd Rundgren
  • Tina Turner
  • Dionne Warwick

Research assistance provided by Schuyler Vanderveen and Yemayá Williams.

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Rock’n’Role Models

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Suzi and Patti Quatro at MEOW Conference

Kathy Valentine told two stories about the importance of rock’n’role models to an audience of mostly women, from 13-year-old You Tube troubadours to gray-haired guitar-slinging pioneers, this past weekend at the MEOW Conference in Austin, Texas. First story: While visiting relatives in England, the Texan teen turned on Top of the Pops to see a woman clad in black leather playing bass guitar and singing. Nearly forty years later, Valentine handed Suzi Quatro the Woman of Valor award at MEOWCon’s opening night. Continue reading

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