At a moment of transition for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a new class of nominees for induction in 2020 puts generational and genre-based divides on full display: The Notorious B.I.G., Whitney Houston, the Dave Matthews Band and Motörhead are among the first-timers on the ballot, while returning acts getting another chance include Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Judas Priest, and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan.
The 16 nominees up for inclusion at next year’s ceremony — scheduled to take place May 2 in Cleveland — are rounded out by Kraftwerk (nominated five times previously), MC5 (four previous nominations) and Todd Rundgren (one), plus the shortlist newcomers Pat Benatar, Soundgarden, T-Rex, Thin Lizzy and the Doobie Brothers.
The wide swath of options may reflect what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s incoming chairman, John Sykes, called a need to evolve, amid years of criticism about the diversity of the inductees. Sykes, president of entertainment enterprises for the radio conglomerate iHeartMedia and a former MTV executive, will take over for Rolling Stone founder and the long-running face of the Hall, Jann Wenner, on Jan. 1.
“The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame could become irrelevant because rock as we knew it in the ’60s is beginning to age out,” Sykes told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in an interview this month. “We have to evolve, and we have to change, because music is changing.”
Musicians become eligible for nomination 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. A private nominating committee then makes its picks, which are voted on by more than 1,000 insiders (artists, historians and industry experts), who are instructed to consider “an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique.” (Fans can also vote at rockhall.com beginning Tuesday, with the Top 5 vote-getters making up one official ballot.)
Inductees will be announced in January, with the 35th annual ceremony to follow in May. A version of the show will be aired on HBO and SiriusXM at a later date, though it has yet to be announced.
Eligible acts that were overlooked this year include: Willie Nelson, Beck, Sonic Youth, Rage Against the Machine, Mötley Crüe, Iron Maiden, Joy Division and the J. Geils Band.