The 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees will be officially announced in May, and we’re making our case for each of the 16 nominees below.
“This remarkable ballot reflects the diversity and depth of the artists and music the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrates,” said John Sykes, chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, on the nominee page of the Rock Hall website. “These nominees have left an indelible impact on the sonic landscape of the world and influenced countless artists that have followed them.”
But while each artist is deserving, the competition is fierce and not all will make it in. A voting body of more than 1,000 artists, historians, and members of the music industry will cast their ballots for, typically, five inductees. (The HOF inducted six of the 16 nominees last year.).
The ballot includes a wide range of artists of varying backgrounds and histories this year. Seven of the 16 nominees are on the ballot for the first time, including Foo Fighters, the Go-Go’s, Iron Maiden, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Fela Kuti and Dionne Warwick. Those up for nomination again include Kate Bush, Devo, Carole King, Tina Turner, Todd Rundgren, Chaka Khan, LL Cool J, New York Dolls and Rage Against The Machine.
Some, like Todd Rundgren and Iron Maiden, have already stated their indifference to the outcome of the voting. “It’s no secret that I don’t care about it,” Rundgren told Billboard after learning of his nomination. “It doesn’t matter how many times they nominate me. It’s not gonna make me care.” Still, their accomplishments deserve recognition.
This year’s ballot is also filled with women – almost half of the nominees, in fact. King and Turner could also become only the second (and third) female artists to be inducted twice, following Stevie Nicks’ 2019 election. We outline their cases, as well as their fellow nominees’, below.
Mary J. Blige
When Mary J. Blige signed to Uptown Records in 1989 at age 18, she was the label’s youngest and first female artist. But her debut album, What’s the 411?, which came out a year later, sounded like a woman much wiser than her years. Her partnerships over the years with rappers like Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G (who was inducted into the Rock Hall last year), helped Blige gather swarms of fans who’d fallen head over heels for this new female-empowered R&B sound. Each of her 13 albums has reached the Top 10, and her work has helped pave the way for other independent female R&B artists.
After Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour heard Kate Bush’s demos, he she was an immense talent and helped her land a record deal. The effort was rewarded – her first single, 1978’s “Wuthering Heights,” spent four weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. Since then, her music, which incorporates everything from literary themes to lush landscapes, has only continued to grow in popularity with fans of varying ages, genders and backgrounds, with covers of her songs still climbing today’s charts.
Devo have been anything but ordinary from the start. When art students Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh brought on their respective brothers, both named Bob, and drummer Alan Myers, and released the David Bowie– and Brian Eno-produced Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! in 1978, it was clear Devo were eager to be different. Their embrace of video as a new medium of expression for music coupled with their theory of de-evolution placed them in a league of their own.
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has already been inducted for his work with Nirvana, but his other band has stood its own test of time. They’ve released more than a dozen albums in roughly 25 years, earned tons of Grammys and sold out stadiums for years. They rank third for most No. 1 songs in the history of Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, running just behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day, both of which are already in the Rock Hall, and have recorded a wide range of music stretching from heavy electric tracks to sweeter acoustic numbers.
The Go-Go’s, rock’s only all-female band to write and record a No. 1 album, changed the game for good. Unlike previous “girl groups,” the Go-Go’s wrote all their own music, played their own instruments and became stars of their generation. Born of the post-punk scene in Los Angeles, the Go-Go’s proved that writing classic hits (“Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Head Over Heels,” “Vacation”) isn’t just a guy thing. By the time they split after only three albums together, their influence on future women-centric bands was set.
Iron Maiden have consistently been one of rock’s most reliable metal bands, and even though none of their songs topped the charts in the States, they’ve sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, headlined hundreds of arenas and influenced others like Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. Though singer Bruce Dickinson has already noted his disinterest in attending the ceremony if Iron Maiden are inducted, their achievements are still worthy of recognition.
Jay-Z has walked the walk. His debut album, Reasonable Doubt, came out in 1996 and was well-received, but that was only the beginning. His swaggering confidence mixed with his willingness to write heartfelt and often vulnerable lyrics connected with fans. In 2004, he became president of Def Jam Records, where he signed Rihanna, Kanye West and J. Cole. Other collaborations include Linkin Park, Rick Rubin and Alicia Keys. Over the course of his career, he’s earned 14 No. 1 albums and 22 Grammys, and was the first rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017.
As lead singer of Rufus, Chaka Khan blew audiences away with her powerful, dynamic voice, lifting the band to new levels, but her talent would ultimately stretch far beyond the group’s borders. She proved it almost immediately when she scored a hit with “I’m Every Woman” from her 1978 debut solo album, Chaka. Fellow artists took note and were drawn to her versatile voice and confident attitude. She’s guested on records by Quincy Jones, Ry Cooder and Rick Wakeman during the late ’70s and early ’80s, sang on Steve Winwood‘s “Higher Love” and was signed by Prince, a fan of hers, to his label in 1998.
Though already inducted in 1990 for her songwriting with ex-husband and former collaborator Gerry Goffin, it’s high time Carole King received recognition for her own accomplishments. After penning some of the most infectious hits of the ’60s (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “[You Make Me Feel Like] A Natural Woman,” “The Loco-Motion”) King stepped out on her own with 1971’s Tapestry, which shot to No. 1 and is still cited today as one of the greatest records of all time. King’s dedication to the craft of songwriting served as an inspiration to generations of female singer-songwriters.
An innovative musician, unflinching history-maker and committed social activist all rolled into one, Fela Kuti made the absolute most of his career. Born into a family of doctors, organizers and advocates, Kuti chose to utilize his artistic talents to push the boundaries of Nigeria’s musical and political scene. Influenced by the soul and jazz music drifting over from America, but also interested in the roots of West African music, he invented a new sound that would eventually become known as Afrobeat. Meanwhile, in between releasing albums, touring the world and brushing elbows with stars like Paul McCartney, Ginger Baker and more, he also used his platform to speak out against corruption and injustice in his home country.
LL Cool J
First nominated in 2010, LL Cool J’s name has appeared on the Rock Hall short list several times since. After 13 albums (seven of which have gone platinum) and seven No. 1 rap singles, LL Cool J has proved his longevity and is regularly cited as an influence for many contemporary rappers. Given his former Def Jam labelmates Public Enemy and Beastie Boys have already been inducted into the Hall, along with fellow New Yorkers Run-DMC, it’s clear LL deserves a place, too.
New York Dolls
Even though the original lineup released only two albums – a self-titled record in 1973 and a follow-up in 1974, Too Much Too Soon – New York City’s punk scene wouldn’t have been what it was without New York Dolls’ brash contribution. Like fellow nonconformists (and already inducted bands) the Stooges and the Velvet Underground, the Dolls helped spark the bubbling punk movement with cheeky lyrics and uninhibited sound.
Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine have always told it like it is. Unafraid to share their political views, the members of Rage wrote songs about issues that were both prevalent to the time they were written in but still resonate with listeners today. Combining elements of rap, funk, metal and rock, Rage Against the Machine released their triumphant debut LP in 1992 and proceeded to make music for the frustrated, passionate and determined for the next decade.
Well-loved across the board, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and studio extraordinaire Todd Rundgren is the definition of a rock rebel. Trusted by fellow artists, he’s lent his keen ear for production to dozens of artists, including Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, New York Dolls, the Psychedelic Furs and Meat Loaf, proving his ability to create music in a variety of styles. And his own albums have steered from power pop to avant-garde to R&B.
Dubbed “The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Tina Turner rightfully deserves a second induction. (She was inducted in 1991 for her work with former husband Ike Turner.) After searching to find her place, her career skyrocketed after the release of her 1984 album Private Dancer. She’s collected 13 Top 40 hits, including six Top 10s. One of them, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” earned her a Grammy sweep in 1985: Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Her electrifying live performances continued to invigorate crowds up until her retirement from the road in 2009.
Dionne Warwick knows what it takes to be a hit singer. In course of her career, she’s had 56 singles on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, with 12 of them making the Top 10, including songs like “Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” Her collaborations with writer Burt Bacharach and her versatile voice propelled her to stardom in the ’60s and placed her among the era’s most reliable hitmakers. With six Grammys to her name, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, Warwick’s contribution to the world of pop and R&B music are unmatched.