Ann Powers

"Say their names," the signs read in the streets of America. In 2020, one reckoning shares an unstable boundary with another as protesters masked against the coronavirus expose a different kind of deep debilitation: the racism that permeates American history and the present day, resulting in sudden deaths now recorded and shared on social media, but always present within history, from the arrival of enslaved Africans on the Virginia Coast in 1619 onward.

Like a fast-moving echo of the pandemic itself, music that confronts coronavirus is multiplying rapidly. A playlist created by Spotify "data alchemist" Glenn McDonald has been tracking songs about the ongoing pandemic, and the resulting daily chart is astounding. More than 400 songs have made the list since McDonald created it two weeks ago.

The last decade of music saw major artists break many of the rules about how to release an album. Beyoncé and Drake popularized the "surprise release" — putting out albums with little to no roll-out at all. So in the era of surprise digital drops, and at the beginning of a new year of music, how do you make predictions about what's coming?

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."

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.

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The first single from Madonna's upcoming Madame X suggests that the doyenne of dance pop is making canny decisions in her 60th year.

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.

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.

The Year In Pop Music

Jan 1, 2016

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about pop music, where the biggest story of 2015 was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO")

ADELE: (Singing) Hello, it's me.

INSKEEP: Adele's "25" may have outsold everything, but it was not the only story. Here is NPR Music's Ann Powers and Jacob Ganz.