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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2020 Nominations: All the Surprises, Snubs, and Subtext

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its nominees for 2020 on Tuesday, October 15. Not all of the 16 artists—which include Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, and Depeche Mode—will get in. The nominating committee will narrow the list down to a group of five to seven inductees in December, and those musicians will be formally inducted at a ceremony in May. 

Here are the artists who got the initial nod:  

Pat Benatar
Dave Matthews Band
Depeche Mode
The Doobie Brothers
Whitney Houston
Judas Priest
Nine Inch Nails
The Notorious B.I.G.
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
Todd Rundgren
T. Rex
Thin Lizzy

At first glance, it’s a wildly mixed-up bunch. (You’d be hard-pressed to find to popular artists of the last few decades more different than Motörhead and Whitney Houston.) Still, with a closer look, some trends emerge. Read on to learn what the nominating class of 2020 says about the Rock Hall’s priorities this year, and hear some thoughts who got snubbed, who might make the final cut, and who might have to wait until 2021 and beyond.

The Class of ’94

Artists become eligible for the Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of their first record, so acts who debuted in 1994 had their first shot this year. But first-ballot hall of famers, who were nominated and inducted in their first year of eligibility, have become more scarce as the Hall has moved into the more diffuse and diverse ‘90s. In the past five years, only four artists—Green Day, Pearl Jam, 2Pac, and Radiohead—have sailed in on their first eligible year.

This year, only two artists who debuted in 1994 were nominated: Dave Matthews Band and the Notorious B.I.G. DMB seem like a long shot to get in on their first try, but odds are better for the late Biggie. He’s already inextricably tied in history and tragedy to 2Pac, so it would make sense for him to follow his old friend and rival as the second solo rapper in the Hall of Fame.

Major Snubs

A lot of long, successful careers began in 1994, but many artists were snubbed for a first-time nomination in this set of nominees: Beck, Weezer, Oasis, KoRn, and Outkast, among others. Critical favorites who debuted in ‘94, such as Sleater-Kinney and Jeff Buckley, were also passed over.

But it wasn’t just first-timers who were left hanging. Several popular acts who have been eligible for a decade or more without a single nomination have been ignored again, including Motley Crue, Styx, and Iron Maiden. Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott actively campaigned for Mott The Hoople’s induction after his own band got in last year, but they were left off too. And Chic and Carole King, major figures of pop history who were previously placated with other awards as a consolation prize for not getting a proper Hall of Fame induction, are once again shut out.

How Many Women Could Get In? 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has never inducted more than two female artists in one year. Taking a page from Janet Jackson’s advice during her induction speech at this year’s ceremony to “induct more women,” we recently urged the Hall to break its own meager record this year, with a list of 10 suggestions for worthy women artists.

We’re happy to see that there’s at least a chance of that happening. While artists on our list such as Sheryl Crow and Kate Bush were left off, three of the women we highlighted were nominated: Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. This is Chaka Khan’s sixth nomination, including twice as a solo artist. Houston and Benatar are first-time nominees who were well overdue for acknowledgment.

About Damn Time

Glam rock heroes T. Rex, who have been eligible for 25 years, are the most overdue first-timers in this year’s nominees, although Thin Lizzy and the Doobie Brothers aren’t far behind. Electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, with their sixth nomination, are now tied with Chuck Willis as the second-most nominated act that isn’t in the Hall. (Chic’s 11 nominations with no induction still make them the Hall’s perennial bridesmaid.) Depeche Mode are nominated for the third time, and Todd Rundgren for the second, but it feels like it’ll be at least a few more years before either gets in.

Hard Rock Could Have a Very Good Year

What’s perhaps the most striking about this year’s Rock Hall lineup is how much it actually rocks. Two of ‘90s alt-rock’s heaviest bands, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails, are in contention, as well as a cross-section of metal, punk, and glam rock that includes Motorhead, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, the MC5, and T. Rex. Unless those bands are crowded out by the likes of Dave Matthews and the Doobies, it could be a very loud induction ceremony. 

Posthumous Nominations

The Hall has inducted plenty of artists who died tragically young, and this year is no different, with nods for the Notorious B.I.G., T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott. Recently deceased artists also often get more consideration for nomination, but the passing of ‘70s-’80s rock hitmaker Eddie Money in September doesn’t seem to have moved the voting committee. And it’s surprising that Soundgarden is only getting the nod now, and not in the first two years after frontman Chris Cornell’s 2017 death. (Having debuted with Ultramega OK in 1988, the band first became eligible in 2014.) Likewise, Whitney Houston is finally being acknowledged seven years after her passing, and Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister three years after his. 

The list is full of worthy contenders, and it’s impossible to know at this point who will make the final cut. We’ll be watching closely come January. 

Who do you think should be inducted for the Class of 2020? Cast your vote in our poll.