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.

Pages

The Record
7:52 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 10:14 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.

Read more
First Listen
10:20 pm
Sun July 20, 2014

First Listen: Jenny Lewis, 'The Voyager'

Jenny Lewis' new album, The Voyager, comes out July 29.
Autumn de Wilde Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon July 21, 2014 10:31 am

"Nostalgia has no place for the woman traveling alone," the great travel writer Mary Morris once wrote. "Our motion is forward, whether by train or daydream." She's describing a necessary ruthlessness: Women are so often defined by their attachments (family, romance, even the fetishes of style) that becoming light enough to move often requires behavior others might read as cruel or, at best, distanced.

Read more
First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

First Listen: Morrissey, 'World Peace Is None Of Your Business'

Morrissey's new album, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, comes out July 15.
Greg Gorman Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 10:12 am

The rhetorical essence of punk is the decision to say what others believe should not be said. It points out the "no" lurking within or near every "yes." It demands an ongoing reckoning with true outsiders, and with what remains wrong in society despite everyone's best efforts, simply because people and the structures they make are flawed.

Read more
The Record
7:33 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 12:48 pm

Read more
The Record
10:57 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 8:36 am

Read more
First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun June 22, 2014

First Listen: Jim Lauderdale, 'I'm A Song'

Jim Lauderdale's new album, I'm A Song, comes out July 1.
Scott Simontacchi Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 11:51 am

I recently ran into Jim Lauderdale at a party in Nashville, and I couldn't tell if his shirt was made of silk or cotton. Covered in fiery little dragons that seemed to flit around inside its piped seams, it was a beauty. Lauderdale told me it was made of breathable material and that it came from London. Its cheerfully theatrical boldness exemplified the style of the Grand Ole Opry, too, with a cosmopolitan and slightly ironic twist.

Read more
The Record
2:19 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

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 2:31 pm

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.

Read more
First Listen
6:03 am
Fri June 6, 2014

First Listen: Willie Nelson, 'Band Of Brothers'

Willie Nelson's new album, Band of Brothers, comes out June 17.
David McClister Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 17, 2014 11:33 am

When Willie Nelson was a young hustler selling songs to Patsy Cline's people, he probably never thought he'd become the crowd-anointed sage of country music. But that's what happened as the Redheaded Stranger went gray, turned smoking weed into a brand and a virtue, and produced a discography that added up to its own American Songbook.

Read more
All Songs Considered
6:03 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 7:56 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.

Read more
First Listen
10:03 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 11:13 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.

Read more
First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun May 18, 2014

First Listen: Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, 'Dereconstructed'

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' new album, Dereconstructed, comes out May 27.
Wes Frazer Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 11:08 am

In north central Alabama, punk rockers often know as much about football as they do mosh pits. A guy with an arm-sleeve tattoo will open the door for a woman and call her "ma'am." Self-identifying as a blue dot in a red state doesn't preclude Sunday brunch with relatives whose own cars boast confederate-flag stickers. Such differences can arise anywhere, but they can feel more pressing in the Deep South, where history is sticky, like a 90-degree rainy day, and intimate, like Grandma's questionable advice.

Read more
The Record
10:39 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 4:40 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.

Read more
All Songs Considered
10:03 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 9:18 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.

Read more
The Record
1:42 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

Read more
The Record
11:07 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 7:51 am

Read more
The Record
9:41 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 1:03 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.

Read more
The Record
4:16 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 5:53 pm

Read more
First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun March 30, 2014

First Listen: EMA, 'The Future's Void'

EMA's new album, The Future's Void, comes out April 8.
Leif Shackelford Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 11:53 am

Erika M. Anderson appreciates the flickering quality of meaning. She likes the sparks that fly off sounds, igniting constructive confusion: the buzz that makes an old synth sound like a guitar, or the way an acoustic beat can crash into an electronic one to make a whole nervous system of rhythm. She's also into wordplay, starting with the name of her ongoing project EMA — an acronym that could stand for a government agency but, read another way, is a feminine name. Then there's the title of her second album, The Future's Void, with its odd, homonym-like instability.

Read more
First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun March 23, 2014

First Listen: Nickel Creek, 'A Dotted Line'

Nickel Creek's new album, A Dotted Line, comes out April 1.
Brantley Gutierrez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 1, 2014 1:32 pm

"I think we're more grown-up now, to use an extremely childlike term," the violinist Sara Watkins recently told a reporter who asked what had changed in the eight years since Nickel Creek — the trio of Watkins, guitarist Sean Watkins (her brother) and mandolinist Chris Thile — released a studio album. Watkins' words astutely acknowledged the expectations leveled at the former child prodigies, who wowed bluegrass and country fans with three precocious albums in the early 2000s.

Read more
The Record
10:48 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 11:20 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.

Read more
The Record
10:56 am
Mon March 10, 2014

The Guide To Making SXSW Fun (For Everybody)

Anything can happen in Austin. Be prepared.
Adam Kissick for NPR

The last thing anyone would say about South By Southwest is that it's an avenue for self-improvement. The annual mega gathering, which began last week for film and interactive-technology mavens and turns into a music conference and festival tomorrow, fulfills many needs for the culture nerd. Communal bonding? Yes – somewhere around 100,000 people will wander the Austin streets looking to high-five each other during this time. Fun? For sure.

Read more
The Record
7:03 am
Sat March 1, 2014

Listening In Reel Life: The Pop Music Inside The Oscar Nominees

Beautiful Music Together: Joaquin Phoenix takes a walk on the beach with his girlfriend the Operating System in the Oscar-nominated film Her.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Originally published on Sat March 1, 2014 8:54 am

The most romantic scene from any of this year's Oscar-nominated films begins with a deliciously idiosyncratic pickup line. At a swinger's pool party in 1978, a flabby yet still somehow alluring Christian Bale gently grabs the arm of Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams at her most wide-eyed and guileful. "Is that Duke Ellington on your bracelet?" he murmurs.

Read more
The Record
2:39 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Hearing Devotion In Pop's Details

Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs onstage at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center on February 5, 2014 in New York City.
Neilson Barnard Getty Images

Originally published on Fri February 21, 2014 10:08 am

This week, the rock band Imagine Dragons set a record for the longest run on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart — 77 weeks, since it debuted in August of 2012.

Read more
First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun February 9, 2014

First Listen: St. Paul And The Broken Bones, 'Half The City'

St. Paul and the Broken Bones' new album, Half the City, comes out Feb. 18.
David McClister Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 1:08 pm

About a year ago, I saw St. Paul and the Broken Bones perform at a tiny club in Tuscaloosa, Ala., called the Green Bar. The Birmingham band's six members squeezed onto the stage, looking like ragtag school kids. Singer Paul Janeway, nerd-tastic in spectacles and a Sunday suit, unfurled a handkerchief. He started to croon, then shout and wail.

Read more
First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun January 26, 2014

First Listen: Robert Ellis, 'The Lights From The Chemical Plant'

Robert Ellis' new album, The Lights From the Chemical Plant, comes out Feb.11.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 11, 2014 10:13 am

The quality of mystery is undervalued in music these days. It's often mimicked via indecipherable lyrics, mumbled vocals or spooky sound effects, but that's not the real stuff. Rarely does anyone touch upon that delicate, open-ended state of unknowing that can descend on any given day, whether you're locked in a lover's embrace or just sitting in front of the television.

Read more
The Record
9:57 am
Thu January 23, 2014

Hurray For The Riff Raff's New Political Folk

Hurray For The Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra.
Joshua Shoemaker Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 8:39 am

How many choruses does it take to turn a party song into an engine causing social change? Is it possible to honor American cultural traditions while dismantling the traps and habits that make them restrictive? Every so often a new voice engages these basic questions in subtle, exciting new ways. Alynda Lee Segarra, the 27-year-old guiding light of the New Orleans-based band Hurray For The Riff Raff, is this year's champion.

Read more
First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun January 19, 2014

First Listen: Laura Cantrell, 'No Way There From Here'

Laura Cantrell's new album, No Way There From Here, comes out Jan. 28.
Amy Dickerson Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 9:04 pm

"I'm under city lights, and it's all right," Laura Cantrell sings in one of the 12 deceptively lovely songs on No Way There From Here — her first album, besides a 2011 Kitty Wells tribute, in nine years. The line is about a love that thrives in spite of occasional separation; its story is typical of Cantrell's wry, wise viewpoint on feminine maturity. But it also says something about this Queens-based lover of vintage Nashville sounds.

Read more
All Songs Considered
12:06 pm
Wed January 1, 2014

The Knife On 'Shaking' Expectations

Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer from Swedish electronic music duo The Knife perform live on stage at Lowlands festival in Biddinghuizen, Netherlands in August.
Paul Bergen Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 1, 2014 12:43 pm

  • Hear The Knife On 'Shaking The Habitual'

Read more
The Record
1:36 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

'12 Years A Slave' Is This Year's Best Film About Music

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave.
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Originally published on Tue March 4, 2014 2:02 pm

12 Years a Slave is the most compelling film about music to be released this year, maybe this century. It's so many other things, too, as others have noted: a corrective to the weird cocktail of piety and cartoonishness that Hollywood usually supplies when depicting slavery; a gorgeous art film and an actor's hellish paradise; a cultural highlight of the Obama administration.

Read more
The Record
7:03 am
Fri November 1, 2013

Holding Music History In Your Hands: Why Archives Matter

Ma Rainey Georgia Jazz Band posing for a studio group shot in the mid-1920s, with Thomas A. Dorsey at the piano.
JP Jazz Archive Redferns

Originally published on Fri November 1, 2013 6:23 pm

Read more

Pages