rock hall 2019

Whose 2019 Rock Hall Induction Matters Most? A Totally Serious Debate

Janet! Radiohead! Stevie! Def Leppard … ? Photo: Getty Images

Comedians Joe Kwaczala and Kristen Studard are the hosts of Who Cares About the Rock Hall?, a podcast that somehow is entirely about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kwaczala is a Hall-obsessive with an unhealthily deep knowledge of its history; Studard, meanwhile, could care less — “actively dislikes it,” some might say, but is happy to engage in the drama.

In this very special episode, recorded for Vulture, the two duke it out over whose induction into the Rock Hall this year matters most, broken down by two categories: importance to the Hall, an institution that treats this stuff as Very Serious business, and importance to the artist, who generally doesn’t. How much Radiohead gives a rat’s arse, for example, doesn’t quite match up to the Hall’s attitude about it. Both categories are ranked out of seven points — one indicating highest importance, and seven the lowest.

Where do this year’s inductees — Stevie Nicks, Janet Jackson, Radiohead, Def Leppard, The Cure, Roxy Music, and the Zombies — rank? Hear Kwaczala and Studard’s arguments, presented in alphabetical order (or read the edited transcript below), and bitch amongst yourselves accordingly.

The Cure

Eligible since: 2004
Previously nominated: 2012
Importance for the Hall: 4/7
Importance for the artist: 5/7

Kristen Studard: This was Joe’s biggest snub for many years.

Joe Kwaczala: They really have everything you could want in an inducted act.

KS: Sensitivity, big hair …

JK: So I created criteria, in an attempt to be objective about this kind of thing, which includes: Do they have classic albums, do they have recognizable songs, do they have critical acclaim, commercial success, do they have longevity, were they influential? Those are the main categories. The Cure does very well in all of them.

KS: My main criteria are: Do I like them? Do I know them? Do I have a specific memory from my lifetime with this band’s music? I’m all about that subjectivity.

JK: This is an important induction for the Hall because it represents a whole genre that they’ve ignored for a long time. At this point, if the Hall had been doing its job correctly, The Cure would already be in. If you think about it, the Hall has ignored British new wave/post-punk bands, like The Cure, like The Smiths, like Depeche Mode, like Joy Division/New Order. No one from that era has been represented. And you would think, by 2019, we should be past this genre already.

KS: We skipped over New Wave right into grunge. We’ve already inducted Green Day. We’ve already inducted Nirvana. We’ve already inducted Pearl Jam. And yet we have not inducted these New Wave bands.

JK: Exactly. So this is a good thing for the Hall in that it indicates that the rest of those bands are on the way.

KS: This is it. They’re opening up the tributary. The New Wave gates are open and here we come.

JK: Now, in terms of The Cure caring about this induction …

KS: Ooh yeah, what do they think? They’re British.

JK: They’re a British band. So we have mostly British bands in this induction class.

KS: And then American women.

JK: We have found that the Hall is a very American institution that can confound our British friends.

KS: Confound our British friends? [imitates posh British accent] Ooh, what is this Hall? It’s so long. Where’s the loo in this Hall?

JK: The Cure have indicated that they will play. Although they did seem to make some demands in order to show up. So, as we know, a lot of members of The Cure are being inducted, including Reeves Gabrels, and this was apparently one of Robert Smith’s conditions. He said, “You need to induct Reeves Gabrels,” their guitar player who joined in 2012.

KS: The height of The Cure’s career!

JK: The rumor is that if the Hall said, “No way. Reeves Gabrels wasn’t even on any album, and he joined seven years ago,” that The Cure would have said “We don’t really care. We’re not going to show up.” But it seems like they will play, so they do care. They seem to have indicated online that it’s a thing that they are acknowledging, but also, they’re making demands.

KS: And you know my stance: Induct everyone who was ever in the band.

JK: And another thing that is good for the Hall is that one of the members of The Cure, Porl Thompson, who now goes by Pearl Thompson, is potentially the first, if not one of the first, non-binary inductees. I haven’t seen it get a lot of press. Pearl is a pretty private person and that’s probably why, but I think that is an interesting part about their induction.

KS: It’ll be good for the Hall audience to see on the broadcast.

JK: A Hall audience that we’re assuming is mostly white and male and older.

KS: Why would we assume that?

Def Leppard

Eligible since: 2005
Previously nominated: Never
Importance for the Hall: 7/7
Importance for the artist: 3/7

KS: I feel like the Hall doesn’t need Def Leppard, but the power dynamic is much more in favor of Def Leppard needing the Hall. Because it legitimizes them as a hard rock band and not a hair band.

JK: Which they’ve been unfairly lumped in with. For Def Leppard, if their whole career doesn’t end with them getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s like, “You guys screwed up.” By that I mean this was a lay-up.

KS: I guess it is so easy to write Def Leppard off. It would be so easy to be like, “Why would you put Def Leppard in the Hall? They’re a hair metal band. They don’t matter. They’re of a time of cock rock.” They could be written off as corny. But there’s really no major dud in this class. Even with the inclusion of Def Leppard. I don’t think they’re a huge dud. They’re an expansion of what we think of as Hall-worthy?

JK: For sure. To them, it’s legitimizing, although they are British, so that does dock them a few points because they are kind of …

KS: [posh British accent] “Where’s the loo?”

JK: … a little confounded. Publicly, they’ve been lukewarm. I don’t know if you know, there’s a member of Def Leppard named Phil Collen, singular.

KS: What? But not the drummer. Please not the drummer.

JK: No, but he has said, basically, “They’re just doing all the rock bands that are left.”

KS: Oh, he could feel the clean-up aspect of their induction.

JK: I think so, but Joe Elliott has been a little more excited about it. Because they’ve also been looked over for a while. This is 14 years of eligibility at this point.

KS: Did you consider them a snub at all?

JK: Yeah, I do think they were a snub, just given their impact. They were a very, very popular band, and they had two definitively classic albums with Pyromania and Hysteria and songs that definitely endure.

KS: I just think that Bon Jovi is what led to this.

JK: They are the populist choice this year without a doubt. Ran away with the fan vote. This is the people’s choice, right? Which I think also makes Def Leppard feel good. But again, in terms of the Hall, it’s not really moving the needle. Still, I think Def Leppard is kind of Bon Jovi done right.

KS: I feel like they’re pretty equivalent.

JK: There are bands like Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi. And this just kind of fits within that hard rock genre. So in terms of the Hall, it’s not that exciting or new because it’s same old, same old. Not saying they don’t deserve induction, but in terms of their own —

KS: I guess if Van Halen is in, Def Leppard should be in.

JK: It’s inevitable.

KS: Those are pretty equivocal bands.

JK: And in the past, they have acted like they don’t care when they were getting passed over.

KS: [posh British accent] Oh who cares? We don’t care. We’re over here.

JK: But as soon as they’re in, the story changes to “What an honor.”

KS: [British voice] Ooo, thank you. Where’s the loo?

Janet Jackson

Eligible since: 2008
Previously nominated: 2016, 2017
Importance for the Hall: 1/7
Importance for the artist: 4/7

JK: This is crucial for the Hall. It’s extremely important in terms of inclusion and representation, not just that she’s a woman of color, but also genre-wise for R&B and pop. These are things that the Hall needs to recognize. But in the past few years, it’s been a little bit of a dark era.

KS: Or a white era.

JK: Yeah, more accurately, a white era. But her inclusion is important, not only for what it means now, but what it means for the future. Because with her induction, we know that this can happen and that the Hall can recognize this type of music and person.

KS: She can open the tributary for my girl Whitney [Houston].

JK: Whitney and so many. Janet is the first living black woman to be inducted since 2012. We’ve seen artists like Donna Summer and Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, but it should be embarrassing for the Hall that the black women they’ve inducted for the past seven years have all passed.

KS: Get it together, Hall.

JK: They are. That’s why this is really good.

KS: This was the no. 1 artist I wanted to get in the absolute most this year. This was who I wanted to get in the absolute most. Do you think she’ll perform?

JK: I think it’s 50/50. I say that because the production level that we’ve typically seen at past shows is not to the standard of what Janet is used to. So it’s a question of if she’s willing to bring down the production value for the ceremony or just not perform at all, or if there’s a tribute performance. We really don’t know at this point.

KS: It’d be so interesting if there was a tribute performance to someone who is currently touring. That seems really weird.

JK: It would be atypical, but it’s happened before. Madonna, who was there and accepted her award, did not play at her induction. Her tribute performance was Iggy Pop & the Stooges doing “Burning Up” and then doing “Ray of Light.”

KS: What?!

JK: It was cool. I like it because it’s interesting. And it was also a cool move because, at that point, The Stooges were not in. And then they got in two years later. But it was a cool move, and there’s a Michigan connection there.

KS: That’s pretty cool. So some Gary, Indiana artist could perform for Janet.

JK: I doubt a rock band. I mean that would be kind of cool, but I don’t know. I would love to see Janet perform. But this also ties into how we think Janet feels about this induction. We’re putting her in the middle because I do think it is meaningful to her to be accepted into this boys’ club.

KS: Has she said anything publicly about it? She’s very private.

JK: Very little. Her official Twitter acknowledged the nomination and the fan vote, then maybe one or two things after the announcement of the induction. I said it’s a boys’ club; you also have to remember most of Janet’s brothers are in the Hall, except Randy, who joined the Jackson 5 later in their career. So it’s hard to tell if she’s going to care because she’s being included, and we talked about how her inclusion matters. But also it’s kind of a stuffy organization, and she’s very cool. Would she even really care?

This is also just another feather in Janet’s cap. She got a lot of accolades last year alone. She got an ICON Award at the Billboard Music Awards. And she’s got a few other Icon awards of that sort. So where this one would matter to most, to her, it might just be another drop in the pond.

KS: Throw it on the pile of trophies, baby. I’m back.


Eligible since: 2018
Previously nominated: 2018
Importance for the Hall: 2/7
Importance for the artist: 7/7

JK: I was very shocked that they did not get in last year because there’s an elite group of artists who are first-year-eligibles.

KS: The FYE’s.

JK: Radiohead is the perfect FYE. A band that gets in as soon as they’re eligible.

KS: Critical darlings, commercial success …

JK: Super successful, commercially and critically. Have not put out a dud album. Have been around for 25 years, and they have kept going, they’ve never broken up. They’re super influential. They changed the course of music and alt rock.

KS: Yorke went electric, but like electronic.

JK: They are just so, so hugely important in addition to being a super popular band that everybody knows. How often do you get a rock band that’s like that? This is probably the last rock band that represents that.

KS: You don’t think Imagine Dragons one day?

JK: You know … we’ll have to see how their career goes. I just think Radiohead should’ve gotten in as soon as they were eligible. Who is left that is in that tier of artistry in rock? The fact that they didn’t get in last year indicates that there’s something broken with the process of induction for the Hall. And if they didn’t get in again a second year, it would almost make it seem irreparable.

KS: Joe, that is big talk. The system is broken, and if Radiohead doesn’t get in on their second ballot, it’s irreparable. This is intense!

JK: It would make you wonder what’s going on. But they did get in their second year, so there is hope. Because if you look at the inductees that got in over Radiohead last year — Dire Straits, The Cars, The Moody Blues, Bon Jovi — you think, “OK is this institution stuck in the past?” But with Radiohead’s induction, the answer is a little different, and that’s why it’s so important.

KS: I guess the answer is “Mostly.”

JK: With 2018, it seemed like, oh, are they not going to ever be able to acknowledge newly-eligible artists? Will they not be able to understand music that came out in the ’90s? It’s a weird thing. So the fact that Radiohead was able to get in this year means that there is hope, and these artists that aren’t just dinosaur rock or classic rock bands can get in. Let’s of course talk about what the induction means to Radiohead.

KS: Not a dang thing.

JK: We put them dead last because they’ve been pretty open about not caring. And you might say that their openness about that maybe resulted in them not getting in last year.

KS: Joe’s theory is that last year they didn’t get in because they were definitely not going to perform. They said, “We have a gig in South America somewhere. We gotta do that. We’re already committed. We don’t care.”

JK: And then they were asked by Rolling Stone last year what they think about it and they seemed confused. They were like, “We really don’t understand it.” That British confusion.

KS: Confounded. [posh British accent] “Where’s the loo?”

JK: I think that’s what might have affected the results and why they didn’t get in last year. But we don’t think they’re gonna show up to their induction. Thom Yorke gave some very terrible excuse for why he’s not gonna come this year. He helped with an opera that’s gonna be in the U.K. nine days after the induction, acting as though he’s going to take a boat to England. It just really seems like they don’t care.

KS: And I remember reading a quote where he basically was like “I mean, I guess someone tried to explain it to me and say it was kind of like the Oscars. And I guess I understand that a little bit, but I don’t know. I guess they can put us in.” He’s like, “We’ll allow you to induct us in absentia.”

JK: Which is a step above the Sex Pistols, who sent a letter saying, “Fuck you.” So, in this year, they are dead last in terms of what this means to them, but not in terms of all the inductees of all time. The Sex Pistols definitely take that.

KS: Do you think maybe they’re second to last, as far as of all-time? Like caring the least about getting inducted?

JK: Could be. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also seems like the least Radiohead-type thing I could think of.

KS: But boy, I would love it if they would perform. The thing about them is that they would want to perform no less than an hour and a half. I cannot see them agreeing to just do three songs and get off the stage.

JK: We fully expect for this induction to be a video package, someone [ed. note: David Byrne has since been announced as presenter] gives a speech, and then that person accepts on their behalf, and there’s no performance. We could be surprised. We don’t really know what’s going to happen at this point, but that’s what we expect.

Roxy Music

Eligible since: 1998
Previously nominated: Never
Importance for the Hall: 3/7
Importance for them: 6/7

JK: Roxy Music was not super popular in America, and based on the past few years, you might think an artist needs to be super popular in America to get in the Hall. So this demonstrates that that does not have to be the case. You could classify Roxy Music as a critics’ band versus a people’s band, and we don’t have a ton of examples of that type of inductee. So this is a good sign for a lot of the more critics’ bands.

KS: The more esoteric bands.

JK: Maybe the more challenging bands that have a great career with really great music that maybe isn’t …

KS: … songs over six minutes.

JK: Concept albums versus a Def Leppard. So I think that is a very welcome thing to see, versus the kind of populist streak that we’ve seen recently.

KS: In Joe’s categories, his final category is “Does my mom know them? Has my mom heard of this band?”

JK: Right, that is our fun category.

KS: But that’s kind of the populist angle. That’s what takes into account their popularity. How known are they to the general public, our mothers?

JK: Which is often the most important category.

KS: Has your mom ever heard of Roxy Music?

JK: I think she’s heard of Roxy Music. If I told her “Love Is the Drug” she’d be like “Okay, I know that.” But it’s not as snap-your-fingers clear as some of the other artists.

KS: I think if I texted my mom and said “Do you know the band Roxy Music?” she would probably send me back, “I think so?”

JK: “Was that that movie with Meryl Streep where she played a rocker? Was her name Roxy Music?”

KS: “Is that Jem’s back-up band? Jem and the Roxy Music?”

JK: So I think it’s important for the Hall, but in terms of them, we don’t really know. Again, they’re another British band who could probably take it or leave it. We know that Brian Eno is not coming and, it seems, truly does not care.

KS: Well, of course, he doesn’t. He’s Brian Eno. He doesn’t have to care. He’s floating in a sound bath somewhere.

JK: Meanwhile, Bryan Ferry has acknowledged it. We could see a reunion of this band. They haven’t played together in a while. That could be cool.

KS: Do you think they’ll play?

JK: I think they might, yeah. [Ed. note: It has since been announced that Ferry, Andy Mackay, and Phil Manzanera will perform with various touring members; Eno and Paul Thompson will not attend.] Because Bryan Ferry still plays, and I think he still plays Roxy Music songs.

KS: Gosh, who is going to play at this induction? So far … Def Leppard?

JK: It’s going to be Def Leppard and The Cure trading songs, back and forth.

Stevie Nicks

Eligible since: 2007
Previously nominated: Never
Importance for the Hall: 5/7
Importance for the artist: 2/7

KS: This is her first ballot, so that’s what we call FYN. She’s first year nominated.

JK: Which is a distinction that is … dubious?

KS: I mean, her and Def Leppard are both first ballot.

JK: And Roxy Music. It doesn’t mean the same thing as FYE because that is like an elite group. Sometimes — and often— the FYN group just means they had been not on the ballot for so long that by the time they finally got there, it seemed like they were overdue.

KS: Or they might die any day. We better get them in.

JK: Sometimes it’s bands like Chicago or The Moody Blues, where it’s like maybe they should have been inducted ten or fifteen years ago. And like, “Oh, they’re finally here. Let’s throw them in.” Whereas it might have taken more ballots decades ago. The headline here is that Stevie Nicks is the first double inductee woman.

KS: She’s a D.I.W. A Double Inductee Woman. Don’t google that.

JK: There have been double inductees in the past like, Jimmy Page. I mean, Eric Clapton’s been inducted three times. Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart. There have been a lot of men — Curtis Mayfield, Clyde McPhatter — who have been inducted twice or multiple times, and Stevie’s the first woman. So that’s why she’s kind of in the middle. We give her points for that in terms of importance for the Hall.

KS: And she was very high on the fan vote as well, right?

JK: Correct, she was no. 2. [after Dep Leppard]. This is good for the Hall. We’re giving her points because more women inducted is good.

KS: We’re very pro-more women in the Hall.

JK: But, at the same time, is this more women or is this the same woman? She’s already been inducted.

KS: With Fleetwood Mac. And the big thing here is that many people, when they heard that Stevie Nicks was not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, were like, “What?! Stevie Nicks is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?” Not realizing, yeah, she is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a part of Fleetwood Mac. Her most …

JK: … notable, important …

KS: … and best work.

JK: Right. Listen, Stevie Nicks is an icon and a queen and a legend.

KS: She’s a queen with a q and a k.

JK: Yeah. All types of queens and good witches.

KS: She’s a witch with an i and a y.

JK: But, speaking of dubious, her solo career achievement, artistically …

KS: … is “Edge of Seventeen.”

JK: Can you name three Stevie Nicks solo songs that aren’t a duet?

KS: “Edge of Seventeen.”

JK: Right. Are you done?

KS: And then her half of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” but she just does half of it.

JK: I said no duets.

KS: But if she just sings both parts. Maybe she could sing both parts? That’d be cool.

JK: Right. She will probably play that at the induction with somebody, but my point was that then there’s “Stand Back,” which is a solo hit. But beyond that? In terms of songs people that know just from the solo career?

KS: That’s two. Hall of Fame-worthy!

JK: And then she had some famous duets: with Tom Petty, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and with Don Henley, “Leather and Lace.” So there’s just not a lot of recognizable songs in Stevie’s solo career, and you wonder if her solo career on its own is a Hall-worthy induction.

KS: You know how I feel. Put her in! She’s important. She’s iconic. It’s fine. It doesn’t diminish the Hall. It doesn’t diminish anything for her to be in. Because people do like and respect her as an artist in her own right, and that’s okay. So put her in.

JK: We’re putting her kind of in the middle in terms of importance for the Hall because the double inductee thing is good, and that’s historic.

KS: Also, Stevie Nicks is having a renaissance as far as witch culture coming back in a big way. She’s on people’s pop culture prayer candles and stuff. I think it’s great that she’s being inducted. I used to be lukewarm about it, but I actually genuinely think it’s awesome now.

JS: And you know who else thinks it’s awesome? Stevie Nicks. We put her at no. 2 in terms of what it means to her.

KS: Because she has come to many induction ceremonies before. She’s performed on other people’s tribute performances. She’s around. It’ll be so cool to see her in that room full of people that she came up with, getting her own spotlight. I’m here for it. If it makes Stevie happy, it makes me happy.

JK: How often does Stevie Nicks get honored for her solo career? Almost never. So I think this is something really meaningful to her, and she has said as much. She’s been pretty public with the gratitude; this was an unexpected recognition. Like I said, a rare one for her solo career, and I think it fills her with joy.

The Zombies

Eligible since: 1990
Previously nominated: 2014, 2017, 2018
Importance for the Hall: 6/7
Importance for the artist: 1/7

JK: We ranked them towards the bottom of importance for the Hall, but they are no. 1 in terms of importance for them, even though they’re British. And sometimes the British bands don’t really understand what the Hall is.

KS: They’re confounded!

JK: The Zombies have never been recognized. They’ve never really received any accolades at all.

KS: They were not recognized in person for years in the beginning of their career. People didn’t know what they looked like.

JK: And literally a band of impostors toured as them. They did not get to enjoy their own success. They had broken up before they even had any commercial success with their landmark album Odessey & Oracle, which was why that fake band got to exist. “Time of the Season” became a huge hit, and they thought they were already done, so they had broken up. So the Zombies have had nothing like this before, which is a real recognition of what they achieved. And they were very involved in getting the vote out for the fans and talking about their nomination. And then with their induction, they just seem super jazzed. It’s very cute.

KS: One thing that I have come to appreciate in my begrudging exposure to the Hall is when it means something to the people who are being inducted. It is so nice when it is meaningful. And when you see that they truly do think it is an honor. They feel recognized and honored by this institution. I think it’s probably gonna be a very sweet induction for the Zombies.

JK: And heartfelt. I think it’s worth mentioning: Often, even bands that seem like they’re too cool for it, when they are face-to-face with their induction at the ceremony and all this stuff that is happening in tribute to them, they, sometimes despite themselves, are moved.

KS: Maybe that’s why Eno won’t come. But [the heartfelt stuff] is about ten percent of the ceremony. And then maybe 20 percent is like good speeches and performances and then the remaining 70 percent is like “ … wow,” is the chaff. Some of the performances are great and some of them are just …

JK: It’s kind of down-the-middle in terms of when they’re great and when they’re just serviceable.

KS: Serviceable. That is an accurate description of some of the performances at these inductions.

JK: But we ranked the Zombies pretty low in terms of the importance for the Hall because they’re clearing out the ’60s.

KS: I don’t know who else needs to be inducted from that era.

JK: Not many. Especially of British Invasion bands. We’ve seen every other group from that era get in.

KS: Deep Purple. Were they British, yeah?

JK: Yeah, they were British. They were a little bit later than the Zombies and British Invasion. But even groups like The Hollies, which are great and have a lot of hits, they were a British Invasion band that’s kind of second-tier after the Beatles and the Stones and the Who and the Kinks.

KS: This is it. But I’m not mad about the Zombies because they still tour and they still perform, so they’re gonna do a good job. It will be serviceable at worst and probably good at best.

JK: In terms of the Hall, it’s not moving the needle, but it’s nice that they finally recognized this group. Does it mean anything for the future of the Hall? It’s probably the end of the past for the Hall.

KS: Does it mean anything for the future of the Hall? No! It is what you think it is. You hear that the Zombies are getting in and it just doubles down on your impression of what you think the Hall is.

JK: Exactly. Well, those are the inductees of 2019. Like we said, a good crop. A good group with different eras and different genres that makes for a satisfying induction class.

KS: Especially in comparison to last year’s class, which was my introduction to this whole stupid thing. Wow. One whole year of my life dedicated to this patriarchal institution!

Whose 2019 Rock Hall Induction Matters Most?