respect the classics

The Highs, Lows, and Whoas of the 2021 Rock Hall Induction Ceremony

Paul McCartney, pictured here with his beloved “stalker.” Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Cleveland got the revelrous 30 Rock treatment in late October with the return of an in-person Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which is now finally available to be viewed by the masses on HBO. This year’s class served as the most gorgeously overstuffed and diverse in the Hall’s history: Tina Turner, Carole King, the Go-Go’s, Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, and Todd Rundgren were recognized as performers; Kraftwerk, Charley Patton, and Gil Scott-Heron as early influences; LL Cool J, Billy Preston, and Randy Rhoads for general musical excellence; and Clarence Avant for the creative Ahmet Ertegun Award. (Okay. Now list them all again! Also, would you like to pet a real police horse?)

Being back in an actual arena and not, well, a small-screen box because of the pandemic was a delight for inductees, surprise guests, and attendees alike, so much so that nobody seemed to care about having to stay up until 1 a.m. to bear witness to it all. Vulture was on the ground for the entire event, and here’s what we thought were the ultimate highs, lows, and whoas.

WHOA: Drew Barrymore’s utter Go-Go’s devotion

From left: We think it’s La Mer? Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty ImagesPhoto: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
From top: We think it’s La Mer? Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty ImagesPhoto: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Drew Barrymore, who’s very good at hosting talk shows, inducted her favorite band in the world with a little help from some towels and goop: Throughout her speech, she slowly recreated the look from the Go-Go’s’ seminal album Beauty and the Beat, a commitment that drew rapturous applause from the audience. “Beauty and the Beat blew the doors of my life off,” Barrymore explained. “The coolest girls in the world taking a spa day in cool-girl heaven. It was always a party, guys, for so long with these girls. This is a true-blue love letter from their biggest fan.” Impressively, Barrymore returned to the stage in under 15 minutes with fresh makeup.

HIGH: The return of the super-jam …

Paul McCartney deigned Cleveland with his presence to induct Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters into the Hall (this is Grohl’s second induction, years after getting in as a member of Nirvana), and the two joined forces at the end of the ceremony to perform the first super jam since 2019: a spirited rendition of the Beatles standard “Get Back.” Sure, it would’ve been nice to have more musicians join in on the fun, but it was still Sir Paul doing a Beatles song. T-H-E B-E-A-T-L-E-S. He literally rolled up his sleeves to perform! Yeah, we were screaming like it was 1964 too.

LOW: … though a bigger one was cut for time

This hot intel comes from the Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine, who revealed a few days after the ceremony that another super jam was planned to honor Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who unexpectedly died earlier this year at the age of 80. The format, according to Valentine, was one of a pretty epic scale: the Go-Go’s, Foo Fighters, Mickey Guyton, Brandi Carlile, Jennifer Hudson, and H.E.R would perform the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” in tribute. “Everyone was so supportive and mutually fanning on each other,” she recalled of the dress rehearsal. “It was just incredible.” The reason it was cut from the final show? The run time was deemed too long at four and a half hours. We have a feeling fans wouldn’t have cared about an extra five minutes, though.

WHOA: The Go-Go’s knocking the Hall down a peg

It’s estimated that women currently encompass only 8 percent of the total Rock Hall of Fame body, a grim statistic that many female performers, including Stevie Nicks and Janet Jackson, have lambasted with their induction speeches in the past. The Go-Go’s continued that trend at this year’s ceremony with bassist Kathy Valentine calling out what she believed was the Hall’s proclivity for misogyny. (Belinda Carlisle shared similar thoughts with Vulture earlier this year.)

“By recognizing our achievement, the Rock Hall celebrates possibility, the kind of possibility that creates hopeful dreamers. By honoring our historical contribution, the doors to this establishment have opened wider, and the Go-Go’s will be advocating for the inclusion of more women,” she said. “Women who have paved the way for us and others. Women who started bands, who sing and write songs, who excel on their instruments, who make and produce records. Because here is the thing: There would not be less of us if more of us were visible.”

The induction of the five members of the Go-Go’s, Turner, and King marks the most women the Hall ever included in a single class.

HIGH: Paul McCartney’s “You’re doing amazing, sweetie” moment with Dr. Dre

Look to the right. Photo: HBO

The rap deity inducted his longtime friend LL Cool J, joking that the LL moniker stands for “ladies love, lickin’ lips, and living legend.”

WHOA: All the no-shows

This isn’t a surprise per se given that we’re still in a pandemic and talented musicians might not want to descend upon a C-list city and sit in a crowded auditorium for nearly five hours. Hell, the ceremony last year was relegated to a TV special. But as a concise recap for those who chose not to make the trek to Cleveland: Tina Turner, who lives in Europe, accepted her second Hall induction in a short and sweet video message. Das Kraftwerk männer said nein. (Connecting flights from Düsseldorf just seems complicated.) Meanwhile, Todd Rundgren, ever true to his word, was minding his own damn business at a solo concert in Cincinnati. What Rock Hall?

LOW: Dave Chappelle bringing his ongoing Netflix drama to the Hall

“I would like to apologize,” Chappelle began his speech to inductee Jay-Z, ostensibly referring to the vast criticism plaguing his new comedy special. “I’m just fucking with you.” In what was otherwise a poignant speech, the comedian spoke at length about Jay-Z’s cultural significance for Black Americans. “What we heard is that he’ll never forget us. He will always remember us,” Chappelle said. “That we are his point of reference, that he is going to show us how far we can go if we just get hold of the opportunity. For this, we will always love him, we will always treasure him.”

HIGH: Jay-Z’s star-studded video montage

The rapper and entrepreneur joined the legions of hip-hop icons to be inducted into the Hall and admitted in his speech that the honor nearly made him “cry in front of all these white people.” Chappelle aside, pretty much every single famous person in in the Knowles-Carter Rolodex showed up in a video montage to celebrate his achievement — Jay was inducted in his first year of eligibility — which included Barack Obama, who joked that the duo shared a special brotherhood because they “both have wives that are significantly more popular than we are.” More meaningfully, the former president added, “I’ve turned to Jay-Z’s words at different points in my life, whether I was brushing dirt off my shoulder on the campaign trail or sampling his lyrics on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th anniversary of the Selma march to Montgomery.”

Also appearing in the montage was his wife Beyoncé, their daughter Blue Ivy, as well as the likes of Rihanna, Diddy, Pharrell, Chris Rock, LeBron James, Common, and stealth Jay-Z superfan David Letterman.

HIGH: The covers!

We’ll do a blanket high for all of the performances, which included Eminem and Jennifer Lopez surprising the crowd with their pal LL Cool J and many of the inductees doing mini-sets of their own to celebrate the evening. (Brandi Carlile strumming along to the Everly Brothers for the in memoriam segment was quite lovely, too.) We’ll single out two covers in particular, though, that drew the biggest audience responses: Christina Aguilera’s diva master class of “River Deep, Mountain High” for Tina Turner and Taylor Swift bewitching the audience with an ethereal, synth-driven cover of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” for Carole King. Like Grohl, Turner and King are now two-time Hall of Fame inductees: Turner was previously honored for her musicianship with her husband, Ike Turner, and King for songwriting with her husband, Gerry Goffin.

WHOA: Paul McCartney’s slow realization that Dave Grohl might be a stalker

Not really, of course, but even Sir Paul was amazed at the parallels shared between him and the Foo’s front man when he inducted the band into the Hall. The Beatles and Nirvana? The same. Wings and Foo Fighters? Also the same, weirdly enough. “We had a great time with our groups, but then eventually tragedy happened, and my group broke up,” McCartney explained at the podium. “The same happened with Dave: His group broke up under tragic circumstances. And so then the question is what do you do now? We both were presented with that question. In my case, I thought, Well, I’ll make an album where I play all the instruments myself. So I did that. Dave’s group broke up; what’s he to do? He makes an album where he plays all the instruments himself. Do you think this guy’s stalking me?” Makes you think.

The Vulture Honorary Award for Excellence in Bling Goes to …

Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

LL Cool J knocked us out with several outfit changes, unsurprisingly.

And the Vulture Honorary Award for Excellence in Hair Goes to …

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Jane Wiedlin, who will always have the beat.

The Highs and Lows of the 2021 Rock Hall Induction Ceremony