Ann Powers

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.

One of the nation's most notable music critics, Powers has been writing for The Record, NPR's blog about finding, making, buying, sharing and talking about music, since April 2011.

Powers served as chief pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 until she joined NPR. Prior to the Los Angeles Times, she was senior critic at Blender and senior curator at Experience Music Project. From 1997 to 2001 Powers was a pop critic at The New York Times and before that worked as a senior editor at the Village Voice. Powers began her career working as an editor and columnist at San Francisco Weekly.

Her writing extends beyond blogs, magazines and newspapers. Powers co-wrote Tori Amos: Piece By Piece, with Amos, which was published in 2005. In 1999, Power's book Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America was published. She was the editor, with Evelyn McDonnell, of the 1995 book Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Rap, and Pop and the editor of Best Music Writing 2010.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University, Powers went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of California.

This week, Bob Dylan's first album of new music in eight years, Rough and Rowdy Ways, rose to No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart, making him the first ever artist to have a Top 40 album in every decade since the 1960s. But Bob Dylan is not alone in making vital new music well into what some might call his "retirement" years.

"Say their names," the signs read in the streets of America. In 2020, one reckoning shares an unstable boundary with another as protesters masked against the coronavirus expose a different kind of deep debilitation: the racism that permeates American history and the present day, resulting in sudden deaths now recorded and shared on social media, but always present within history, from the arrival of enslaved Africans on the Virginia Coast in 1619 onward.

Even in the best of times, many look to live music as a crucial resource — a place to turn for comfort, community and relief from anxiety — and can scarcely imagine their lives without it. For the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has closed down venues around the country, and it's hard to picture when gathering in nightclubs or amphitheaters will be deemed safe again.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Like a fast-moving echo of the pandemic itself, music that confronts coronavirus is multiplying rapidly. A playlist created by Spotify "data alchemist" Glenn McDonald has been tracking songs about the ongoing pandemic, and the resulting daily chart is astounding. More than 400 songs have made the list since McDonald created it two weeks ago.

The last decade of music saw major artists break many of the rules about how to release an album. Beyoncé and Drake popularized the "surprise release" — putting out albums with little to no roll-out at all. So in the era of surprise digital drops, and at the beginning of a new year of music, how do you make predictions about what's coming?

When Brandi Carlile decided to perform Joni Mitchell's 1971 album Blue in its entirety at Disney Hall – the primary home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the site of many classical music premieres — one reason was to remind the audience of the 75-year-old's near-singular status among popular musicians of the past half-century. "We didn't live in the time of Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Beethoven," she said before she began her October 14 performance. "But we live in the time of Joni Mitchell."

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. When music historians talk about the pillars of American popular music, they sometimes neglect half the population. Women are too often excluded from this conversation. NPR Music has been trying to offer some balance through an ongoing series called Turning the Tables, and Season 3 begins today.

Before And After

May 13, 2019

Has anyone ever told you a secret that, in an instant, changed everything? It usually happens in a very private place — at the kitchen table, maybe, or in the close confines of a car. The teller was likely someone close to you. A lover. A family member. Your oldest friend. Telling you, I was raped. Or Our cousin Jason abused me. Saying something you might have wished, for one selfish moment, hadn't been said.

YouTube

The first single from Madonna's upcoming Madame X suggests that the doyenne of dance pop is making canny decisions in her 60th year.

"I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap," Nicki Minaj spat in her 2014 hit "Feelin' Myself," claiming her space within a rap patriarchy she altered simply by stepping a Manolo-clad toe into it. Beyoncé, her duet partner, expressed her power a different way. "Male or female, it make no difference," she declared. "I stop the world." These verses offer two different ways to think about artistic influence: one unfolds over time within a particular lineage; the other hits in the moment, altering the reality of everyone within earshot.

Last night in Nashville's CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies' work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

We are heartbroken to report this morning that the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin has died at the age of 76 years old. Ann Powers is with me now. She's NPR's music critic and correspondent. Good morning, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

This is NPR Music's live blog of the 2018 Grammy Awards. The telecast of the awards show is scheduled to run from 7:30 until 11:00 p.m. ET. We'll be here the whole time, updating this post with every award or performance.

In music and the culture it reflects, 2017 was predictably unpredictable: idols fell, empires shook, consensus was scarce. This conversation is one of five on The Record with artists, makers and thinkers whose work captured something unique about a chaotic year, and hinted at bigger revelations around the bend.

Last summer I took my daughter to Vans Warped Tour for the first time. She'd been clamoring to go since the first time she'd walked into a Hot Topic store and bought a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the band Black Veil Brides; deeply devoted to that band and its sweetly philosophical, doe-eyed singer Andy Biersack, she'd even had their album cover painted on her eleventh birthday cake. By age 13 she'd become utterly versed in current pop-punk and grunge-indebted metal, shouting along to her playlists of Neck Deep and Attila songs in the car.

Since she was 16, when her first hit, "Tim McGraw," explored how a girl's pop-star crush could enhance a high school romance with a boy not quite up to the task, Taylor Swift has been tracing the way her generation thinks, talks and texts about love. She's particularly gifted at connecting what young women consume with the ways in which they build their relationships.

The nominations are in for the 16th annual Americana Awards, to be held Sept. 13 in Nashville as the signature event of AmericanaFest — and in at least one category, they tell a tale of how this progressive yet traditionalist community is rising to the political challenges of a complicated historical moment. Four of the five releases in the Album of the Year category have protest at their core, demonstrating how the genre is stretching itself even as it builds on long-established artistic family ties.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

When Chuck Berry died last week, the music-loving world rose to acknowledge his status as, in Bob Dylan's words, the Shakespeare of rock and roll. The man was 90; people were ready. Jon Pareles, chief pop critic of The New York Times, and David Remnick, editor at The New Yorker, both immediately published lengthy obituaries. Musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Questlove to Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones – Berry's famous protégé – rushed to pay tribute.

Adele broke her Grammy award in half Sunday night. It might have seemed like the careless act of someone with plenty to spare; the 28-year-old powerhouse vocalist has 15 of the music industry's most coveted statues, including the five just presented for her latest album, 25. She did so charmingly, with a characteristic big laugh, and apparently by accident, severing the statue's gramophone horn from its base as she nervously handled it.

"Waiting 4 it," one Lady Gaga fan wrote on her Facebook wall before the Super Bowl halftime show last night. "Gaga, say some s***." The multiplatinum pop rabble-rouser's reputation as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, feminism and general freakery left her with a certain burden of proof as she took on America's biggest annual slice of family entertainment. Would she speak out about the need to preserve civil rights as a new administration already establishing a spotty record on that front reshapes the presidency?

In my early 20s, smitten by the mythic underpinnings of American popular music, I built an Elvis shrine in my living room. It largely consisted of magazine clips that my parents' next door neighbor Esther Schor had given me, culled from her own little tribute to the Memphis faun, which she'd set up near her basement tiki bar.

Popular music, like every creative form, has produced iconoclasts and idols, whose charisma intersects with the historical moment to carry them into a singular space of greatness. Leonard Cohen was not that kind of star. He was the other kind, arguably more necessary: the companionable genius, compelled by the need to track the muse through the hallways of the everyday, to understand how profane existence can be shot through with profundity.

"I am lost, I confess, in the age of the social," Lady Gaga intones in her saddest alto in "Angel Down," the anti-violence anthem that concludes her fifth studio album, Joanne, officially released today. It's a strange disclosure from a pop star whose entire career has seemingly played upon the 21st-century practice of inhabiting constructed online identities to escape reality, earn a lover's affections or scam a path toward success. Gaga crashed the Top 40 in 2008 with The Fame, an examination of the risks and limits of democratized glamor written in cool club bangers.

Fan fervor is one of the basic building blocks of rock and roll, but it's difficult to recall a rock star as tenderly beloved as is Bruce Springsteen in 2016. There are bigger legends who've evinced louder screams, like the baby boomer Boss's own early inspirations, Elvis and The Beatles.

Take a look at a picture of The Chainsmokers and you'll see everything many people hate about mainstream electronic dance music. Drew Taggart and Alex Pall, the two DJ/producers who go by that name, are two white guys with David Beckham haircuts and perfectly coiffed five o'clock shadows who stick their tongues out while posing in front of the partying throngs their big beats entertain.

Very few musical gatherings during the crowded summer festival season have been going on as long as CMA Music Fest, which launched under the name Fan Fair in 1972 and now descends upon Nashville just after the heat and humidity set in each June. One of the secrets to its longevity is that it's always been a place where country fans can encounter artists up close; folks who get a bit of face time with their favorite artists, maybe even a hug, are prone to keep coming back.

Pages