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.

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.

Charenée Wade dazzles with her Ella Fitzgerald-style vocalese, performing the Mary Lou Williams composition "What's Your Story Morning Glory?" 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.

Xiomara Laugart, joined by Lea-Lorién Alomar and Gerardo Contino and the house band, pays tribute to Celia Cruz with a lively "Guantanamera" 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.

Valerie Simpson burns it all down performing "Send Me To the 'Lectric Chair," a signature song of Bessie Smith, 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.

Chills all around as Lizz Wright and Rhiannon Giddens invoke the spirit of concert music great Marian Anderson with the spirituals "Deep River" and "Go Down Moses" during the 2019 NPR Music Turning the Tables opening concert at Lincoln Center.

Rhiannon Giddens gets the spirit — of fierce rock and roll independence — as she leads the band in a rousing version of the gospel classic "Up Above My Head," made famous by Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight in 1947.

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.

Just try to keep up with Charenée Wade as she slays "Cotton Tail," which Ella Fitzgerald included in her 1957 Ellington songbook album, 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.

The trash on the Venice boardwalk sparkles like Wet n Wild lip gloss. This is what people forget about Los Angeles beaches: They're part of the city, inundated with the city's grit. Half-melted Icees in Styrofoam cups, one flip-flop, taco foil, condoms, a dead vape pen. Needles. But also: a Swarovski crystal earring. A pinwheel unmoored from its handle. A streak of gooey glitter. Coins of many lands. A few miles up the Pacific Coast Highway, away from the skateboarders and homeless people, WASPs sun themselves at country clubs as employees sweep the sands.

Sleater-Kinney took a lot of chances on its latest album, The Center Won't Hold, upending its much beloved sound to experiment with strange sonics, dark textures and surprising forms. The result is one of the most adventurous, exciting – and best – albums the band has ever made. We open this week's New Music Friday with a look at how and why The Center Won't Hold works and what the recent departure of drummer Janet Weiss means for the band at this point in its quarter-century long career.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

The radio version of this story includes conversations with campers and counselors at girls' rock camps, where "Rebel Girl" has become essential listening. Hear the piece at the audio link .

Loading...

Bessie&
Maybelle&
Billie&
Marian&
Ella&
Mary Lou&
Celia&
Rosetta.

By Ann Powers

Nearly 40 years into their career, The Flaming Lips remain remarkably ageless and endlessly creative. They return this week with another heady, psychedelic pop record inspired by a surreal art installation by frontman Wayne Coyne. On this week's New Music Friday, we climb inside the band's kaleidoscopic new record, The King's Mouth.

It's been eight years since Ed Sheeran released his 2011, career-launching EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project. Now his No. 6 Collaborations Project has arrived and it's a features-heavy flex that shows the singer can pretty much work with anyone, from the country rock of Chris Stapleton to Eminem, 50 Cent and Skrillex. We give a listen on this week's New Music Friday along with K.R.I.T. IZ HERE, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T.'s followup to his 2010 mixtape K.R.I.T.

After giving us a series of baffling ads in the London Tube and the back pages of the Dallas Observer, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke finally released his third solo album, ANIMA, on Thursday — meaning you won't have to listen to "Not The News" on speakerphone anymore. On this week's New Music Friday, we dive into Yorke's vivid dreamscape and its accompanying film, as well as The Black Keys' electrifying Let's Rock (their first record in five years), Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's fresh collab Bandana and more.

Here's a thing you should know before watching Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, Martin Scorsese's new Netflix documentary about one of the most notorious rock tours in the genre's history: Bob Dylan is messing with you. Dylan has been messing with people since his first braggadocio days in Greenwich Village, when his made-up tales of wandering the Southwest with a circus helped convince his friends in the folk scene that he was the real proletarian deal.

Our shortlist of the best albums out this week includes a stirring call for social justice from soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples, rapper YG's powerful remembrance of Nipsey Hussle and the first new release in six years from lo-fi rock veterans Sebadoh. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers, Sidney Madden and Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the most essential albums dropping on May 24.

Featured Albums:

  1. Mavis Staples: We Get By
    Featured Song: "Sometime"

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.

Billie Eilish is already a veteran pop artist at the age of 17, with a clear vision for her sound and image, even if that sound is sinister and the image a bit demented. (Have you seen her videos?) Her brilliant debut full-length, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is finally out and way more cryptic and complicated than the lead-up singles might have suggested.

Live music is my conduit to self-care. I love it all, from a piano concerto to a folksy singalong; but despite the ringing in my ears that complicates my lifelong pleasure, I like music best when it's a little loud. Live music awakens my senses and shelters me from everyday life's disorganized noise; I needed its clarifying energy more than ever this year. And the best thing about this form of self-care is that it takes place in community with others. It awakens connections, mind, body and soul — and that, I think, is what we need more than ever in 2018.

"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.

Some anniversaries are hard to celebrate. How should we greet the arrival of October, a year after the stories broke initiating the reckoning that soon became known as #MeToo? Since The New York Times and The New Yorker published their exposés — on Oct. 5 and Oct. 10 of last year, respectively — of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's long career as an alleged serial rapist, a new nationwide discussion has formed about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Often, this ongoing reckoning feels like not a dialogue, but a war.

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.

It's easy to love, worship and seek to emulate Joni Mitchell – but it's not so easy to pay proper tribute to her. That's why celebrations centered on her music are so fun. They challenge each performer, usually a besotted Joni devotee, to engage her tricky rhythms and find footing in her sometimes octave-jumping melodies; to parse her words — those phrases piercing through the particular into the universal — without slavishly imitating her Canadian cadences.

Prince is everything. Yes, I'm using a meme-ably meaningless phrase to describe the most fascinating artist to reign during my lifetime, but it's nearly factual for the Purple One: the intense reconsideration so many listeners have given his work since his death in April 2016 continues to reveal new facets of his genius and his work's cultural importance.

The world has been reminded of what the phrase "take me to church" really means. The musical offerings at Aretha Franklin's funeral showed the glory of gospel in its many forms, and saw secular performers placing themselves within the context of that fundamental American art form.

The Detroit Free Press issued a stern directive to fans and would-be Instagram influencers gathering this week to commemorate Aretha Franklin in her hometown. "Remember," admonished staffer (and occasional NPR contributor) Rochelle Riley in her Tuesday column, "We will treat this like church." No selfies are allowed with Franklin's gold-plated coffin, as she lay in repose at the Charles H.

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.

Pages