Presenting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2020 inductees … on HBO Max?

Artists like Ringo Starr appear virtually to induct the latest class into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


Shreyas Banerjee/The Observer

Artists like Ringo Starr appear virtually to induct the latest class into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Shreyas Banerjee, A&E Editor

When you ask any student of Case Western Reserve University what the top things to do in Cleveland are, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will invariably end up on that list. A museum documenting the history of rock music and a gallery of famous musicians, the hall has become a Cleveland landmark since the iconic pyramid came its way into the city in 1995. It has since attracted hundreds of thousands of rock fans every year to celebrate the art form that got its name in this lake-side city. 

That is until this year of course. With the onset of the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, the entire museum closed down from mid-March until June 15, with new safety measures then put in place including the typical temperature scans, a mask mandate, limited capacity and timed tickets that have now become common in museums. However, the annual extravagant induction ceremony that draws rock stars from around the world to our humble town wasn’t able to carry on as usual.

This year, the grand induction ceremonies don’t just belong to Cleveland anymore, having instead been brought to the whole world via HBO Max, AT&T’s newest streaming service, in a fully virtual event, airing Saturday, Nov. 7. No more are the bombastic all-star live performances present or the celebrity interactions that make induction events so memorable. Instead of the performances, some slick montages documenting the history of the inductees along with pre-recorded tributes and acceptance speeches make up the entirety of the two hour program. The usual live performances by the inductees or those paying tribute to them are the highlights for many music fans, but these were also casualties of COVID-19.

Something COVID-19 hasn’t taken is the usual drama about who is included, and more notably, who was excluded, with the Dave Matthews Band being inexplicably snubbed despite winning the fan vote, and Iron Maiden continuing to be one of the most high profile exclusions since they became eligible for entry in 2005. The new inductees are very worthy of induction though, with legends like singing goddess Whitney Houston and hip-hop legend The Notorious B.I.G. being the main highlights, with Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails and T. Rex making up the rest of the class of 2020. Tributes to those artists were touching and very well put together, taking viewers through the highlights of their careers and anecdotes from their colleagues. Despite the stellar presentation, a sense of loss pervades the entire ceremony, but there is nothing to be done there.

This solemness extended to the large “In Memoriam” section, with the segments dedicated to fallen artists touching anybody who watches. This year has seen an extraordinary amount of artists die, including legends like Little Richard, arguably the creator of rock ’n’ roll, and Eddie Van Halen, the artist who fundamentally changed the guitar-playing scene. Their tributes were particularly striking and also educational, letting all viewers know the impact they had on the world of music.

Fundamentally, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a love letter to music, and is now extending beyond just the genre of rock, welcoming pioneers from the realms of pop and hip-hop. This love was still present in the 2020 ceremony, but hopefully we will never have to do another one like this. Moments like Prince’s guitar solo in his rendition of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Nirvana’s reunion sans Kurt Cobain, with Lorde and Joan Jett substituting for the late frontman, can never be replicated in this format. 

With many rock legends now aging and passing away, these moments will be harder and harder to create as time goes on, so it’s a shame that we are in this predicament. Rock continues to live on, but it definitely deserved better than 2020.