For the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2019, pop stardom is, roughly, a tale of two genders: Powerful women who stand proudly alone, and well-behaved groups of men with too many bass players to mention.
For its 34th annual induction ceremony on Friday night, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the hall opened the pantheon to Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead, Def Leppard, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies — a crop of respected acts that have each had a palpable impact on pop culture, and who arrived at the institution with a notable lack of controversy or internecine squabbles.
But it was the women who left the strongest impression this year, and who made the most powerful statements at the microphone.
Nicks, the first woman to be inducted twice — she was already in as a member of Fleetwood Mac — kicked off the ceremony with a rundown of her solo hits like “Stand Back” and “Edge of Seventeen,” and was joined by Don Henley for “Leather and Lace” and by Harry Styles for “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” taking on Tom Petty’s vocals while strumming a Telecaster. True to her style persona, Nicks’s black-and-gold shawl flowed behind her, as her right hand clutched a microphone with a lacy glove.
“What I am doing is opening up the door for other women to go, like, ‘Hey man, I can do it,” Nicks proclaimed in her speech. Before she came to the microphone, Styles — wearing a sky-blue double-breasted velvet suit — called her “the magical Gypsy godmother who occupies the in-between.”
Jackson — introduced by the singer and actress Janelle Monáe as “the legendary queen of black girl magic” — did not perform. But she drew roars from throughout the arena as she described staking her own path apart from the dynasty of her famous brothers.
“As the youngest in the family, I was determined to make it on my own,” Jackson said. “I wanted to stand on my own two feet. But never in a million years did I expect to follow in their footsteps. Tonight, your baby sister has made it in.”
While Jackson spoke at length about her family, she didn’t mention one of the hottest topics of the past few months — “Leaving Neverland,” an HBO documentary about two men who say Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children; she never said Michael’s name.
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And the boys? Def Leppard thanked their parents. Robert Smith of the Cure cut short his own speech to get to its performance. Bryan Ferry was apologetic for using his time at the microphone to name so many, many names, from fellow musicians to mastering engineers.
“Quite a long list of bass players, I’m afraid,” Ferry said.
And Radiohead was only partly present. Its leaders, the singer Thom Yorke and the guitarist Jonny Greenwood, have barely disguised their disinterest at the institution of the Rock Hall — “I don’t care,” Greenwood once said when Rolling Stone asked him about getting in — and so the five-man group was represented only by its bassist, Ed O’Brien, and its drummer, Philip Selway.
“We may not be the greatest musicians around, and we’re certainly not the most media friendly of bands,” Selway said. “But we have become very adept at being Radiohead, and when that connects with people it feels amazing.”
In performance, Def Leppard played bad-boy pop-metal anthems like “Hysteria” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” like a well-oiled machine, matching the musical strength of the band’s 1980s heyday, but without the strutting and stage leaps of its old videos. (But Phil Collen, the guitarist, looked like a toned street fighter as he played shirtless and with thick chains around his neck.)
The Cure, representing the post-punk and 1980s indie-rock era, kept the crowd in rapt attention with a playlist that spanned hits like “Lovesong” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” as well as oddities like the song “A Forest” that are just as important to the group’s identity.
In his speech introducing the band, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails called the Cure his gateway to alternative and underground music in the ’80s, and marveled that Smith had used his “singular vision to create the rarest of things: a completely self-contained world with its own rules.”
The night ended with a jam session featuring members of Def Leppard, the Zombies, Brian May of Queen (who inducted Def Leppard), Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles (who inducted the Zombies) and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople (who appeared to just be in the arena) singing along to that band’s 1972 hit “All the Young Dudes,” written by David Bowie.
Highlights from the ceremony will be broadcast by HBO on April 27.
In past years, the Rock Hall induction ceremony has often been marked by complaints and ranks from artists; three years ago, Steve Miller called the induction process “unpleasant” and said he felt disrespected.
This year the artists maintained a polite decorum, even when explaining their ambivalence about the institution.
Speaking to reporters backstage, Smith said he was “not quite sure about the whole thing” and that his band had, in a way, “been subsumed into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
But at the same time, Smith said, “there are so many people who have done this that I admire so hugely, who have inspired me so much, that it would be really, really wrong of me to be anything other than delighted.”
The sharpest criticism was also the most encouraging, addressing the Rock Hall’s poor record of including women. According to one count, of the 888 people who have been inducted over the hall’s history, just 69 of them, or less than 8 percent, have been women.
Wrapping up her speech, Jackson gave the hall a nudge.
“Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” she said, “2020 — please induct more women.”
Caryn Ganz contributed reporting.
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