Ann Powers

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.

In 2018, country rock will be 50 years old; that's according to most official histories, anyway, which mark the subgenre's beginnings with the release of two Gram Parsons projects, the International Submarine Band's Safe At Home and The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Why not celebrate a little early?

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.

It's always a little irritating when women in rock bands are dubbed "vulnerable." The word is often meant as a compliment, but one given without consideration to the fact that music always opens up its makers to a wide range of emotions. And as if women, in particular, bear some magical burden of openness, lacking the ability to rage and strut and cause trouble like guys do.

What does vulnerability sound like, anyway? Maybe it's just the willingness to occasionally sound awkward. To hit a bum note. To say the thing that makes you look a little dumb.

When Margo Price wailed, "Let's go back to Tennessee," on her 2016 breakthrough album Midwest Farmer's Daughter, she meant more than her current home town of Nashville. The queen of East Nashville has a long relationship with Memphis, forged through collaboration with producer Matt Ross-Spang, one of the young movers and shakers who's helping put that other mid-South music capitol and its classic studios back on the recording map.

Songs That Say 'Me Too'

Oct 17, 2017

Content advisory: The videos and language below contain strong language and may be offensive to some.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Midway through last night's set at the venerable Ryman Auditorium, Kesha Sebert stood at center stage in a Stetson and a bespangled Gunne Sax-style minidress, armed with a Winchester-style rifle affixed to what looked like an insecticide pump. Her fans, who'd been screaming nonstop since pop star had walked out, to the strains of her own Aretha Franklin tribute "Woman," knew what that canister should contain.

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.

"I don't shine if you don't shine' is a lesson I learned from my best friend," wrote the journalist Ann Friedman in 2013, coining the term "shine theory" to describe her commitment to sharing credit and the power it brings. Friedman's pal (and podcast cohost) Aminatou Sow, she wrote, had helped her realize that instead of competing, women make greater progress by banding together and highlighting each other's strengths. From comedy to indie rock to celebrity posses, shine theory is a major force today.

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.

Clockwise from upper left: Lauryn Hill, Joni Mitchell (Blue album cover), PJ Harvey (Rid of Me album cover), Nina Simone, Ofra Haza (Fifty Gates of Wisdom al

It's been more than twenty years since the Spice Girls gathered in the Mojave Desert to execute martial-arts kicks and throw space-age boomerangs for the Russ Meyer movie-inspired video for the group's second hit, "Say You'll Be There." Yet the superheroine scenario of that video still lingers in the minds of women for whom the Spice Girls weren't just fluff, but a means to empowerment.

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.

A few years ago, my friend Jill Sternheimer and I started a conversation one night while driving around the streets of New Orleans. Both of us are music nerds, and we regularly attend the kinds of musical retrospectives that have become common in this age of historical exploration via tribute shows and historical playlists. Jill, in fact, often organizes such shows at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where she is the director of public programs. I sometimes write about them, and often ponder how music history's being recorded and revised in the digital age.

A mysterious photograph appeared across various social media platforms Monday morning, depicting three dashing women — two in cowboy hats, one holding a pair of spectacles — lounging at a wooden table teeming with the evidence of a long night out. NEW BAND ALERT: BERMUDA TRIANGLE, the caption read. Anyone attuned to the Americana scene recognized the one in the middle: Brittany A. Howard, the main rule-breaker in Americana music's most exciting band of this century, the Alabama Shakes.

Maybe contemporary country music will make sense again, now that Shania Twain is back to set the record straight.

When Tyler Childers was 20, he was living in Lexington, Ky., playing in bars where he couldn't yet legally drink and gaining a reputation as a redheaded wunderkind. Even then, Childers had a rich and earthy voice, with a bit of gravel that lent him gravitas. He sang the blues and country classics, but wrote his own songs too, determined to capture the rhythms of his region in the stories he shared.

The new album Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story (An Album to Benefit War Child) was never meant to be a tribute. Brandi Carlile is far too modest and clear-headed to puff herself up that way.

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