The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced the inductees for its 2023 class this morning (May 3). Seven of the 14 performers nominated for this year were officially welcomed into the Rock Hall, along with six more artists and execs via the honorary awards — including two recipients of the Musical Influence Award, three of the Musical Excellence Award and one of the Ahmet Ertegun Award.
This year’s honorees (and those left behind) largely fall in line with trends we’ve seen from the Rock Hall’s last handful of induction classes — but there are a handful of exceptions, as well as some examples of the museum’s standards perhaps changing faster than we even anticipated. Here are some of the more unexpected revelations from this year’s class.
SNUB: The White Stripes
Whoops: The artist we predicted as the most likely inductee among the 2023 nominees was nowhere to be found among the names announced this morning. Detroit garage rock duo The White Stripes, who became one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed rock acts of the ’00s, seemed like a bulls-eye pick for Rock Hall traditionalists — particularly given their own obvious reverence for the kind of rock history the museum tends to honor. But Jack and Meg White’s snub in their first year nominated perhaps indicates that the target has moved somewhat for Rock Hall voters in recent years.
It’s just the Stripes’ first year of eligibility, so it’s pretty likely they’ll be back on the ballot in years to come, and may still have a good chance of getting in. The last rock band who missed the cut after seeming like this clear a slam dunk for first-year induction was Radiohead, who lost out in 2018 and then were welcomed in the very next year. But it’s getting pretty clear that dead-center rock acts who simply feel like obvious Rock & Roll Hall of Famers can no longer be considered shoo-ins for induction — at least not in their first try.
SURPRISE: The Spinners
At the other pole of our February predictions was R&B quintet The Spinners, about whom we said, “The songs hold up, but the group itself likely remains a little too anonymous for inclusion — even on its fourth nomination.” Well, the voters disagreed this time around, as the ’70s soul hitmakers did indeed get through the Rock Hall’s doors on their fourth time out — making them the first vocal group to be inducted since The “5” Royales were brought in as an Early Influence in 2015, and the first to be voted in as a performer since Little Anthony & The Imperials in 2009.
It’s hard to know what specifically the Spinners owe their induction to — though certainly, no group with classic hits as timeless as “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love?” and “Games People Play” really needs to justify its inclusion in any such institution. The group may have additionally benefited from a combination of seniority and sentimentality; they were one of just three nominees from the ’60s and ’70s on the ballot this year (and the one with the biggest pop hits), and they were also one of just three acts who had already been nominated three times before (with the other two also getting in).
SURPRISE: Rage Against the Machine
To be fair, it was pretty close to a coin flip between these two great ’90s alternative-era bands — whose names will forever linked due to members from each coming together in the ’00s to form the similarly successful supergroup Audioslave. It seemed like it was time for one of the two to get in this year; both had been nominated before and both have very Rock Hall-friendly resumés. We ultimately leaned towards Soundgarden in our predictions, saying that the Seattle quartet “cast a bit longer a shadow [than Rage Against the Machine] — partly because of their earlier start (as the first real sensations of the grunge era) and partly because of the specter of late frontman Chris Cornell, one of the most inimitable rock frontmen of the last 40 years.”
However, the voters leaned the other way this year: Rage Against the Machine was finally inducted in its fifth try since 2018, becoming the closest thing to a traditional rock band let through the Rock Hall’s doors in 2023. (And with a rapping frontman in Zack de la Rocha and a sound that’s as indebted to funk and hip-hop as punk and metal, they’re not all that traditional.) Rage’s voting profile probably got a boost from its 2022 reunion tour — which was unfortunately cut short after 11 dates due to de la Rocha suffering a leg injury, but still may have rekindled enough memories of the band’s greatness to get it over the hump this time around.
SURPRISE: George Michael and Missy Elliott
Neither is a surprise individually, but together (along with fellow 2023 inductees Kate Bush and Willie Nelson) George Michael and Missy Elliott getting in demonstrates just how much Rock Hall voters have begun drifting towards iconic solo artists, almost regardless of what genre they’re most associated with. George Michael’s music occasionally flirted with traditional rock, but he was also proudly pop — in ways Rock Hall voters have not always rewarded or even approved of — while rap great Missy Elliott has very little connection to guitar-based rock music to speak of.
However, George Michael and Missy Elliott are undeniably crucial figures of the last 40 years of popular music — with Michael becoming one of the most trailblazing superstars on radio and MTV in the ’80s and early ’90s, and Elliott evolving the sound and image of hip-hop with her innovative albums, singles and music videos. In 2023, it appears that such an outsized impact on the music and culture of the rock era is more important to Rock Hall voters than any kind of strictly defined quintessential rockness. (Of the five solo performers inducted this year, Sheryl Crow is the only conventional rock star — and she also spent significant parts of her career dabbling in other genres like pop and country.)
SNUB: A Tribe Called Quest
Neither a legendary solo hitmaker nor a traditional rock band, ’90s rap trio A Tribe Called Quest seems likely to keep getting stuck in the middle for Rock Hall voters. The influential New York group is now 0-2, having been nominated each of the last two years but not yet inducted. Affection for the group among hip-hop heads and critics of all stripes remains perennially strong, so they’re likely to at least stay in the mix for years to come, but it may take something of a concentrated push to actually get them through the doors at this point.
SURPRISE: Chaka Khan (Musical Excellence Award)
Welcome, Ms. Khan! The funk and R&B icon of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s had been nominated a staggering seven times as a performer — three times solo, four times along with her funk band Rufus — but had yet to be voted in, making her one of the institution’s preeminent bridesmaids. No longer: The Rock Hall finally took it out of the voters’ hands this year, making her one of three Musical Excellence Award recipients (along with storied studio musician Al Kooper and hitmaking songwriter/Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin). Khan’s honorary induction is unexpected — probably for no one more than the singer herself — but logical, following such multi-time snubs as Kraftwerk, Judas Priest and LL Cool J taking a similar path to Rock Hall entry via the honorary awards earlier this decade.