Ann Powers

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Ann Powers (2007)

Ann Powers (born 4 February 1964) is an American writer and pop music critic who earned a Bachelors of Arts in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and a Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley. Powers has been writing about popular music and society since the early 1980s. The author of such books as Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America and coeditor of Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap, she has written for various publications like the New York Times, Blender Magazine, and the Village Voice. As one of the nation’s “most notable music critics” according to NPR (National Public Radio), Powers has been writing for The Record, NPR's blog about finding, making, buying, sharing and talking about music, since April 2011. She currently writes for NPR Music, and is a contributor for The Los Angeles Times.[1]

A Seattle, Washington native, she has written for many music publications, and her work has been widely anthologized. A female critic and journalist for a popular, male dominated industry, Powers’ work offers critique around the perception of sex as well as racial and social minorities in the music industry. Using her gender as a lens, she considers herself a “generalist” and critiques music from several genres. In the past she studied literary theory, been a museum curator and written about topics such as religion, feminism and film.[2][3] While still a teenager, she began writing about music in the now-defunct Seattle music tabloid The Rocket. After a brief stint at the New York Times in 1992-93, she was an editor for the Village Voice from 1993 until 1996, then returned to the Times as a pop critic from 1997 until 2001. During this time and even into 2003, Powers wrote articles for the NY Times that centered on everything from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Classical music, folk to the Four Tops. Notable articles included, “Jesus was a Load Shark” in 2003, “When a Rock Star Goes Political” and “Sex, Death and Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 2002, and “MUSIC: The Year in Classical Music: The Critics’ Choices; A Canadian Bard and a Texas Tenor” in 2001.[4] From 2001 until May 2005, she was senior curator at the Experience Music Project, an interactive music museum in Seattle. In 2014, Powers was a program committee member for the 13th Annual EMP Pop Conference.[5] She participated in the conference as a moderator for “Keynote: You Gotta Move: Artists Talk About Life on the Road and Music in Motion” and had a presentation called “Queen Bey and Her Court: A Critical Roundtable” that discussed Beyoncé’s musical versatility and her impact on history, culture, and media.[6] After a brief tenure as Blender magazine's senior critic, in March 2006 she accepted a position as chief pop-music critic at the Los Angeles Times, where she succeeded Robert Hilburn.[7]

In 2005, Powers co-wrote the book Piece by Piece with musician Tori Amos. The book discusses the role of women in the modern music industry, and features information about composing, touring, performance, and the realities of the music business. Powers and Amos complemented the publication of the book with the event "An Evening with Tori Amos" in New York City on February 24, 2005, where they discussed themes explored in the book. Powers’ next book, Rock Me With A Steady Roll: The Erotic Life of American Music, is expected to be published in 2014.[8] This book is “about how American music shaped American sex shaped American music”.[9]

Powers was one of the winners of the 42nd Annual ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards (2010).[10]

Frank in her opinions, Powers once said in a PBS Frontline interview that “[she] really [doesn’t] think you can pinpoint a moment of purity in popular music where it was divorced from commercial desires and commercial interests.” [11]

Powers made an appearance on the film “The Punk Singer” [12] as an interviewee discussing the influence of Kathleen Hanna on Punk music.[13]

Powers’s Quotes from The Punk Singer: “Stories of abuse, emotional violence, sexism that were just bubbling around. They brought that out in the open. She wanted to talk about this stuff. You know, you’re objectifying women. What does that mean? What does that do to my body? You’re celebrating a certain kind of woman. What does that do if I don’t fit into that mold?”

“For Kathleen’s music to grow in directions toward electronic music completely makes sense to me. When you’ve disconnected from your community or lost your community, it’s amazing if you can seize the means of techno yourself.”

“‘Julie Ruin’ was kind of the template, the foundation stone. And then le tigre was the beginning of a whole new world.”

Powers is married to rock critic and teacher Eric Weisbard.[1] They have an adopted daughter.[14]

Her article “Ann Powers’ Top 10 Albums and Songs of 2013” is an example of how she uses her positionality as a woman to discuss and highlight the absence of women voices and their contribution to discussions around “ace, sexuality, entitlement and cultural disruption.” [15]

In September 2013, Powers wrote an article titled, "Pop music critic Ann Powers searches for the language of rock and roll" on The Rock Hall Blog. She discusses the discourse surrounding sex and rock and roll, especially in terms of the "main metaphorical space where we pursue ideas about sexuality, and flesh out our emotions." Powers implores the readers to start developing a language with her in order to generate larger discussion about American popular music and rock and roll in terms of sex. [3]

In 2014, Powers published the article “Collaborations and Congratulations: Navigating the Grammy Crossover” for NPR Music. This article discusses the history of whites appropriating black expression in the music industry since before the Civil War. Powers suggests that these race-based patterns have endured in the power dynamics of the music business, which songs receive air time on the radio stations, and the outcome and organization of events such as the Grammys. In this article, Powers furthers the idea that the music industry demonstrates favoritism towards white artists while white artists simultaneously exploit the creativity of black artists. Moreover, Powers argues that Macklemore’s song “Same Love” highlights a form of appropriation in which a straight artist benefits from telling the story of the historically oppressed LGBTQ population. This piece offers the idea that the Grammys functions as a microcosm of the racial biases permeating the music industry. [16]

Most recently, Powers has been appearing in and writing many blogs and articles for WNYC, New York's flagship public radio stations broadcasting programs from NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International and the BBC World Service, as well as a wide range of award-winning local programming.[17]

After hosting a musicians’ roundtable in Seattle in April 2014, Powers was compelled to write an article for WNYC highlighting the career of Meshell Ndegeocello, an American singer-songwriter, rapper, bassist, and vocalist whose music is said to incorporate a variety of influences, including funk, soul, hip hop, reggae, R&B, rock, and jazz. While the article serves as more of an introduction to Ndegeocello’s upcoming new album, it also illustrates Powers’ style as a feminist writer catering to women of color in music.[18]

In December 2013, Powers wrote an article and did an interview with NPR discussing singer songwriter Lorde. In this article Powers call Lorde the Nirvana of the twenty first century, she makes comparisons about who the target audience is and about the songs they sing. She compares Lorde’s song “Royals” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” saying that both songs are about rock and pop music which allows them to have deeper meanings.[19]

In her article “Is It Worth It To Work It,” Ann Powers discusses how current female musicians specifically Iggy Azalea, Lilly Allen, and Sky Ferreira personify roles of black males. Powers argues that Azalea tries to play the role of “Thug.” Allen however has a conflict throughout her album Sheezus “between a masculinizing urge to ‘lean in’ and Allen's feminine desire to relax in the presence of her husband and two kids.” Ferreira chooses to play the role of drug dealer through her music. Powers then asks the question whether or not these artists have the right to personify these life styles that are traditionally thought of as black.[20]

Ann Powers also wrote a piece for Project MUSE’s Journal “Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture”. It is titled “A Spy in the House of Love” and it was one part of a three part focus on feminist rock criticism. In this article, Powers writes about her insights about what it means to be a feminist music critic. She states how it can be difficult to navigate the identity of being a feminist music critic due to feminists and music critics colliding on ideologies. Being a feminist means attributing a higher value to the experience and potential of women; being a music critic means taking music artists work seriously and not just viewing their work as only entertainment. But due to a patriarchal-led music industry and that America gender issues are fundamentally sexist, that leads to American music being sexist as well; this causes tension for those who claim to be feminists in the music industry. This makes it hard to bridge the gap between being a feminist and conforming to music industry’s sexism. Even though there’s still quite a gap between feminists and music critics, Powers states that both have fundamental tasks that helps to create the identity of what it means to be a feminist music critic: “reclaiming lost history and unacknowledged pioneers; championing contemporary figures otherwise overlooked by the mainstream; noticing patterns that reinforce negative perceptions; and speaking truth to the powers-that-be who’ve trivialized, repressed, or otherwise wronged the parties we champion.” [21]

In 2008 Ann Powers wrote a book titled Kate Bush’s The Dreaming published by Bloomsbury Academic. This piece specifically focuses on Kate Bush’s lyrics throughout her album, The Dreaming, which was released in the 1982. Powers uses this piece to deliver the information of the forms of gender experimentation in pop music during the 1980s. Powers also covers the types of hardships that Kate Bush experienced as she was going through her musical career breakthrough.[22]

Ann Powers also portrays her opinions on sexuality quite often through her articles and critiques. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled, “Snap Judgment: Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way,’” Powers touches on the new ideological mindset that people are viewing in terms of predisposed sexual orientation as well as homosexuality. Powers also analyzes how a community not only views different genders but also race. Powers empowers those who are different in the eyes of community and understands the important role music plays when dealing with a shifting progressive society.[23]

Ann Powers interviewed Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Alynda Lee Segarra of the Riff Raff, Sharon Jones, and Meshell Ndegeocello at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle. She opened a discussion of different musicians and asked what moved them the most. Powers brings an interesting dynamic to interviewing artists and writing about music as she challenges them to open themselves up by having them express the roots of their music. She gives readers and avid fans an opportunity to get a deeper look into what some of their favorite artists are inspired by.[24]


  1. ^ a b Roderick, Kevin. "Critic Ann Powers leaves L.A. Times for NPR". LA Observed. Archived from the original on 20 February 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  2. ^ "Why I Write: Ann Powers Reflects on Writing About Rock". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Pop music critic Ann Powers searches for the language of rock and roll". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Ann Powers". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  5. ^ "Call for Papers: 2014 EMP Pop Conference." (n.d.): n. pag. EMP Museum. Sept. 2013. Web. 21 May 2014. <
  6. ^ "Pop Conference." Pop Conference. Experience Music Project, n.d. Web. 21 May 2014. <
  7. ^ Patrick MacDonald, Ann Powers named L.A. Times pop critic, Seattle Times, March 7, 2006
  8. ^ "Pop Conference." Pop Conference. Experience Music Project, n.d. Web. 21 May 2014. <
  9. ^ Powers, Ann K. "ROCKSTEADYROLL the Erotic Life of American Music." ROCKSTEADYROLL the Erotic Life of American Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2014. <
  10. ^ 42nd Annual ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards Announced, ASCAP, 2010-11-08. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  11. ^ "Interviews - Ann Powers." Frontline. PBS, n.d. Web. 1 June 2014. <
  12. ^ "The Punk Singer". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  13. ^ "The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  14. ^ "Sharing Rebecca". Parenting. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Powers, Ann. "Collaborations And Congratulations: Navigating The Grammy Crossover." NPR. NPR, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 May 2014.
  17. ^ "People - Ann Powers - WNYC". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  18. ^ "First Listen: Meshell Ndegeocello, 'Comet, Come To Me'". WNYC. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  19. ^ Powers, Ann. "Lorde Sounds Like Teen Spirit". NPR.ORG. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  20. ^ Powers, Ann. "Is It Worth It To Work It?". NPR.ORG. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  21. ^ Powers, Ann. "A Spy In the House of Love." Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 12 (n.d.): 40-43. Web. 1 June 2014.
  22. ^ Powers, Ann. "Kate Bush's The Dreaming." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2014. <
  23. ^ Powers, Ann. "Snap Judgment: Lady Gaga, 'Born This Way'" Los Angeles Times, 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <
  24. ^ Powers, Ann. "Hear Four Musicians Talk About What Moves Them." NPR. NPR, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 04 June 2014.

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