Just as everything old is new again, in music, every trend eventually becomes uncool.
So it is with the announcement Tuesday morning of the nominees for the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (see below).
Name aside, the Rock Hall of Fame has long been a popularity contest with only a vague tie to genre (NWA was the fifth rap act to be inducted when it joined this year). And the nominees for 2017 suggest a decisive step forward for the Hall of Fame: It’s finally embracing electronic music.
Depeche Mode is nominated for the first time, though it’s not the first year the pioneering British synthpop band has been eligible. Kraftwerk is nominated again, but given the state of pop now, it feels like that German electronic act — which essentially invented popular electronic music — may finally be due.
There has never been a full-fledged electronic act inducted into the Hall of Fame, despite the presence of disco and hip-hop, and artists like Prince and Madonna who owe a heavy debt to it. In some ways, that’s just timing. The Hall of Fame limits eligible acts to those at least 25 years old. But the lack of electronic artists also has to do with a certain wariness among industry professionals who vote. Kraftwerk dates back to the ’70s, while Nirvana was very young when it got inducted in 2014.
It’s very easy to connect the dots from Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode to trip-hop, dubstep, and the electronic music that suffuses nearly everything we listen to now. Depeche Mode was particularly pivotal in blurring the line between what we know as “synth” music and rock — processing guitars through giant, modular synths so it was hard to tell the difference between what was human-made and what was a computer, and perhaps more importantly, bringing the blues-based, brooding, masculine energy of ’60s and ’70s rock into the mix.
Depeche Mode was for a time the height of cool. But while I can attest singer Dave Gahan still shakes his butt onstage like a twentysomething, he is now 54. And, critically from the point of view of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the band’s biggest singles like “Enjoy the Silence” and “Personal Jesus” haven’t ever really faded from view. Against all odds, they have become classics.
When I saw Depeche Mode live in 2013, I noticed a dad in the arena who had brought his toddler, dressed in an official Depeche Mode t-shirt. The band that helped redefine rock in the ’80s and ’90s has literally become dad music.
Which is just another sign of how music is evolving. EDM as a popular trend has subsided from its early-2000s peak, and while electronic will never go away, the pop charts have drifted toward more traditional, less garish genres in the past few years.
There will be no clearer sign that electronic music is uncool than when it’s inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And it’s only a matter of time.
Here’s the full list of nominees for induction in the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
- Bad Brains
- Chaka Khan
- Depeche Mode
- Electric Light Orchestra
- J. Geils Band
- Jane’s Addiction
- Janet Jackson
- Joan Baez
- Joe Tex
- Pearl Jam
- The Cars
- The Zombies
- Tupac Shakur
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