The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is on the cusp of a very female-friendly group of inductees. Over the next decade a huge number of important female artists from the '90s will become eligible for recognition: Hole, Missy Elliott, Björk, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow, Lauryn Hill, P.J. Harvey, Annie Lennox (as a solo artist), Melissa Etheridge, Queen Latifah, Bikini Kill, Alanis Morissette, Mariah Carey, Liz Phair, Tori Amos, Toni Braxton, Cat Power, Garbage, Sleater-Kinney, and Fiona Apple, among others.
In order to actually have a female-friendly decade, however, the Hall of Fame has to acknowledge that it has a woman problem. It certainly didn't seem to acknowledge this with its 2016 inductees, who are all male artists and bands. Out of 15 possible nominations, the committee put forth only two women, Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson, both first-time nominees. But the honors were ultimately awarded to Chicago, Deep Purple, NWA, Cheap Trick, and Steve Miller. The male nominees who didn't make the cut in 2016 were the Cars, the J.B.'s, Los Lobos, Nine Inch Nails, the Smiths, the Spinners, Yes, and Chic.
A primer for the uninitiated: each year since 1983, a group of musicians and industry professionals have gathered to induct new members into the Hall of Fame with the aim of "recogniz[ing] the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll." The requirements for eligibility are that the artist must have released a record 25 years prior to their induction and "have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence." They explain that they also consider the artist's influence and length and depth of catalog and innovation, but that overall excellence is the main thing they're looking for. Apparently only 37 female performers and bands with women meet those criteria. Zero of the executives, managers, and producers inducted have been women. Only one woman, Carole King, has been inducted for her songwriting, along with her ex-husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin (she has not yet been inducted on her own as a performing artist, which is a travesty since every member of the Beatles has).
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does not make public a list of voters and did not respond to a request for a demographic breakdown by age and gender, but it specifies on its website that the largest group of Rock Hall voters is made up of inductees — who are largely straight white dudes. Which might explain why the voting body's "idea of what rock is very outdated and coded to mean straight white male. It's meant to encompass people who espouse ideals of masculinity," says Maura Johnston, a freelance music critic who contributes to Time and Rolling Stone. Chic, a disco act featuring the legendary Nile Rodgers and responsible for the singles "Good Times" and "Le Freak," do not ooze masculinity, and that may be why they were nominated but not inducted for the tenth time this year (making them the most-snubbed act in Rock Hall history). What makes them undeserving might be the audience or style of music for voters who still see disco as pitted against and not as authentic as rock from the era. Like most disco artists, and the pop artists who would follow in disco's musical footsteps in the '80s and '90s, they created music that was first embraced by women, homosexual men, and minorities; by many Rock Hall voters it's considered to be feminine music and not pure rock.
So how does the Hall of Fame begin to address its paucity of female honorees? It's perfectly logical to offer every inductee a vote, but one step it could take would be to even out the voting pool with younger voters from all aspects of the music industry, especially with an eye toward likely-underrepresented parties: people under 45, women, and minorities.