The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame just announced its 2022 nominees and the list is long. From Duran Duran, Eminem, Dolly Parton, Pat Benatar, Beck and even the MC5 (and 11 more), the list every year generates a ton of press and a general yawn from musicians. The big question is, why is there a Hall Of Fame to begin with and what does it accomplish, other than controversy on who is qualified to be nominated?
I contend that music doesn’t need a HOF in the first place, and at the very least its name needs to be changed. Not many of the nominated artists fit into the Rock genre, especially going forward, so why not just call it the Music Hall Of Fame and cover all the bases?
What’s The Criteria
That aside, what bugs me even more is that the criteria for nomination and selection is so random and arbitrary that it comes down the personal tastes of the mysterious selection committee (a problem pointed out by critics of the organization from day one).
Baseball probably has the best HOF because it’s a game rich with history and based on stats. There’s a way to measure everything that’s done on the field, and new measurements are being created seemingly every day. Even with all that data, there’s still election controversy, especially when it comes to off-the-field behavior and any connection to the steroids era. You have to give baseball credit though, because the election process is well thought out and the electors are the ones that have the most intimate connection with sport – the baseball writers (although that may be less true today than in the past).
Music has no stats except for records sold in the old physical product era, and even then no one was even sure what the sales number really was since the books were regularly cooked. I once asked a very high-ranking executive at EMI how many records the Beatles sold. He told me that no one in the company knew the exact number. His best estimate was “somewhere over a billion.”
You can’t use radio plays as a nomination stat since so many plays were bought and paid for either directly or indirectly by the record label. Streams and views face the same issue. How many are due to the record label influence on a distributor’s playlist, or a bot or call center in Indonesia or Mexico City?
Concert grosses don’t work either as the industry has evolved into a super-efficient machine that many artists from previous generations weren’t able to take advantage of back when they toured. So all that means is that there’s no statistic comparable to sports that could be used as a basis for nomination.
The Great Vs. The Merely Good
Where most sports HOF’s break down is the fine line between electing all-time greats and the merely very good. It seems like the RNRHOF has passed that point years ago, including artists every year just for the sake of having new members for the awards dinner. In contrast, there are many years where Baseball does not elect a new HOF member, attempting the keep the bar set high for all new members (not always accomplished but they try).
Being elected to the RNRHOF really matters to many artists and I don’t begrudge them for it. It’s great to be honored for your accomplishments, especially as an older artist with your best days in the past. Getting one more blaze of glory is something to savor.
And that may be the only saving grace for the whole process. Every now and then there’s an artist that deserves recognition for being influential although not commercially successful (you can say that for the MC5, for instance, as they were the progenitors of the punk movement). On the other hand there are nominees where you just scratch your head and go, “Really?”
Which brings me back to the beginning. I don’t believe there even needs to be a Rock and Roll or Music Hall Of Fame. If you want to honor music legends, then bestowing a Lifetime Achievement Award on artists that were voted on by a body like the RIAA or Recording Academy (uh, maybe not), or even a people’s choice poll would at least that would be out in the open and more transparent than it is now, but it’s a slippery slope as to who’s should be eligible to even get that far. You can’t judge art the same way as you can performance.