Rock Hall of Fame inductees raise eyebrows

The Rock Hall’s 2022 inductees, Cher, Dave Matthews Band and Foreigner have raised many questions over genre incompatibilities and more specifically aesthetic incompatibility.

These acts have left vast legacies that remain as relevant today as any of the artists the institution has inducted throughout the years.


Rock and roll first got its start in music halls, which were entertainment venues created specifically to showcase variety acts. During Victorian era music halls often hosted can-can dancers, acrobats, tightrope walkers, tightrope walkers and lively singers such as George Formby, Gracie Fields and Max Miller – some of the most famous names to emerge during that era of entertainment hall performances.

Rock and roll music emerged during the mid-1950s from blues, country, rhythm and blues and jazz influences. It combined elements from these earlier genres with jazz’s energy and improvisational techniques for an explosive new genre that featured loud, fast vocals with guitar playing that often involved explicit lyrics or sexual content. This culminated in loud guitar solos.

Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records and other prominent music industry figures founded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation to establish a permanent rock and roll shrine. Originally planned as being located near Manhattan – home of recording industry activity.

Initial plans called for four categories of induction into the Hall of Fame: performers, non-performers, early influences and lifetime achievements. But in 2000 a fifth category – “sidemen” – was added. This category honors backing musicians not formally included within bands inducted. A separate committee selects these artists.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio is a cultural institution dedicated to the preservation and celebration of rock music. Exhibits at this museum highlight its evolution as an influencer on American and global cultures with original lyric sheets, mementos from rock performers as well as various types of performance paraphernalia in its collections. Furthermore, visitors will find informational kiosks, interactive listening stands as well as topical short films available as part of their museum visit as well as extensive archives and library offerings at this institution.

At the museum, programs are held to honor musical and cultural diversity. Their Black History Month series of concerts and film screenings explore the role African-Americans have had in rock ‘n’ roll history; and several special events commemorate civil rights pioneers like Aretha Franklin and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors inductees in four categories. These are: the performers category for recording artists who have made a significant impactful influence and impactful contribution to rock and roll music; Early Influences category which honors artists from earlier eras including country, folk, jazz blues R&B who helped form rock’n’roll; Ahmet Ertegun Award presented to musicians, producers and songwriters who contributed significantly to rock ‘n roll evolution; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards for Musical Excellence which are given out annually; special committee select candidates for these categories.

Problematically, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selects its inductees through an inequitable selection process that pits artists against one another. Miley Cyrus may become eligible for induction when she turns 50; however, they will likely deny her induction because their criteria focuses more heavily on pop-culture provocations than talent and artistry in her work.

Cher is another notable figure whose irreverence and artistic boldness were hallmarks of her career, which wasn’t without missteps but was ultimately defined by its controversy-generating capacities. Though likely being honored by the Hall in 2022, such inductee doesn’t really fit if Madonna is also honored despite having similar artistic provocation but being perceived by some as simply trashy or repugnant.

At first blush, it may seem perplexing why Lionel Richie and his easy listening balladry would make an apt representative for the Hall. After all, its founder Fela Kuti pioneered afrobeat while A Tribe Called Quest pioneered alternative hip-hop – two more innovations worthy of recognition if nothing else. However, this betrays an attempt at recognition that could do more than make them compete against LL Cool J or Chaka Khan for recognition alone.


The Rock Hall’s collections reflect a living heritage of music and its influence on American and global culture, through costumed figures, personal mementos and artifacts from recording industry companies as well as information kiosks, interactive listening stands and topical short films.

The top floor of the building houses the Hall of Fame for the museum. Dennis Barrie served as its inaugural director from 1995-1999; currently, Ahmet M. Ertegun holds this role. Exhibits at this museum celebrate many iconic performers who have helped shape rock and roll into what it is today; these include costumes worn by David Bowie and Michael Jackson as well as recording equipment such as Les Paul Standard guitar.

As well as musicians, the Hall of Fame includes non-performers such as songwriters and producers. However, the selection process remains unknown – although an unnamed committee of influential music industry personnel meets regularly to select candidates for induction – this appears to include Jann Wenner as well as several record industry personnel (Jann Wenner specifically has been named among them)). Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after releasing their first record, and Eric Clapton stands alone as being awarded three inductions: twice with his respective Yardbirds/Cream bands and finally as a solo artist! Eric Clapton stands alone among this select group; twice with Cream (By way back), but also solo artist Eric Clapton himself!

One of the greatest limitations of the Hall of Fame is that its foundation lies on an idea of distinct rock genres. Critics have noted this approach does not take into account other popular music styles that may have contributed to rock and roll’s development; for instance, boogie-woogie piano and jazz swing rhythms were influential factors that eventually formed rock and roll music itself.

Over time, rock and roll’s definition has also expanded over time, to encompass musicians working within rhythm and blues, country and gospel traditions (sometimes to the displeasure of artists omitted by the hall), producers, disc jockeys, managers, journalists or anyone who have made an outstanding contribution to its development – although how the Rock Hall of Fame can maintain such a meaningful definition in an age where artists can achieve celebrity and commercial success without much input from its august hall remains to be seen.


As the Hall attempts to remain relevant in an ever-evolving music landscape, many music fans have criticised its predominantly male focus. Jann Wenner drew particular criticism when he called it a “private boys club,” while inductees such as Nirvana’s Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic called on it to include more female artists into its ranks.

It is also true that the voting body for inductee selection (comprising musicians, industry members and historians) consists of approximately 91% men. For decades, this trend has left the Hall vulnerable to allegations of gender bias; to stay relevant with younger generations it must address these disparate representations of talent within its voting pool.

Recent attempts by the Hall to address this imbalance include inviting female acts like Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow and Cyndi Lauper; inductees for the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Musical Excellence such as guitarist Link Wray and hip-hop innovator DJ Kool Herc; however these numbers pale in comparison with what the institution had accomplished previously.

Problematically, however, the Hall has only responded with lip service and tokenism to calls for improved gender and racial representation in its ranks. Leaders within have denied these allegations altogether while dismissing any discussion regarding change by dismissing media inquiries without offering substantive reform proposals.

That’s unfortunate because the Hall has much to offer music fans. It can teach them about crafting their own sounds, while inspiring them to compose new anthems of their own. Additionally, it shows that rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t just need to be about boy bands or pop ballads but that it can still serve as an influential force of social change.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs an overhaul in terms of both its nomination and voting processes, and membership demographics. If it wants to remain relevant in today’s constantly shifting music landscape, the institution needs to find ways to attract more members while remaining accessible – or risk becoming obsolete like an unwieldy hatchback trying to keep pace with Ferraris.