The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was supposed to induct its 2020 class at an in-person ceremony on May 2, but it – like nearly every other live event this year – was forced to postpone and go virtual thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. That ceremony airs Saturday (Nov. 7) in a broadcast on HBO.
While some of the unexpected live pairings you typically find at a RRHOF ceremony were missed (last year saw surprise guest Harry Styles duet with inductee Stevie Nicks), the decision to forgo musical performances was probably a wise one on the producers’ part – after all, we’re on the umpteenth virtual/distanced awards show this year, and the fatigue is real. Overall, the 2020 Rock Hall induction ceremony’s brisk pace and manageable two-hour runtime was greatly appreciated, particularly for a ceremony that usually runs more than double that for those who attend in person.
With performances 86’d, that meant each one of the inductees received an introduction from a celebrity fan as well as a montage of their career peppered with footage of musicians explaining their impact. After that, the inductee(s) or their surviving family members gave a remote acceptance speech.
In addition to this year’s class – Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G., Whitney Houston, T. Rex and the Doobie Brothers – Irving Azoff and Jon Landau were inducted as non-performers, receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award. A video tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen was also part of the ceremony, including testimonials from Slash, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Tom Morello, with the latter calling him “the Mozart of our generation.”
Here’s a quick rundown of what happened with each of the 2020 Rock Hall inductees.
The Doobie Brothers
Before the surviving Doobie Brothers accepted the honor, everyone from Brad Paisley to Nancy Wilson to an all-smiles Luke Bryan sang their praises. But the best bit came from self-professed superfan Judd Apatow, who revealed, “Probably my favorite Doobie Brothers song is ‘Jesus Is Just Alright.’ Why? I don’t know. I’m a Jewish kid from Long Island.”
Nine Inch Nails
Iggy Pop gave a very Iggy Pop intro to sonic auteur Trent Reznor, describing his first impression of the Nine Inch Nails frontman: “I saw a face straight out of 15th century Spain,” he said, sounding very much like Iggy Allan Poe. The Stooges singer also made the case that NIN is more funkadelic than you think. “I actually hear a lot of funk – just listen to ‘Closer,'” Pop said. “The foundation could be Stevie Wonder or George Clinton. On top of that is a focused and relentless process of emotional destruction which paints a portrait of pain, pressure and dissatisfaction.” Rick Rubin, David Fincher, Mark Ronson, Jimmy Iovine and Miley Cyrus all paid homage to the band, but St. Vincent’s Annie Clark had the best quote: “They created a world that is tumbling toward hell in the best possible way.” One what-if moment that did sting, however, was when Reznor revealed he’d been planning on a reunion of sorts at the aborted May 2 ceremony: “I was most looking forward to the ceremony itself. The whole camp, past and present, was going to get together and have a moment.”
The Notorious B.I.G.
One of seven posthumous inductees this year, the Notorious B.I.G. received a lot of love during the tribute to his game-changing delivery and wordplay. Fellow NYC icons Nas and Jay-Z both appeared in the virtual ceremony, with the latter half-joking that Biggie Smalls was so damn good he “was a little worried for myself as an artist.” Lin-Manuel Miranda called him the “undisputed sound of New York,” and friend/collaborator Diddy repeatedly hammered that Notorious B.I.G. wasn’t just one of the best, but THE best of all time. His children, C.J. Wallace and T’yanna Wallace, accepted the honor on his behalf.
Alt godfathers Depeche Mode definitely attracted the most random bunch of people – in a good way — to speak on their indelible impact during the virtual ceremony. Oscar winner Charlize Theron, who called DM “the soundtrack to my life,” introduced the band, with everyone from Coldplay’s Chris Martin to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons to Arcade Fire’s Win Butler to Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry rhapsodizing about the dark electronic pioneers. “Sonically, they were and are about throwing away all the rulebooks,” Martin said, adding that “Depeche Mode can make lost souls feel more found.” The current DM trio accepted the honor together via split-screen, and their easy-going banter made it far and away the most enjoyable speech. Andrew Fletcher joked about Dave Gahan stealing cars back in the day, and the singer, for his part, thanked “all of the promoters around the world who took a chance on a bunch of outsider, eyeliner-wearing weirdos from Essex — and all of the wankers that didn’t.”
Ringo Starr – who directed the 1972 T. Rex concert doc Born to Boogie – was on hand to pay homage his late friend Marc Bolan, the sinuous frontman of the glam rock pioneers. “He was always telling me that he was the number one selling poet in Britain,” Starr recalled wistfully. “We lost him way too young, but in his short life, he made 12 albums that are as far out and ahead of their time as he was.” Billy Idol and Joan Jett spoke of his potent, strange magic, and his son Rolan Bolan accepted the honor on his behalf.
The 2020 Rock Hall virtual induction ended with the biggest act in this 2020 class, at least if we’re going by Billboard Hot 100 success. Whitney Houston received a thoughtful introduction from Alicia Keys, an awards show MVP: “We all know how her unprecedented success brought Black women into the absolute highest reaches of the music industry’s pantheon. We all know her music will live forever.” Mentor Clive Davis, collaborator Kelly Price and Jennifer Hudson (who performed the 2012 Grammy tribute to Houston the day after her death) all spoke about her impact, with Hudson saying Houston was a big part of why she performs: “Being a little girl, seeing this goddess command the stage with her presence and then voice… [I was] thinking ‘I want to be like that someday.'” With Houston and her daughter tragically gone, her mother Cissy Houston and sister-in-law Pat Houston were on hand to accept. “This is something Whitney always wanted,” Pat said, sharing that in 2009 Whitney described a Rock Hall induction as “the one thing missing” in her career. As for Whitney’s 87-year-old mother, Cissy said, “I’m so very, very proud… If I talk too long I’ll cry, and I don’t want to cry, so thank you.”