It’s been over 30 years since Aretha Franklin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, becoming the first (and then only) female artist among the 25 acts enshrined in the Cleveland museum. Three decades and change later, women have become a more regular presence within the Hall of Fame, but not by much: In the last five classes, only six female or female-fronted acts have been inducted, and all in all, Rock Hall membership is still under eight percent female.
The lack of gender balance was conspicuous enough that upon being inducted in 2016, Steve Miller (one of the five all-male acts being honored) openly called out the museum’s governing body for the disparity, pointedly encouraging them to “keep expanding your vision, to be more inclusive of women.” The 2018 and 2019 classes showed improvement, with Janet Jackson, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe all finally being welcomed in (the latter as an early influence), and StevIe Nicks becoming the first woman to make the Hall twice (first with Fleetwood Mac and then as a solo artist). But this year, Whitney Houston stands as the sole female representative among the Rock Hall’s six inductees.
Who are the perennially passed-over women most deserving of Rock Hall induction? Let’s take a look at ten eligible female or female-fronted acts who’ve already done more than enough to be worthy of induction, and then peer into the future to see which soon-to-be eligible female artists may have a shot at induction over the years to come.
SHOULD BE IN BY NOW:
1. Carole King. It seems near-impossible that Carole King, one of the most influential recording artists of the ’70s and the woman behind Tapestry, one of the decade’s most critically and commercially undeniable blockbuster LPs, could have escaped induction by now. But while the iconic singer-songwriter has been honored for the “songwriter” half of her double-billing, having been inducted along with her Brill Building teammate Gerry Goffin back in 1990, her performing career has gone unrecognized. Yes, Tapestry towers over the rest of her catalogue, but it’s not like most post-Baby Boomers could name a James Taylor album not called Sweet Baby James either, and that guy got in two decades ago.
2. Björk. Despite the title of 1993 breakthrough album Debut, Björk’s proper bow came back in 1977, when she released a self-titled album in Iceland as an 11-year-old — making her Hall-eligible for well over a decade already. Though Björk’s artistic achievements have never resulted in world-beating sales, and her symphonic pop compositions are not easily classifiable as rock (or as anything else), her singular artistry, universal acclaim and enduring influence on the ensuing generation’s best and brightest musicians should certainly have earned her a nomination by now.
3. Kate Bush. Like Björk, Kate Bush is an inspirational art-pop maestro for whom the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame feels almost too small to contain, but who nonetheless would almost certainly have been inducted by now if we shipped the Rock Hall across the pond. Her U.S. presence never quite approached her chart-topping impact oversees — “Running Up That Hill” remains her only top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 — but her stateside influence was still considerable; even the late 2Pac, a 2017 inductee, was an avowed listener.
4. Kim Gordon / Sonic Youth. One of the most important and consistently brilliant alternative rock bands of the ’80s and ’90s — albeit one that never maintained a regular radio presence — Sonic Youth seem destined to receive Rock Hall recognition only well after scores of more popular bands that they influenced get in. While singer/guitarist Thurston Moore will likely go down as the band’s primary sonic architect, there’s no question that the group’s greatest cultural thumbprint belongs to bassist Kim Gordon — who wrote and sang lead on several of the band’s greatest songs, who proved an icon in the art and fashion worlds, and whose tribulations in the industry inspired her Girl in a Band memoir, which Billboard named one of the 100 greatest music books of all time in 2016.
5. Dolly Parton. And as long as we’re opening the doors for Whitney, we may as well say hello to Dolly, too. The lack of Rock Hall attention given to Dolly Parton has been extended to any number of the great ladies of country — Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris — and a number of the men, too. But as a presence so pervasive in all corners of musical and popular culture for a full half-century now, it seems especially egregious that Parton should continue being snubbed; maybe she just needs to do an entire album of Zeppelin covers.
6. Courtney Love / Hole. This one should be a virtual no-brainer, as Hole frontwoman Courtney Love fits all the best and worst parts of the rock star archetype that the Hall of Fame so often seems to treasure. But decades of being saddled with artistically unfair and explicitly sexist narratives have weighed down Hole’s oft-transcendent ’90s work, and Love’s distaste for politicking within the industry may leave her outside the voting body’s good graces for some time to come. Some will likely point to the group’s scant overall discography as excuse for their exclusion, but Mr. Love’s band hardly left behind an entire Columbia Record Club’s worth of titles either.
7. The Go-Go’s. Arguably worthy of inclusion strictly on historical merit, as their 1981 Beauty and the Beat debut album made them the first all-female group to top the Billboard 200 albums chart while writing and performing all their own music. But just as importantly, that album friggin’ rips — The Go-Go’s were responsible for a handful of the absolute best pop/rock songs that the ’80s had to offer, as well as some of the music videos that helped define MTV in its formative years. That the group spun successful solo careers off for leaders Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin is just a bonus.
8. Sheryl Crow. Sheryl Crow‘s musical influence would hardly rate as seismic, but she’s universally liked, she has an impressive back catalog of hit albums and singles, and she generally fits the model: writing her own songs, playing a bunch of her own instruments, paying fealty to her predecessors and coming off like a star no matter how many copies her records sell. As the number of big names that fit that description begin to dwindle, Sheryl seems like a safe bet to get in sooner or later — safer than more critically renowned but less household-recognizable alt-rock solo artists like Liz Phair or PJ Harvey, even.
9. Mariah Carey. Now that Whitney Houston is in, it only makes sense for Mariah Carey — one of her few peers in terms of both crossover popularity and vocal prowess at the end of the 20th century — to follow her in. While Carey faces the same “yes but is it rock” roadblocks that delayed Houston’s induction for a decade, her resumé (which includes a Hot 100 No. 1 hit this very month) remains too undeniable for exclusion on those grounds alone — and as the rare ’90s and ’00s pop star who also played a large role in the writing and producing of her own hits, she fits more of the auteur mold that Rock Hall voters tend to prefer from their solo artists.
10. Mary J. Blige. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul is certainly among the most venerated and influential singers of her generation, a classic R&B performer in the mold of countless ’60s and ’70s artists already found within the Hall of Fame’s walls. Her sonic roots in hip-hop also likely present issues for much of the Rock Hall voting block, but her vocal virtuosity and highly personal artistry likely make her an easier sell than many of the more pop-leaning R&B stars of the last 30 years.
COULD GET IN NEXT:
1. Fiona Apple (Eligible 2021). One of the most critically admired artists of the last two decades, and one with enough commercial clout (largely thanks to her MTV-conquering 1996 debut Tidal) for name recognition not to be an issue. Fiona Apple‘s lack of media gladhanding and general reticence to near the spotlight in recent years may hurt her with older voters less enraptured with her eccentricities, but as a voting generation that grew up with her brilliance unquestioned comes of age, you have to think she’ll see induction in time. Looking forward to the acceptance speech already.
2. Missy Elliott (Eligible 2022). A rock star in hip-hop clothing; Missy Elliott was as bad as they came around the turn of the millennium, a distinctly right-brained musical genius who became a superstar in oversized garbage bags and Motörhead t-shirts. She was as otherworldly as Bjork, but somehow remained recognizable enough to take over American airwaves. She’d seem absurdly out of place at a Rock Hall induction, but we loved her because she never seemed to fit in anywhere but her own music videos.
3. Lauryn Hill (Eligible solo 2023). The Fugees, already eligible for nomination, could be an interesting test case for just how much the Rock Hall wants to embrace hip-hop as the years progress — no rap album was safer for high-minded rock fans to wrap their arms around in the mid-’90s than the trio’s 1996 blockbuster The Score, but considering the group never followed it up, they might not be able to ensure entry collectively. If not, Lauryn Hill will have to wait a few years until her solo eligibility comes up with the rapturously acclaimed Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album — though given her inability to follow that album, she may be stuck in solo/group Rock Hall limbo. Maybe just induct her shortly along with The Fugees and be done with it.
4. Destiny’s Child (Eligible 2023). Fifteen years ago, the idea of Destiny’s Child as a Rock Hall contender would’ve seemed preposterous — but not nearly as much so as lead singer Beyoncé becoming the most critically acclaimed artist of her generation. The latter has almost certainly happened, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the former did as well: Destiny’s Child are rivaled only by TLC as the most beloved girl group of the past 30 years, and as Beyonce’s esteem only continues to grow, so does her original group’s stature. It’s already been a decade since the last girl group (The Ronettes) was welcomed to the Hall; it seems right that DC should be the first modern group to extend the tradition.
5. Britney Spears (Eligible 2024). Well, this one will certainly be a debate. Despite the Joan Jett and Rolling Stones covers, Britney Spears is certainly not rock by any conventional metric, and even as a pop star, she doesn’t really have the qualities Rock Hall voters tend to prioritize — she’s not an instrumentalist or particularly renowned as a singer, she didn’t write or produce on most of her biggest hits, and she doesn’t quite have that Madonna sense of auteur-ish purpose to her career and its larger motivations. However, she was an undeniably pivotal force in music history, a pop star who redefined what that term could and should mean, and an artist still cited as a formative influence by artists of all types a generation after her debut. It’d take the culmination of a major shift in ideology — and maybe even a name change — for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to take Britney Spears seriously as an inductee. But that doesn’t mean it’d be smart to bet against it happening eventually.