AF 2020 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

In a year that’s been like no other for the music industry, it feels a bit weird to make a best of 2020 list – there have been no tours, venues and clubs across the globe are in danger of closing their doors for good, release schedules were shuffled beyond recognition, and musicians have had to find other ways to make ends meet while those in the U.S. await the next round of paltry stimulus checks. With a situation so dire, the metrics have changed – should we ascribe arbitrary value to the skill of producers, songwriters, performers, and the execution of their finished projects, or simply celebrate records that made us feel like the whole world wasn’t crumbling?

Definitively ranking releases has never been the Audiofemme model for looking back on the year in music. Instead, our writers each share a short list of what moved them most, in the hopes that our readers will find something that moves them, too. Whether you spent the lockdown voraciously listening to more new music this year than ever before, or fell back on comforting favorites, or didn’t have the headspace to absorb the wealth of music inspired by the pandemic, the variety here emphasizes how truly essential music can be to our well-being. If you’re in the position to do so, support your favorite artists and venues by buying merch, and check out the National Independent Venue Association to stay updated on what’s happening with the Save Our Stages act. Here’s to a brighter 2021.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
      2) the Microphones – Microphones in 2020
      3) Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
      4) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      5) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
      6) Amaarae – The Angel You Don’t Know
      7) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      8) Adrianne Lenker – songs/instrumentals
      9) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      10) Lomelda – Hannah
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Kinlaw – “Permissions”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Little Dragon & Moses Sumney – “The Other Lover”
      4) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      5) Megan Thee Stallion – “Shots Fired”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Land of Talk – Indistinct Conversations
      2) Dehd – Flower of Devotion
      3) SAULT – Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise)
      4) Public Practice – Gentle Grip
      5) Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity
      6) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
      7) Benny Yurco – You Are My Dreams
      8) Eve Owen – Don’t Let the Ink Dry
      9) Porridge Radio – Every Bad
      10) Jess Cornelius – Distance
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Little Hag – “Tetris”
      2) Elizabeth Moen – “Creature of Habit”
      3) Yo La Tengo – “Bleeding”
      4) Caribou – “Home”
      5) Jess Williamson – “Pictures of Flowers”
      6) Adrianne Lenker – “anything”
      7) Nicolás Jaar – “Mud”
      8) Soccer Mommy – “Circle the Drain”
      9) New Fries – “Ploce”
      10) El Perro Del Mar – “The Bells”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight
      2) Blimes and Gab – Talk About It
      3) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      4) Tomo Nakayama – Melonday
      5) Matt Gold – Imagined Sky
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Stevie Wonder – “Can’t Put it in the Hands of Fate”
      2) Tomo Nakayama – “Get To Know You”
      3) Ariana Grande – “Positions”

  • Amanda Silberling (Playing Philly)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Frances Quinlan – Likewise
      2) Bartees Strange – Live Forever
      3) Told Slant – Point the Flashlight and Walk
      4) Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me?
      5) Shamir – Shamir
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kississippi – “Around Your Room”
      2) Sad13 – “Hysterical”
      3) The Garages – “Mike Townsend (Is a Disappointment)”

  • Ashley Prillaman (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      2) Lasse Passage – Sunwards
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      4) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      5) Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Megan Thee Stallion – “B.I.T.C.H.”
      2) Perfume Genius – “On the Floor”
      3) SG Lewis & Robyn – “Impact” (feat. Robyn & Channel Tres)

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jarvis Cocker – Beyond the Pale
      2) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      3) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
      4) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – Crossover
      5) Various Artists – Deadly Hearts: Walking Together
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – “Mob March”
      2) Laura Veirs – “Freedom Feeling”
      3) Miley Cyrus – “Never Be Me”

  • Chaka V. Grier (Playing Toronto)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
      2) Joya Mooi – Blossom Carefully
      3) Lady Gaga – Chromatica
      4) Witch Prophet – DNA Activation
      5) Tremendum – Winter
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lianne La Havas – “Green Papaya”
      2) Lady Gaga – “Free Woman”
      3) Allie X – “Susie Save Your Love”

  • Cillea Houghton (Playing Nashville)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Chris Stapleton  – Starting Over
      2) Brett Eldredge – Sunday Drive
      3) Little Big Town – Nightfall
      4) Ingrid Andress – Lady Like
      5) Ruston Kelly – Shape & Destroy
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Remi Wolf  – “Hello Hello Hello”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      2) Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
      3) Allie X – Cape Cod
      4) LEXXE – Meet Me in the Shadows
      5) Gustavo Santaolalla, Mac Quayle – The Last of Us Part II (Original Soundtrack)
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CL – “+5 STAR+”
      2) Yves Tumor & Kelsey Lu – “let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out”
      3)  Stephan Moccio – “Freddie’s Theme”

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Dust Bowl Faeries – Plague Garden
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Oceanator – Things I Never Said
      4) Loma – Don’t Shy Away
      5) Maggie Herron – Your Refrain
      6) Pretenders – Hate for Sale
      7) The Bird and the Bee – Put up the Lights
      8) Partner – Never Give Up
      9) Bully – Sugaregg
      10) Olivia Awbrey – Dishonorable Harvest

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Mickey Guyton – Bridges EP
      2) Katie Pruitt – Expectations
      3) Mandy Moore – Silver Landings
      4) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      5) Cf Watkins – Babygirl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Mickey Guyton – “Black Like Me”
      2) Ashley McBryde – “Stone”
      3) Lori McKenna feat. Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose – “When You’re My Age”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
      2) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      3) Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
      4) Tycho – Simulcast
      5) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Tame Impala – “Lost In Yesterday”
      2) Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto”
      3) Halsey – “You should be sad”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      2) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      3) Phenomenal Handclap Band – PHB
      4) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      5) TootArd – Migrant Birds
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Anoraak – “Gang” 
      2) Kylie Minogue – “Magic”
      3) Horsemeat Disco feat. Phenomenal Handclap Band – “Sanctuary”  

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      2) Taylor Swift – folklore
      3) Shamir – Shamir
      4) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      5) HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Porches – “I Miss That” 
      2) Annabel Jones – “Spiritual Violence”
      3) Wolf – “High Waist Jeans”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Summer Walker – Over It
      2) Yaeji – WHAT WE DREW
      3) Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You
      4) Ojerime – B4 I Breakdown
      5) KeiyaA – Forever, Ya Girl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      2) Kali Uchis, Jhay Cortez – “la luz (fin)”
      3) fleet.dreams – “Selph Love”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
      2) The Front Bottoms – In Sickness & In Flames
      3) Zheani – Zheani Sparkes EP
      4) Various Artists – Save Stereogum: A ’00s Covers Comp
      5) Halsey – Manic
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charli XCX – “forever”
      2) Doja Cat – “Boss Bitch”
      3) Wolf – “Hoops”

  • Suzannah Weiss (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Galantis – Church
      2) Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
      3) Overcoats – The Fight
      4) Holy Motors – Horse
      5) Suzanne Vallie – Love Lives Where Rules Die
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CAMÍNA – “Cinnamon”
      2) Naïka – “African Sun”
      3) Edoheart – “Original Sufferhead”

  • Tarra Thiessen (RSVP Here, Check the Spreadsheet)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network – Ballet of Apes
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Death Valley Girls – Under The Spell of Joy
      4) The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominiques Nosebleed
      5) Ghost Funk Orchestra – An Ode To Escapism
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Miss Eaves – “Belly Bounce”
      2) Purple Witch of Culver – “Trig”
      3) Shilpa Ray – “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lil Baby – My Turn
      2) A$AP Ferg – Floor Seats II
      3) Polo G – The Goat
      4) The Weeknd – After Hours
      5) Teyana Taylor – The Album
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP”
      2) Roddy Ricch  – “The Box”
      3) Big Sean & Nipsey Hussle – “Deep Reverence”

ONLY NOISE: How Miley Cyrus Became The Soundtrack Of My Life

Vice Versa was a safe haven in my college years. Nestled among the rolling hills of West Virginia, and situated snuggly in downtown Morgantown, interwoven with the WVU campus, the gay club offered safety, glitter, and endless midnight thrills. My friends and I would head out on the town almost every Friday night, and our escapades seemed to stretch on endlessly if we let them.

Nothing takes me back to this time quite like “See You Again” by Miley Cyrus (or her alter-ego, Hannah Montana, depending on how you look at it). 13 years after its release, the song sweeps me away on such sweet memories, transporting me magically to one of the most transformative years of my life. It’s a special kind of emotional sensation listening to it now, imagining a 21-year-old me bumping and grinding on the dance floor in a sea of sweaty bodies ─ with the song’s sticky bubble gum melody coursing through my veins. There is nothing more intoxicating than the chorus dropping and literally everyone in sight belting along; it’s a state of euphoria that is almost indescribable.

“The last time I freaked out/I just kept lookin’ down/I st-st-stuttered when you asked me what I’m thinkin’ ’bout,” Miley sings, a playful glimmer in her eye. “Felt like I couldn’t breathe/You asked what’s wrong with me/My best friend Lesley said, ‘Oh, she’s just being Miley’/The next time we hang out, I will redeem myself/My heart, it can’t rest ’til then/Oh-woah-woah, I, I can’t wait to see you again.”

Miley could make you feel everything at all once. At only 15 years old, she could tear up the club with a ferocious bite, injecting you with the fearlessness to own the moment yourself. “See You Again” captures both the naivety of first love and dynamic musical chops, an elixir of rumbling electric guitars, thumping bass, and scratchy synths. It’s the perfect pop song of the 21st century ─ and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge it as the song that defined my early 20s.

I didn’t know it then, but Miley would become the soundtrack for my entire life. Through every soaring high to the lowest of lows, her music has uplifted, empowered, and taught me it’s okay to not be okay. You just have to own whatever you’re feeling, naysayers be damned.

Miley was right in the middle of her turn on Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, a high-glam coming-of-age sitcom about a young girl navigating the spotlight and grasping onto a sense of normalcy. I was only marginally familiar with the show, but it was the music I connected with most. Songs like “The Best of Both Worlds,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Life’s What You Make It,” and “One in a Million” ─ go-to favorites across the show’s first two soundtracks ─ laid the foundation for her particular brand of gooey pop-rock, borrowing influence from artists like Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson.

While I can certainly appreciate Meet Miley Cyrus, (her debut album as an artist outside the Disney persona, though jointly released with Hannah Montana 2) and essential cuts like “G.N.O. (Girls Night Out)” and the wavy, mood-elevator “Start All Over,” it wasn’t until her 2008 sophomore effort, Breakout, that solidified my adoration for her, as well as her destiny as one of pop’s true greats.

That summer was one for the books. I was 22 and feeling like I needed to take a risk in my life. Two days after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting, I sold off most of my belongings, hopped on a one-way flight, and started a new life as a cast member at Disney World. I was assigned to Tomorrowland Speedway, and despite my aversion to playing pretend as a race track mechanic/attendant, it proved vital to my personal growth.

It’s not the work I remember most; it’s the people. Oh, the people. It’s the group of friends I met at a random welcome pool party. Anxiety pounding in my chest, towel gracefully draped across my shoulder, I walked over to a group of young women who were all literally wearing the same style of shorts, just in different colors. If I was looking for a sign, I got one. We immediately bonded over our choice in casual attire and quickly got on with introductions ─ it was the kind of immediate friendship I will forever cherish.

Ali, Jessie, Becca, and I did everything together that summer. We gallivanted from Animal Kingdom to Epcot to Hollywood Studios to Magic Kingdom and back again. I even asked for a housing transfer to Chatham Square just so we could be closer in our everyday lives. It was awesome.

Meanwhile, Breakout was the soundtrack to it all. I listen to it now, and every inconsequential detail floods my brain like too much champagne on New Year’s Eve. From “7 Things” teaching me to put great value in self-worth to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” inviting me to live unapologetically free to “Fly on the Wall” and its grungy rock undercurrent, that record is one of those rare pop albums I listen to without skipping over anything. If I’m feeling particularly sad, I’ll put it on and get lost in the past. “Wake Up America” still makes me want to march for environmental conservation, and “Bottom of the Ocean” rips my heart out. She really did that.

Hannah Montana: The Movie and The Time of Our Lives EP both arrived a year later. In between, I had moved into my then-boyfriend’s house in Tampa, a few days after finishing my Disney job, and it seemed like the perfect decision at the time. Look, I was 23 – and I can’t say that I regret that moment but… within three weeks, I left and took a flight back to Morgantown. It was simply another pit stop in my very chaotic 20s.

I began working what felt like four jobs at the shiny new Red Lobster, getting up way before dawn so I could catch the bus, and I made damn sure to pack my MP3 player with as much Miley as I could. Between “The Climb” and EP songs like “When I Look at You,” “Obsessed,” and the bop-to-end-all-bops, “Party in the USA,” I found myself continuing to get lost in her little world. It was like she couldn’t stop delivering God-tier pop songs. I naturally had no clue where life was going to go next, so I let Miley be my guide.

As many pop stars do, particularly women, Miley shifted gears quite drastically to make a mature artistic statement. 2010’s Can’t Be Tamed struck like a bolt of lightning. She was 18 now, and coming into her own as a young woman, and the music directly mirrored her self actualization. “Liberty Walk” and “Can’t Be Tamed” are the obvious streaks of rebellion, but songs like “Two More Lonely People,” “Scars,” and “Robot” further underscored her growth as a bona fide rock star. And if you were looking to totally bawl your eyes out, you had “Forgiveness and Love” and the iconic “Stay” to do the trick.

After spending several months moving all over the East Coast, from Morgantown to Orlando to Washington, DC, I finally settled in Nashville. I was 24, and the world opened up in a way I never expected. I took online classes for a Master’s degree, got a part-time job at Old Navy, and dove head-first into the club scene. As Miley was blossoming into her full potential, so was I. I could really see myself for the first time in a long time, and Can’t Be Tamed was as much my own retaliation against the world as Miley’s artistic and personal peak.

Over the next few years, I bounced around some more. I went back to West Virginia. Then New York. And then back to Nashville. Now, it was 2013, and Bangerz crashed into my life like a wrecking ball. A new acquaintance gave me a real shot at her publication; I traipsed around Music City, getting my feet wet in the industry in a very real way: covering live shows and events, and interviewing the hottest new country acts. I took job at Kroger to make ends meet and even found myself exploring my sexuality in a way I never had before. But with all the risk-taking came very hard crashes the next two years.

Despite hitting rock bottom, Miley’s music continued to teach. “We Can’t Stop” encouraged me to shed past conceptions about myself, disregarding the haters, and rediscover liberation in my own body. “It’s our party, we can do what we want to/It’s our house, we can love who we want to,” she sings over a gummy beat. She evokes such energy with songs like “4×4,” “Love Money Party,” and “FU,” which still floors me with her vocal volatility.

I remember working nights sometimes, changing out price tags, and putting Bangerz on shuffle. “Drive,” “Maybe You’re Right,” “#GETITRIGHT,” “Someone Else” ─ what range of human emotion. Miley was finding new colors in her voice, too, learning how to fully lean on her throaty growl when a song warranted it, and she could really pulverize you over the head with a melody. During those long stretches of loneliness, as I worked my way through sterile food aisles, sometimes wondering what I was even doing with my life, her voice kept me going.

When the public and media predictably turned their backs on her, Miley stood her ground. She twerked. She lapped her tongue in the air. And she didn’t care. She was living life on her own terms – who were they to take that away from her? The personal freedom she’d found finally spilled over into her work with Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. An insane 23-song collab with psych rockers The Flaming Lips, initially self-released on SoundCloud, funneled her weirdness into a smorgasbord of delectable cuts ─ the most peculiar among them “Milky Milky Milk,” “Fucking Fucked Up,” “Evil is But a Shadow,” and “Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz.” She kept squeezing those tear ducts, of course, zip-lining from “Karen Don’t Be Sad” to “Fweaky” (perhaps the crown jewel) to “Twinkle Song.”

I was smack dab in the middle of my own journey, as well. I left Nashville for West Virginia and then Pittsburgh. I was entering my late 20s and still felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I had lost my job at a mid-level publication, and a dear friend suggested I try a change of scenery to ground myself again. In the summer of 2015, I moved into a three-story townhouse with a friend of a friend and her friends, and it didn’t take long for chaos to set in. For the sake of respect, I’ll call my roommate Sally. Well, Sally had an abrasive, dominating personality, so much so that it became evident she wanted to play house mother, rather than be a real friend. While Miley was reclaiming her musical identity, I learned I too needed to declare my self-worth and take up a little room ─ and I soon retreated into my work and self evaluation.

In time, I eventually did figure things out. I moved back to New York (yes, again) a few months later and worked remotely for a Manhattan-based music site. Fate had kissed me, and I soaked it in. My career was actually moving forward; I felt good about myself, and I was dating again. Life was good.

But a curve ball hurled itself my way, as it always does. I found myself without work and needing to absolutely shake up old habits and severe toxic patterns. On the day Miley released Younger Now, a cosmopolitan-spun pop-country disc, on September 29, 2017, I moved back home to West Virginia for the final time. It’s funny. I spent nearly a decade running from my past and a dysfunctional family, without realizing I needed to confront it all head-on before I could truly fly free.

Younger Now saw Miley swerve in the opposite direction. She was still able to delve into her songwriting prowess, waxing introspective on songs like the title track, “Malibu,” “Miss You So Much,” and “I Would Die for You,” but, more importantly, she was coming into her own. Musically, she wasn’t mining new territory, but it was the return to her country roots that gave her more agency over her life and work. Her voice appeared to find greater, richer textures, as well. Her ability to glide so effortlessly across such melodies as “Rainbowland” (with Godmother Dolly Parton), “She’s Not Him,” and “Inspired” was just… invigorating.

With those 11 songs, I learned to be present in the moment. I learned that sometimes you need to hide away and reflect and allow life to wash over you. There’s no need to thrash around and bound away to whatever city every time things get a little too real. Those early days back home were hard, and I can’t pretend they weren’t. But I gave myself time. Time to really excavate past traumas, address toxic people in my life, and shed who I was, once and for all. I learned it was just a small detour in the grand scheme of things.

When you reassess an EP like 2019’s SHE IS COMING, which was originally supposed to kick off a trio of EPs, you get the sense Miley needed a detour, as well. “Mother’s Daughter,” “Unholy,” and “The Most” certainly shined brightest, and you could argue they were clear precursors to Plastic Hearts, her brand new record and magnum opus. Glittering 1980s pop-rock suits her voice, a voice as powerful as it is gilded with pain and heartache; she’s learned how to tame her growl, how to sculpt melodies that do much more than simply exist, and how to punch lyrics much harder.

Whether we’re talking brash, thumb biting opener “WTF Do I Know” or the perfect Steve Nicks tribute “Midnight Sky” or the strangely celestial “Never Be Me,” she has reached a level none of us could ever have predicted. Then, she tosses in homages to her past ─ the absolutely gut-punching “Angels Like You” harkens back to The Time of Our Lives and Breakout in its soaring pop sensibility. “High,” “Hate Me,” and “Golden G String” are among her finest entries to-date. She weaves from country heritage to angsty punk lyricism to heartrending simplicity, and at each step, she not only accepts her past but shines a light on the constant pressures of being in the spotlight.

Now in my 30s, life makes the most sense it ever has. Sure, your 20s are thrilling and unexpected, but you don’t really, truly know yourself until your 30s. I came out as non-binary a couple years ago; I’m hitting new highs in my career; and I’m finding this animalistic hunger to constantly declare that I am, in fact, worth it. So far, Plastic Hearts is teaching me to reconnect with my sexuality, remember the wonder and beauty that still does live in the world, and never settle for anything less than what I deserve. Life is far too short.

As I sit here listening to Plastic Hearts for the 100th time in the last few weeks, I decided to head on over to Metacritic to see what folks were saying. Color me surprised: it has a 75 rating, her highest to date. The media has never really given her credit for shaking up the industry, but it’s cool to see her getting the credit she deserves. She’s been slaying the game since the beginning, and it’s lovely to see the world finally take notice.

Music’s Most Sex-Positive Moments of 2019

Doja Cat photo by Vijat Mohindra courtesy of RCA Records).

Sex has long been a popular topic among musicians. But what’s unique about the past few years, 2019 included, is that artists are consciously using their platforms to promote sex positivity. Here are some moments in 2019 where musicians combatted sex-shaming and taught people to embrace their sexual identities. 

Ariana Grande Responds to Vogue

Nobody plays the role of sex-positive pop princess like Ariana Grande. She’s long been spreading sex positivity through songs like “Sweetener” and “God is a Woman,” but her biggest sex-positive moment of this year was undoubtedly when Vogue’s Rob Haskell asked what it was like to sing songs like “Side to Side” to nine-year-olds, and she replied, “They’re for sure gonna have it. I promise. I promise that your kid’s gonna have sex. So if she asks you what the song’s about, talk about it.” Talking to kids about sex instead of pretending it doesn’t exist? What a novel idea.

Harry Styles’ “Lights Up” video 

The video for the first single from Harry Styles’ second album Fine Line gave people plenty to get excited about. Not only do we get closeups of Styles’ sexy tattooed upper body; it’s being touched by a variety of attractive men and women, leading some fans to dub the song a bisexual anthem. Styles himself hasn’t confirmed this but has said it’s about “freedom” and “self-discovery,” two things our society sorely needs when it comes to sex. 

Kablito’s “Yo Nunca te Quise” video

Ecuadorian pop artist Kablito told PAPER in August, when her “Yo Nunca te Quise” video came out, that she intended it to be an ode to self-pleasure. “I thought it was a really cool thing to talk about masturbation and sexuality in women and girls. It’s a topic that we don’t talk about,” she said, explaining that the song is about staying with someone just for the sex, while the video presents the obvious alternative. The imagery is subtle and centers on Kablito’s own self-expression as she feels herself in a bedroom. 

Summer Walker’s Over It

There were lots of things to celebrate about singer-songwriter Summer Walker’s debut album, one of them being refreshingly unabashed lyrics (she confronts a demanding lover on “Stretch You Out” and points out double standards of desire on “Girls Need Love”). She told Clash, “I feel like ‘Girls Need Love’ is a song that’s trying to make sure people know that we have an even playing field when it comes to intimacy.”

Doja Cat’s Hot Pink

Doja Cat gave us yet another album full of no-holds-barred sexual empowerment this year. She celebrates the safest form of sex in “Cyber Sex”: “Pussy all pink with a tan / And I play with it ’til my middle fingers are cramped up.” In “Juicy” featuring Tyga, she raps, “Okay, he on his knees, attend the mass / He beg for that, I bend and snap.”


Miley Cyrus’s She Is Coming

Miley’s been standing up for her right to sexual expression ever since she licked a sledgehammer in the “Wrecking Ball” video, but her sex-positivity reached new heights on She Is Coming, an album as full of sexual innuendos as its name would suggest. For the accompanying tour, she released merchandise including a $20 condom and a shirt with her photo behind the words, “she came.” 

Teyana Taylor’s “Morning” Featuring Kehlani

For all the songs out there about sex and all their mentions of dicks, it’s refreshing to actually hear the word “clit” in this one: “Talk that shit, play with that clit and watch it rain on you, baby.” Taylor and Kehlani, who both identify as queer, unabashedly love on each other in the sensual video.  

Let’s hope for even more sex-positive musical moments in 2020. These artists have certainly set the stage for them. 

HIGH NOTES: 7 Songs About MDMA, Because It’s MDMAzing

Madonna in an MDNA era shoot by fashion photographers Mert Alaş and Marcus Piggott.

MDMA has long been closely intertwined with music. It’s many festival and nightclub-goers’ drug of choice, and for good reason: it has a way of making every song sound infectious and every flashing light look vivid and brilliant.

It’s not surprising either that a whole lot of artists have chosen to sing about this energizing, psychedelic substance. Here are the funniest, realest, and most poetic songs sung about MDMA.

MDMAmazing by Beans on Toast

Perhaps the most straightforward of the bunch, this song is relatable AF to anyone who’s rolled at a music festival. Beans on Toast narrates all the best and worst parts of an MDMA trip, from “we danced to an unknown DJ and sneaked a little kiss” to “I’m gurning my face off, but I’m really really glad.” It ends on a less cheerful note: “Well I’ve missed my lift to London / my moneys all been spunked / I’ve even lost my mobile phone/ I think I’m fucked.” But it’s all good, because then his dancing/kissing partner comes back with acid. All’s well that ends well.

“We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus

Is she singing “dancing with Miley” or “dancing with molly”? The eternal question. The truth is, it’s intentionally ambiguous. “If you’re aged ten [the lyric is] Miley,” she told The Daily Mail. “If you know what I’m talking about, then you know. I just wanted it to be played on the radio and they’ve already had to edit it so much.” With lyrics like “Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere / Hands in the air like we don’t care,” it’s easy to see how it could be molly, which Cyrus has called a “happy drug.”

“Take Ecstasy With Me” by The Magnetic Fields

This dreamy, nostalgic song will likely conjure memories of your very first roll. The Magnetic Fields convey the joyful and easily distractable state one might be in under the influence of MDMA with lyrics like, “I want to slide down the carpeted stairs / Or down the bannister / I got a new kaleidoscope / And I got a stack of records / It’s on your head so don’t dare move / We could be happy just listening to your pulse.”

“Molly” by Tyga

In this song, Tyga is on a mission: to find molly. He enlists the help of Siri, whose voice rhythmically repeats “molly” throughout the track, and raps about an adventure that seems to involve a number of other substances as well: “Weed so loud it’s distorted / Got champagne and we pourin’ it / She poppin’ it and she snortin’ it.” Let’s just hope he’s not mixing all these drugs.

“I’m Addicted” by Madonna

Madonna’s love for MDMA is well-documented; she did, after all, name one of her albums MDNA (presumably a portmanteau of MDMA and DNA) and ask a crowd at the music festival Ultra, “Have you seen molly?” She also sprinkles her fair share of MDMA references into her music. In “I’m Addicted,” she compares it to a lover, singing, “Now that your name / Pumps like the blood in my veins / Pulse through my body, igniting my mind / It’s like MDMA and that’s OK.” She then sings “I need to dance,” which… yeah, sounds appropriate, and closes the song by repeating the letters MDMA repeatedly.

“Empire State of Mind” by JAY-Z featuring Alicia Keys

“Came here for school, graduated to the high life / Ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight /MDMA got you feelin’ like a champion / The city never sleeps, better slip you a Ambien,” JAY-Z raps in this song. Great rhyme, though again, let’s hope he’s not actually combining those drugs.

“We Found Love” by Rihanna

Is the “hopeless place” Rihanna found love in an MDMA trip? Some think the “yellow diamonds” in the lyrics represent molly, but the real giveaway is the video, where Rihanna and actor Dudley O’Shaughnessy skateboard (possibly a subtle reference to rolling?) and have passionate sex amid montages of pills and dilating pupils. Anyone who’s ever taken MDMA with a partner will feel heartbroken by the unbridled joy shattered by the devastating comedown in this video.

HIGH NOTES: 10 Female Artists Who Reference Drugs in Their Music

When you hear the phrase “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” you usually picture male musicians: Lou Reed croaking out the words to “Heroin” or “Waiting For My Man;” The Weeknd’s famously numb face; Kurt Cobain finding God in “Lithium;” The Beatles on LSD; Neil Young’s coke booger immortalized in The Last Waltz.

Stereotypes about drug users aren’t flattering to any gender, but female celebrities are held to especially high standards of behavior, with sex, drugs, and other supposedly hedonistic behaviors deemed “unladylike.” Maybe that’s why more women seem to avoid drug references—and why those who make them convey a special brand of “IDGAF.” Being unladylike, after all, is part of many artists’ images. Here are some women who have changed the public’s perception of women and drugs through drug references.


Halsey sprinkles drug references throughout her songs, which looks like a way of solidifying her image as a rebellious woman, until you realize few of them actually describe her taking drugs. “Are you high enough without the Mary Jane like me?” she sings in “Gasoline,” inspiring a remix by K.A.A.N. titled “Mary Jane.” In “Hurricane,” she sings of someone who “tripped on LSD, and I found myself reminded to keep you far away from me.” “Colors” centers on another toxic person: “You’re only happy when your sorry head is filled with dope.”

These songs may tell an anti-drug message, but in “New Americana,” she sings, “We are the new Americana, high on legal marijuana.” Confirming that “we” includes her, she said at the 2016 VMAs, “I smoke a lot of weed.” Altogether, her songs give an (accurate) picture of drugs as potentially both positive and destructive.


The opening lines of Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz are pretty telling: “Yeah I smoke pot, yeah I love peace, but I don’t give a fuck, I ain’t no hippy,” she sings on Dooo It!” and that’s only the beginning of an album littered with drug references. A year prior to its release, she sang about dancing with either “Miley” or “Molly,” depending on if you know,” prompting headlines like Miley Cyrus sings about molly again; experts warn of its dangers and Demi Lovato warns pal Miley Cyrus of the dangers of drugs after star confirms MDMA reference.”

But Miley’s not ashamed of her drug use. “I think weed is the best drug on earth,” she said in a Rolling Stone interview. “One time I smoked a joint with peyote in it, and I saw a wolf howling at the moon. Hollywood is a coke town, but weed is so much better. And molly, too. Those are happy drugs – social drugs. They make you want to be with friends.”

She did, however, announce last spring that she’d stopped using alcohol and drugs. “I haven’t smoked weed in three weeks, which is the longest I’ve ever [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][gone without it],” she told Billboard. “I’m not doing drugs, I’m not drinking, I’m completely clean right now! That was just something that I wanted to do.” Her reason? “I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open. And I was noticing, it’s not the people that are stoned.” Halsey might beg to differ.


Rihanna’s “We Found Love” video is believed to be an ode to the relationship-healing powers of MDMA, with montages of pills, raves, and expanding pupils as she and a male actor rekindle a dying love, though she then appears to leave him after they crash back to reality. The lyric “yellow diamonds” is thought to refer to the drug. But mostly, Rihanna’s a proud stoner, singing in James Joint,” “I’d rather be smoking weed whenever we breathe.”


From raving about a guy who “might sell coke” in “Super Bass” to saying she’s “high as hell, I only took a half a pill” in “Anaconda,” drug use is one of the many things Nicki Minaj is unapologetic about. She also establishes herself as defying conventions of femininity by dropping sports references in her songs. (Billboard counted 42.)


With music embracing female sexuality and celebrating clubbing as a way to lose your inhibitions, Madonna created a new archetype of femininity. MDMA was such a central part of this image, she named an album (and a skincare line) MDNA. But when she tried to speak to a younger generation of drug users, it backfired. “Have you seen molly?” she asked a crowd at Ultra, eliciting criticism from Deadmau5 and Paul van Dyk. In response, she claimed she was simply referencing a Cedric Gervais song, tweeting, “I don’t support drug use and I never have.” One notable exception: urging a lover to “get unconscious” in 1994 hit “Bedtime Story,” which she promoted with a pretty trippy video. 


Like most of Jenny Lewis’s music, her drug references paint depressing images. In Rabbit Fur Coat,” she sings of her estranged mother, “She was living in her car, I was living on the road, and I hear she’s putting that stuff up her nose.” In the eponymous track for her first solo album, “Acid Tongue,” she sings, “I’ve been down to Dixie and dropped acid on my tongue, tripped upon the land ’til enough was enough.” But drugs seem to be a thing of the past for Lewis. Later in the song, she sings, “To be lonely is a habit like smoking or taking drugs, and I’ve quit them both, but man, was it rough.”


Long before Halsey or Miley Cyrus, perhaps the OG of female stoner artists was Janis Joplin, whose ode to marijuana, “Mary Jane,” is somewhere between a celebration of the drug’s benefits and a confession of addiction. “I spend my money all on Mary Jane,” she sang. “Now I walk in the street now lookin’ for a friend, one that can lend me some change, and he never questions my reason why ’cause he too loves Mary Jane.” Of course, she would later lose her life to another addiction, dying of an accidental heroin overdose.


Aside from publicly refusing to go to rehab, Winehouse referenced her drug habits in lyrics like “I’d rather have myself and smoke my homegrown” in “Addicted” and “You love blow, and I love puff” in “Back to Back.”

In 2007, she told Rolling Stone that the change in her musical style from jazz to R&B reflected a change in her drug of choice from weed to alcohol. “I used to smoke a lot of weed,” she said. “I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one poison to the other. The whole weed mentality is very hip-hop, and when I made my first record, all I was listening to was hip-hop and jazz. The weed mentality is very defensive, very much like, ‘Fuck you, you don’t know me.’ Whereas the drinking mentality is very ‘Woe is me, oh, I love you, I’m gonna lie in the road for you, I don’t even care if you never even look my way, I’m always gonna love you.'”


Drugs were a central part of 1930s jazz culture, and Fitzgerald was no exception. In “When I Get Low I Get High,” she sang about numbing her pain with drugs, and a few years later, she got more explicit in “Wacky Dust,” a song about a substance that “gives your feet a feeling so breezy” and “brings a dancing jag”—presumably, cocaine. It ends on a less celebratory note, though, warning listeners that “it’s something you can’t trust, and in the end, the rhythm will stop. When it does, then you’ll drop from happy wacky dust.”


“I can’t lie,” Tove Lo told BBC of “Habits (Stay High),” whose video features her downing drink after drink at a club (and whose lyrics reference the munchies). “What I’m singing about is my life. It’s the truth. I’ve had moments where that [drug-taking] has been a bigger part than it should be. It’s hard to admit to, and I could filter it or find another metaphor for it — but it doesn’t feel right to me.”

“There are so many dudes singing about the same subject,” she elaborated to Untitled. “I wonder if they get the same question or is it because I’m a girl that people ask me, ‘Don’t you feel like you have a responsibility to be a role model?’ And I think: do I have that [responsibility] more than dudes because I’m a girl and I sing pop? I think there’s a kind of denial on how much drugs are a part of people’s lives.”



Sometimes, these columns are damn hard to spit out. It’s not always easy to remain enthralled with the music world, especially when the real world seems to be crumbling around us. We don’t have to pretend. 2017 has been a fucking nightmare. We’ve witnessed the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, North Korea launching a missile over Japan, devastating floods in Houston and South Asia, and rallies filled with actual Nazis, just to name few lows.

I’m not a religious person, but I’m starting to expect widespread plague and a swarm of locusts any minute now. Just visiting The Guardian’s World News webpage fills me with terror – especially when the top headline reads: “Armageddon. Scientists calculate how stars can nudge comets to strike Earth.” What the fuck?! I’m a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, but you know what? Maybe there is someone up there, ready to just take us all out with a flaming space rock, because we clearly can’t keep things together down here.

“Um…what does this have to do with music?” you ask.

Here’s the thing: being a music journalist is pretty great. I love it more than any non-human in my life. However, when the world seems to be blazing in what Evangelicals would call “hellfire,” it’s hard to feel motivated to write about anything but serious shit. Rolling out a “think piece” on hidden messages in Taylor Swift’s new video feels like you’re stuffing your soul into a manila envelope and shipping it off to Satan for safekeeping. Even if you understand that it isn’t wrong to write about the VMAs, one still gets the sense that they are ignoring a towering elephant that is not only in the room, he’s bending the baseboards and demolishing furniture.

Of course, when I say “you” and “one,” I ultimately mean “me.” I cannot speak for other music writers. Though I can assume that many of my colleagues, who are intelligent, compassionate people, must feel some of this weight. It’s not possible that I’m the only person who suffers nauseating guilt reporting on Panorama Festival the same weekend journalists discover that North Korean missile tests have the capacity to reach New York.

So what does “one” do? Writing about art and pop culture in frightening times is a delicate matter. To say nothing of the floods, the violence, or the fear seems grossly irresponsible. To mention it only to alleviate one’s own guilt is possibly worse. I would never say making art in times of strife is a waste of time – I will always argue the opposite. I will even go so far as to say that it’s impossible to stall creativity in dire times, as conflict is one of art’s great muses. Critiquing art amidst global devastation, however, can be a task colored with shame. The question often clanging in my head being, “Does it even fucking matter?

I don’t know. I am unfit to answer the question. Here is what I do know. This is my job. My dream job, really. Artists and the music they make are kind of like my religion (or as close as this godless writer comes to it). Even on the worst of days, when my personal and family misfortunes could inspire an entire season of All My Children, I can still be brought to my knees by the beauty of a song. I know it’s corny. I also know that a song won’t drain the waters in Houston, or rewire the brains of white supremacists (if they have anything to rewire, that is). A song can’t do much when it all comes down to it, let alone a writer writing about a song – but artists can.

While I’ve been distraught by this year’s cruel newsreel, the artists who have leveraged their platforms for good causes have given me some sense of pride in humanity. 2017’s first cry from outspoken celebrities occurred at the Women’s March on Washington (and its sister marches around the world), where the likes of Madonna, Alicia Keys, The Indigo Girls, and Janelle Monáe either performed or gave impassioned speeches denouncing Trump’s election. That same month, Canadian electro-pop group Austra released their third LP Future Politics. The album is revelatory and filled with political insight, proving that pop music doesn’t have to be sugarcoated.

In 2017 there have been countless benefit concerts for organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and CAIR-New York (Counsel On American-Islamic Relations), to name but a few. Now the charitable hands of artists will extend to Houston. Solange has planned a benefit show later this month in Boston where 100% of proceeds will go to victims of Hurricane Harvey and its destructive floods. Fall Out Boy and rapper Bun B have planned separate but similar benefit shows, and numerous celebrities have either already given money to relief organizations (like $500,000 from Miley Cyrus and the $25,000 DJ Khaled shelled out) or promised to do so in the near future (like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Demi Lovato, and DNCE).

Many of the aforementioned performers are ones I don’t artistically care for that much, but these days I’m elated they’re around. It seems that with their immense command of the public interest and disposable income, artists have taken on responsibilities that our government should have the answers and funds for. It’s a sad and beautiful truth. That these seemingly “frivolous” celebrities go above and beyond their job title in times of crisis is noble; that they even need to in the first place is appalling.

So coming back to that initial question: what does “one” do? Let’s practice some simple logic. Things are bad right now. Things are really bad; and yet, artists both famous and obscure continue to defy the idea that humans are selfish, no-good creatures. If “you” are a music writer – why not write about those artists and their honorable efforts? It’s the least, and sometimes the most “you” can do.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Allegations Against PWR BTTM, ACLU’s Rockstar & More

  • PWR BTTM Cancel Release Show Following Allegations

    Over the past few days, allegations of predatory behavior and sexual abuse were made against Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM, and an anti-semitic photo of Hopkins from 2011 has again resurfaced. While the former was previously addressed by the band, many fans were taken by complete surprise regarding the allegations of violated consent, despite the fact that some of their peers state they were warned about this behavior months ago. The Brooklyn band T-Rextasy is one of them, and has cancelled their July tour with PWR BTTM. Tonight’s Rough Trade release show for Pageant has also been cancelled.

    While the band has not outright confirmed or denied these allegations, they’ve released a statement that includes the offer for victims to send an email to an account that will allegedly only be accessible by an as-yet unidentified mediator. This has sparked further criticism as well as a discussion about accountability; Jes Skolnik does an amazing job of breaking it down via Medium.

  • Meet The ACLU Employee Who Is Also A Rockstar

    Pinky Weitzman is the deputy director of the ACLU, in charge of helping the organization adapt to the modern age. She’s been described as one of its “greatest digital minds.” She’s also a touring member of the Magnetic Fields, and performs with other big-name musicians and in musicals. Instead of taking a break from the ACLU to go on a Magnetic Fields tour, after the election, she decided to take on both roles simultaneously. Read the NBC feature on Weitzman here.

  • Pink Floyd’s Animals Inspires Protest Art

    A Chicago architect wants to relieve the city- at least for a day- of seeing the Trump Tower logo. Jeffrey Roberts is still seeking the city’s approval for his “Flying Pigs on Parade,” which entails tethering several huge, gold, inflatable pigs to a barge to block the letters of Trump’s name. The project was inspired by Pink Floyd’s use of a pig balloon for their 1997 album Animals, and Roger Waters has given Roberts his approval and permission. 

AudioFemme’s Best of 2013

Best of 2013 Graphic

From elaborate roll-outs to surprise releases, 2013 was a banner year for comebacks, break-outs, break-ups, and overnight sensations.  The fact that the most oblique content could cause rampant controversy to reverberate through the blogosphere turned every song into a story and made every story seem epic.  At the heart of it all are the sounds that defined this particular calendar year, from electronic pop to punk rock  to hip-hop to hardcore and everything in between.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”AudioFemme Staff” author=”Top 50 Albums of 2013″ image=”×298.jpg”]

After much debate, we’re proud of our little list and believe it represents releases that are among the best and most important of the year.  Here are our top 50 LPs in two parts: 50-26 // 25-1

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And check out our Top Albums of 2013 Playlist on Spotify.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”AudioFemme Staff” author=”Top 50 Tracks of 2013″ image=””]
In a given year, thousands of records are released, many of them having upwards of ten tracks apiece.  So it’s actually physically impossible to hear them all, and can be downright daunting to wrangle them into some kind of intelligible countdown.  But we certainly have done our best, here cataloging the tunes we just couldn’t stop playing, and stuck fast in our heads when we finally managed to turn them off.

Here’s our Top Tracks of 2013 Playlist on Spotify.


Staff Lists:

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”Lindsey Rhoades” author=”RiotGrrl’s Influence in 2013″ image=””]
Not only are we as a culture stepping up to finally examine sexism and exploitation and appropriation within the industry, there are more acts than ever completely unafraid to do their own thing – be it overtly political (see: Priests) or revolutionary in its emotional candidness (looking at you, Waxahatchee).

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”Carena Liptak” author=”Best Album Art” image=””]
Let’s all just agree to agree that hip hop as a genre won the album cover contest this year, okay?

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”Rebecca Kunin” author=”2013’s Best Soundtracks” image=””]
Music has the ability to make or break a cinematic moment.  Would Jaws be as scary if it weren’t for the theme song? Or would we cry as hard when Leo Dicaprio sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean if Celine Dion didn’t belt “My Heart Will Go On” every five minutes? Probably not.


[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”Lindsey Rhoades” author=”2013: The Year in Music Controversies” image=””]In the age of the ubiquitous think-piece, here’s another, and this time, it’s about think-pieces.  In 2013 what think-pieces mean is that no one is about to get away with anything.[/fusion_testimonial]

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”Kelly Tunney” author=”Top 10 Unexplainable Kanye Moments” image=””]
Mr. West has built up quite a reputation for himself. His musical talent has remained impressive throughout his 6-album career (Yeezus easily made several of this year’s “best of” lists, including our own) but Kanye’s persona has been the subject of parody and scandal for a long time now. This year, though, held several moments of Kanye-crazy that stood out among the plethora of examples from his memorable past.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”Carena Liptak” author=”Notes From The Road” image=””]
At the beginning of 2013, adventure felt overdue — something about going to new places, with no routine or expectations, opens you up to hear music you’d never think to listen to otherwise.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_testimonial company=”Raquel Dalarossa” author=”Top 7 to Anticipate in 2014″ image=””]
Between the exciting festival rumors and anticipated album releases, 2014 is already shaping up to be a pretty amazing year (at least musically speaking).

A Year in Controversies: How the Think-piece Shapes Music Criticism


In the age of the ubiquitous think-piece, here’s another, and this time, it’s about think-pieces.  In 2013 what think-pieces mean is that no one is about to get away with anything.  You’re a white girl who twerked in a music video?  You’re a white girl trying to criticize consumerism by skewering the particular facets of hip-hop culture that bug you most?  You’re a white girl making a comeback built on spoofing both these things?  Well guess what – you’re racist.  Are you a male journalist discussing any of this?  You aren’t even allowed to.

Arcade Fire, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Lily Allen, Beyonce, and also everyone who has negative thoughts about Beyonce: you are racist.  Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, Action Bronson, James Brooks, Chris Ott, Beyonce, and also everyone who has negative thoughts about Beyonce: you’re sexist.  And R. Kelly?  You are criminally sick, and it’s sad it took us all this long to come to terms with that.

While the internet has been known to work itself into a tizzy and sometimes misses the point, all this goes beyond the “haters gon’ hate” anachronism.  This year certainly wasn’t the first time anyone examined culture through a progressive lens, but it feels refreshing to read about privilege in relation to pop music.  There will be those that will roll their eyes and some whose eyes will be opened.  Whether you are more upset over Arcade Fire’s appropriation of Haitian culture in the making and promoting of Reflektor or that they asked fans to dress in formal wear for their shows doesn’t exactly matter because the conversations are still happening.

And sometimes, just the conversation is the positive thing, the thing that shows real sea change.  Best case in point: the roundtable of eight female journalists that Spin assembled to discuss the work of James Brooks, an artist who’d been discussed up to that point mainly on message boards and on his girlfriend Grimes’ tumblr.  As a song, “On Fraternity” was not especially memorable, but the discussion that followed its release – about whether it was appropriate for Brooks as a man to “explain” rape culture to women, or to name his project Dead Girlfriends, kind of was.  Because it compiled the opinions of eight amazing writers who, because of their gender, are still a minority in their industry (even in 2013).

It’s the same industry that produced a guy like Chris Ott, who has some very valid points about the ethics of advertisers appropriating “cool” as interpreted by young writers.  But because he singled out the Pelly twins (and dug himself a deeper hole in trying to explain why) his arguments got lost in the (equally valid) debate about whether his comments were sexist.  In the end, he may have looked more curmudgeonly than anything else, but it raises an interesting question about the very blurry lines between free speech, hate speech, and sponsored content.

Which brings me to everyone’s favorite Marvin Gaye rip-off.  Robin Thicke’s video, the MTV VMA performance, and the date-rapey overtones of “Blurred Lines” were among the most discussed stories of the year.  In one of the more interesting examinations of the song’s politics, a feminist writer talked about how she was able to compartmentalize the its content because she just really, really loved the song.  There are a lot of women who share her ability to do that.  Agree or not, you have to admire that admission, because there were plenty of people who just shrugged and kept dancing without bothering to point out that women have to do this all the time, because so much of music portrays them as less than human.

There have always been controversial characters and questionable lyrics.  That piece also named R. Kelly as one of them (the writer, again, was able to set aside Kelly’s “alleged” crimes to enjoy “Remix to Ignition”).  But that was before Jess Hopper interviewed Jim DeRogatis, the reporter who broke Kelly’s sex scandal.  For fifteen years, juries and fans alike ignored his crimes, made jokes.  But because of that piece there are a lot of people who are now unable, or straight up refuse, to compartmentalize that reality to get through Black Panties without wanting to barf.  Why did it take fifteen years to come to terms with the fact that R. Kelly is a predator?  We knew it all along.

The difference, really, is the internet.  Most of DeRogatis’ reporting on the subject was done in print; Hopper is in a distinct position as music editor of Rookie, contributor to Spin, Village Voice, etc. etc. etc. to reach an audience that DeRogatis could not.  There are a lot of people writing think-pieces and open letters and retweeting important writing these days, and while they may not do it as eloquently as the professionals, they are no longer just screaming into a void.  Will that give artists in 2014 pause while they consider more deeply how their works and actions will be perceived?  Even if it takes us until 2050, let’s keep thinking.