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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The Record
9:43 am
Tue December 16, 2014

Listen To 'The Eye,' A New Song By Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile's fifth studio album, The Firewatcher's Daughter, will be out on March 3.
David McClister Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue December 16, 2014 10:45 am

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The Record
8:46 am
Fri December 12, 2014

In 2014, Pop Followed Beyonce's Lead

Beyonce's performance during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards in August included clips of a speech about feminism by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Kevin Winter/MTV1415 Getty Images for MTV

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 3:12 pm

2014 was a divisive time in popular music, with no single album or song seeming to capture the year's mood and no trend pointing clearly toward the future. But most music lovers could agree on one thing: Beyoncé was flawless. The 33-year-old powerhouse set every standard by which pop music and celebrity are judged.

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The Record
12:19 pm
Thu December 11, 2014

The Political Folk Song Of The Year

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Joshua Shoemaker Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 8:52 am

When Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff wrote the song "The Body Electric," she knew it would make its way into the world, and hoped its effects would be palpable. Horrified by the rapes that have made tragic news from India to America's college campuses, the singer-songwriter noticed that her own people — music makers and music lovers — would regularly sing along with choruses about killing women, comfortably accepting gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition.

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All Songs Considered
5:03 am
Wed November 26, 2014

Lead Belly, 'I'm So Glad, I Done Got Over'

Portrait in New York, in Lead Belly's final days, 1948-49
Dr Richard S. Blacher

Originally published on Fri November 28, 2014 1:22 pm

In the new, comprehensive boxed set Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, to be released in Feb. 24, 2015, the Smithsonian archivist Jeff Place reminds readers of the huge historical chunk of American music that the legendary singer and songwriter carried forward via his 12-string Stella guitar. "Lead Belly is often spoken of as the 'discovery' of folklorists, but in many ways he was a walking and singing collector of American folk songs in his own right," Place writes.

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The Record
1:28 pm
Mon November 24, 2014

Paramore Feat. Joy Williams, 'Hate To See Your Heart Break'

Hayley Williams (left) of Paramore and Joy Williams, formerly of The Civil Wars, perform together on a version of the song "Hate To See Your Heart Break" from the deluxe version of Paramore's self-titled album.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on

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The Record
11:20 am
Thu November 20, 2014

Nora Jane Struthers, 'The Same Road'

Courtesy of the artist

Nora Jane Struthers is guided by fire. Coming up within the tradition-minded bluegrass world, she spent her youth in a family band with her father, a good daughter learning tradition. But since she's been leading her own band, the Party Line, Struthers has poured more and more emotion into her songwriting, coming up with some of the most quietly powerful narratives within the new wave of Americana artists.

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The Record
11:04 am
Thu November 13, 2014

TV On The Radio And The Paradox Of The Midcareer Band

TV On The Radio's new album, its fifth, is titled Seeds.
JUCO Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu November 13, 2014 3:02 pm

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All Songs Considered
9:05 am
Mon November 10, 2014

Houndmouth, 'For No One'

Tyler Zoller Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon November 10, 2014 9:20 am

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The Record
1:03 pm
Thu October 30, 2014

The Many New Voices Of Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has called her fifth album, 1989, her "very first documented, official pop album."
Courtesy of Big Machine Records

Originally published on Thu October 30, 2014 5:27 pm

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The Record
2:33 am
Wed October 22, 2014

Are These The Next Crossover Country Stars?

Sam Hunt has written hits for both Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. His debut album, Montevallo, is out on Oct. 27.
Chase Lauer Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 22, 2014 6:41 am

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The Record
8:03 am
Thu October 16, 2014

Hear Two Songs From Duncan Sheik's Next Album

Duncan Sheik's seventh album, Legerdemain, will come out in 2015.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu October 16, 2014 10:15 am

In April 2015, Duncan Sheik, a songwriter who has had hits on both pop radio and the Broadway stage, will release Legerdemain, his first album of original material since 2009's Whisper House and the first not connected to a theater piece since 2006's White Limousine. Sheik crafted the album in his Garrison, N.Y. studio, and he's sharing two songs from that album via NPR Music; you can listen and download both of them below.

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The Record
9:42 am
Wed October 8, 2014

The Dream Of Ridiculous Men

The music on U2's new album, Songs of Innocence, reaches back toward the moment when the band was first building an audience.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu October 9, 2014 10:54 am

The last short story Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote is about being seriously ridiculous. In "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," an intellectual prone to existentialist despair is saved from suicide when, in a vision, he discovers a parallel planet where humanity has never sinned. "It was like being in love with each other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling," he tells the reader. This contact with Eden reinvigorates him, but then, during a playful moment, he teaches the planet's innocents how to deceive each other — and this leads to a catastrophic, Biblical fall.

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The Record
9:17 am
Wed September 24, 2014

Roots, Plugged In

Jonah Tolchin performs at Grimey's in Nashville during the Americana Music Festival on Sept. 20.
Erika Goldring Getty Images

Originally published on Thu September 25, 2014 9:10 am

When I put Jonah Tolchin's performance at Third Man Records on my schedule for Americana Fest, the annual gathering of roots-minded musicians that took over Nashville last week, I thought I was going to see a young artist playing old-timey music. Earlier this year, the 22-year-old New Jerseyite released an album, Clover Lane, that gently ranges from countryish ballads to uptempo numbers with a country blues feel.

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The Record
7:00 am
Thu September 11, 2014

An Emerging Voice Of Americana (And Oklahoma)

Samantha Lamb Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu September 11, 2014 11:50 am

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The Record
1:35 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Taylor Swift Aims For Pop's Throne

A still from the video for "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.
YouTube

Originally published on Wed August 20, 2014 9:52 am

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The Record
7:34 am
Tue August 19, 2014

Top 40 In A Summer Of Discontent

A still from the video for "Am I Wrong" by Nico & Vinz.
YouTube

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 10:54 am

To hear Ann Powers talk with NPR's Audie Cornish about some of the songs that might define the troubling summer of 2014, click the audio link on this page.

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The Record
9:34 am
Tue July 29, 2014

East Nashville Rocks

Andrija Tokic in his East Nashville studio, The Bomb Shelter.
Joshua Shoemaker Courtesy of the artist

How do you know you are in East Nashville? Follow the beards, a current joker might say. If you do, you'll find yourself in an area tucked in between Nashville's neat downtown and the city's eastern edge, separated from each by the twisting Cumberland River. To the west, tourists flock to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Ryman Auditorium — the "Mother Church of Country Music." The Opryland complex — the venerable stage and radio show's comfortably suburban home since 1974 — is to the east, where the city sprawls into malls, hotels and tourists attractions.

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The Record
6:52 am
Thu July 24, 2014

First Watch: Maddie & Tae, 'Girl In A Country Song'

Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye.
Republic Records

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 9:14 am

It's starting to seem like even the bros are tired of bro country. The truck-loving Florida Georgia Line has switched up its game with the chart- dominant "Dirt," a sensitive ballad about marriage and farming.

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The Record
6:33 am
Thu July 3, 2014

The Hits Of Yesterday And Today

Paramore's "Ain't It Fun" was originally released on Paramore in April 2013, but the single hit radio in February and hasn't left since.
Mike Coppola Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 3, 2014 11:48 am

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The Record
9:57 am
Thu June 26, 2014

He'll Be There For You

You've Got A Friend: Ed Sheeran's second album, X, released this week, sets out to prove that the "friend zone" doesn't have to be toxic.
Ben Watts Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri June 27, 2014 7:36 am

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The Record
1:31 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

A Gentle Buzz At The CMA Music Festival

During the CMA Festival in downtown Nashville, Miranda Lambert (left) welcomed Carrie Underwood for a duet on their hit "Somethin' Bad."
John Russell CMA

American music festivals used to be mostly a summer thing, but in many ways they now frame the concert experience all year round. In these temporary hot spots for pleasure and cultural conversation, new artists emerge as sensations and established ones do special things with fans. Culture watchers note fashion trends and predict whose careers will rise and fall by observing what emerges from festivals' impromptu communities.

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All Songs Considered
5:03 am
Mon June 2, 2014

Miranda Lambert's 'Priscilla,' An Ode To 'Being Queen Of A King'

Miranda Lambert's album, Platinum, comes out on June 3.
Randee St. Nicholas Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 3, 2014 6:56 am

Pop stars are the ideal companions of their fans' daydreams, speaking their most romantic hopes and defiant declarations through the songs on the Top 40. Miranda Lambert, however, is the kind of friend who's not going to take anybody's bull. As country's most lauded million-selling artist, beloved by everyday listeners and critics alike, Lambert has crafted a body of work grounded in the realism of muscle, flesh and heart.

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First Listen
9:03 pm
Sun June 1, 2014

First Listen: Jose James, 'While You Were Sleeping'

Jose James' new album, While You Were Sleeping, comes out June 10.
Janette Beckman Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 10:13 am

When the spirit of Nirvana surfaces in a song, the artist paying tribute almost always shares style points with that treasured band. The hair is shaggy, the clothes a little ragged; the lineage unfolds, relatively neatly, from punk to the present.

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The Record
9:39 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Why Tori Amos Connects

Tori Amos on stage in Glasgow, three days before the release of her 14th studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines.
Ross Gilmore Redferns via Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 3:40 pm

When I spent time on tour with Tori Amos a decade ago, collaborating with her on a book, I'd see her invoke the four elements many nights before her band would take the stage.

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All Songs Considered
9:03 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Song Premiere: Naomi Shelton And The Gospel Queens, 'Sinner'

Jacob Blickenstaff Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 8:18 am

In 1963, Alabama was culturally closer to Brooklyn than it is now. The Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South created enclaves in cities all over the country, and the Civil Rights movement trained the eyes of the North on cities like Birmingham. Alabama native Naomi Shelton came to Brooklyn that year with the gospel in her heart and soul music turning her head. She found a place to sing, a bar on Flatbush Avenue, and a musical partner in keyboardist Cliff Driver. Flatbush Avenue rang out with the sound of her Southern blend of grace and grit.

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The Record
12:42 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Is It Worth It To Work It?

The album cover for Lily Allen's Sheezus goes after multiple targets, including Kanye West (in the album's title) and Queen Elizabeth II (the corgis).
Courtesy of the artist

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The Record
10:07 am
Thu April 17, 2014

God, Drugs And Lizard Aliens: Yep, It's Country Music

Sturgill Simpson's second album, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, takes inspiration from both Ray Charles and research into near-death experiences.
Crackerfarm Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 6:51 am

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The Record
8:41 am
Tue April 15, 2014

Why We Fight About Pop Music

Kanye West performing in New York City, 2012
13thWitness Getty Images for Samsung

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 12:03 pm

In 2007, the Canadian music critic Carl Wilson published a book-length experiment in extreme aesthetic sport: a sincere and shockingly comprehensive study of music he had already decided he hated. That book, Let's Talk About Love, named for the Celine Dion album it studied, has become a cornerstone text in the school of criticism known as "poptimism," because it treats seemingly disposable pop music as worthy of serious thought.

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The Record
3:34 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Make Peace With Pop: 6 Songs That Prove Pop Gets Along With Everyone

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 4:53 pm

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The Record
9:39 am
Sat March 15, 2014

Lady Gaga At SXSW: 'Don't Sell Out. Sell In.'

Lady Gaga donned luxurious plastic bags for her SXSW Keynote on Friday.
Michael Buckner Getty

Originally published on Sat March 15, 2014 10:20 am

On Friday, March 14, Lady Gaga gave the keynote at SXSW 2014, a long interview conducted by John Norris that covered her career in pop, from her roots in the rock clubs of downtown New York to her decision to partner with a corporate sponsor for the concert she performed at Stubb's the night before. (You can see the complete video of the interview on this page.)

NPR Music's Ann Powers was in Austin for the keynote, and she filed this report.

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