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.

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If anyone could take her career to the next level during lockdown, it's Billie Eilish.

Taylor Swift was supposed to spend this summer touring songs from Lover, the album she put out last August. Instead, like many of us, she wound up cooped up at home. The isolation seems to have sparked her creativity, leading her to write and record an entirely new record in collaboration with producers Jack Antonoff and The National's Aaron Dessner.

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

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Here's the thing about breakups: Sometimes you have to burn down the house you thought was home, but at night you still need to find a place to sleep. This is true for those who leave a long marriage, or a toxic family, or a community that proves oppressive. Artists can experience this painful unsettling too, especially ones nurtured within scenes that present themselves as loving unbroken circles, with all the promised comforts and invisible strictures that word entails. The freedom can be exhilarating, the severing of ties necessary, even life-saving.

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.

In the liner notes to John Coltrane's 1964 album Live At Birdland, Amiri Baraka (then writing as Le Roi Jones) contemplated the gift the saxophonist and his band offered with this music inspired by the horrific deaths of four Black girls in a Birmingham church bombing inspired by white supremacist hatred. "Listen," Baraka wrote. "What we're given is a slow delicate introspective sadness, almost hopelessness, except for Elvin [Jones], rising in the background like something out of nature... a fattening thunder, storm clouds or jungle war clouds.

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When I think about the screen images that startled me into a new way of thinking, one always surfaces first.

"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.

As technology evolves, so does protest. Awareness of George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers could only inspire an international grassroots movement because a teenager, Darnella Frazier, decided to record his arrest using her phone and post it to social media. Activists are organizing marches and rallies on Twitter and Instagram, even as they warn participants to be careful of surveillance on those platforms.

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.

Little Richard died on Saturday, May 9, 2020 in Tullahoma, Tenn. at the age of 87. This essay was originally published as part of the book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music, written by NPR Music's critic and correspondent Ann Powers and published by Dey Street Books in 2017.

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

To paraphrase one of her most evocative lyrics, there's something about what happens when you listen to a Lucinda Williams song. The plain but cultivated beauty of her phrase-turning draws you in, but it's another quality that makes a novice listener into an ardent fan. It's the feeling of watching something grow like a flower on a vine: a recollection, a fully fleshed-out image, a person's inner life unfolding.

John Prine, who died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19, was a foundational figure, guiding light and embodying spirit of Americana music. In recent years his presence at the annual Americana Music Honors and Awards, held every September at Nashville's hallowed Ryman Auditorium, defined that event. Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, reflected upon Prine's passing:

When I heard that John Prine was dead, and would never be going to Arnold's Country Kitchen again to nab the last piece of banana cream pie; and that I'd never stand in a packed room full of old hippies and young hipsters and just plain folks and bellow out the words to "In Spite of Ourselves" as he chuckled at all of us; that I'd never meet another young songwriter who'd recently been blessed the wisdom he offered as Nashville's most generous mentor; that old friends like Bonnie Raitt would never grinningly match hi

Nothing in the world is more serious right now than social distancing.

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 21st-century truism that musicians need touring to survive financially in the streaming age has been proven true, brutally, by the COVID-19 outbreak. The shutdown of most venues and festivals has meant a major loss of income for most artists, and the music world is scrambling to come up with ways to ameliorate the crisis.

The Virtuoso

Feb 10, 2020

Turning the Tables is NPR's ongoing multi-platform series dedicated to recentering the popular music canon on voices that have been marginalized, underappreciated, or hidden in plain sight. In 2020, we will publish an occasional series looking closely at the careers of significant women in music, treasured albums or significant scenes. This is the first in the series; find all Turning the Tables content here.

Ann Powers: Here we are, Rodney, to talk about one of the weirdest, most emotionally fraught and repressed, most resistance-fueled yet frequently deluded awards shows I can recall seeing in recent years: the 2020 Grammy Awards. Let's start with Lizzo, not quite the spirit of the night that I expected her to be. "This is the beginning of making music that moves people again," the flute-wielding dynamo exclaimed when picking up an early statue, the only one she took during the televised performance. (She claimed three in total).

The latest round of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions were announced today, and Whitney Houston is the only woman honored.

Morning Edition's series called One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs focuses on musicians or bands whose careers in the United States are defined by a single monster hit, and explains why their catalogs have much more to offer.

In this installment, NPR Music's Ann Powers argues that Janis Ian, who won the Grammy for best pop vocal performance in 1975 for "At Seventeen," pioneered what we now consider the adult contemporary genre. Read Ann in her own words below, and hear the radio version at the audio link.

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?

In a culture infatuated with the idea of bending time, music lovers may not often consider that such miracles happen constantly in the course of everyday listening. Your life may not literally loop the way Nadia Vulvokov's did in Russian Doll, or toddle from past to present to future like Angela Abar's in Watchmen. But did you ever make a playlist that segues from Lizzo to Stevie Wonder?

What is the most urgent undertaking for an artist in 2019? Perhaps it is to find music in the noise oppressing the atmosphere, the (mis)information, static and chaotic emotion permeating people's heads. For example: Billie Eilish, the Los Angeles teenager who, with her 22-year-old brother Finneas, made the most streamed and talked-about album of 2019, was once getting her braces adjusted, listening to the whir of the drill shaving down their edges.

The Grammy Awards' category for new artists has always been the Hufflepuff house of the event, a mishmash of eccentrics, high achievers and hard-working young music industry favorites. (Notorious category winners Milli Vanilli did work hard, just not at singing.) Rarely has the field clearly pointed toward an exciting new musical era. But this year, that's exactly what it suggests.

Songs Against The Suits

Nov 15, 2019

On Thursday night, Taylor Swift threw another volley in her ongoing battle with the two men she considers the captors of her legacy.

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."

Courtney Marie Andrews and Rhiannon Giddens harmonize with all their hearts on the Carter Family's "You Are My Flower" during the 2019 NPR Music Turning the Tables opening concert at Lincoln Center.

Watch the full Turning the Tables tribute to 8 Women Who Invented Popular Music, recorded live at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park and read more about the series.

Lizz Wright stuns with a somber version of "Strange Fruit," made famous by Billie Holiday, during the 2019 NPR Music Turning the Tables opening concert at Lincoln Center.

Watch the full Turning the Tables tribute to 8 Women Who Invented Popular Music, recorded live at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park and read more about the series.

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