The Music Stories We Missed This Year

Dec 25, 2011
Originally published on December 26, 2011 7:49 am

This year, Morning Edition covered the death of Amy Winehouse, Spotify's arrival in America and the end of R.E.M. Listen above to host Steve Inskeep and Ann Powers catch up on the year's musical stories the show didn't cover. Among them: teenagers taking over, the most successful tour in history and headphones made to be seen.

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You can bet that the year now ending was an eventful one for music.


Music fans said goodbye to Amy Winehouse and learned of the breakup of R.E.M.

WERTHEIMER: Trent Reznor, formerly of Nine Inch Nails, won an Oscar.

INSKEEP: And now, Ann Powers, of NPR Music, has a few more stories and trends we missed.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Teenagers were very big in pop this year. Scotty McCreery, the young country singer who won "American Idol," became the youngest ever, male debut on the Billboard charts with his first album, "Clear as Day." And then, Rebecca Black became a YouTube sensation with her extremely ear-wormy song, "Friday."


REBECCA BLACK: (Singing) It's Friday, Friday. Got to get down on Friday...

POWERS: Teen stars are leaking out of their usual spaces. We're seeing them on television competitions and then YouTube is allowing kids to gain these huge followings in ways that never was possible when they were working through the conventional music industry.

INSKEEP: Do you think there's some deliberate industry effort to find younger and younger stars?

POWERS: Well, Steve, I don't think it's the music industry, so much, as the culture of fame in America. Parents are pushing their kids. They're putting up clips of them on YouTube. That's how Justin Bieber became famous. They think they can be stars as young as, you know, 12 years old, and now it's happening.

INSKEEP: Now, you have also put Jay-Z on our list of stories that we missed this year. And, of course, Jay-Z is a huge story every year. But you argue that something different is happening in 2011.

POWERS: Absolutely. Jay-Z has long been the biggest name in hip-hop. But this was the year he really cemented his place as, I think, the biggest pop star. He had "Watch the Throne," his collaborative album with Kanye West. Michael Eric Dyson is teaching a course on Jay-Z's music at Georgetown. To me it's a sign that hip-hop is popular music now.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that, because we're in an era where pop music is atomized to the point where it would be hard to define it at all. There are so many different tastes being served in so many different ways. Are you saying Jay-Z is becoming a unifying figure?

POWERS: That may seem strange to some people, but I think it's true. Jay-Z presents himself as someone with very broad musical tastes. He loves Indie rock, for example. And I think that's what it takes to be a huge pop star at the moment. You can't reside in a niche. And Jay-Z, more than anybody, is teaching us how that can happen.

INSKEEP: You've also included in your list of stories that we missed in 2011, the story of a guy who's been a pop star for ages it seems.

POWERS: Oh, absolutely. Steve, one of my very favorite category-defining pop stars, Bono and the band U2, concluded the most successful tour in rock 'n roll history this year, "The 360 Tour," grossing $736 million-plus; playing to seven million people around the world with an average of 66,000 people at every show. It's an astounding feat, especially at this time when the music industry is supposed to be on the ropes.


INSKEEP: Pretty loud there.

POWERS: Well, Steve, that reminds me of another important story that's a little less happy, perhaps. A new study came out this year, about hearing loss, which says that one in five Americans suffer from significant hearing loss. And I have to admit, I myself have some hearing loss after 20 years of rocking and rolling. Going to loud concerts, like seeing U2, is part of it. But we're listening to rock and roll and other kinds of music through our headphones every day, and that is not great for our hearing.

INSKEEP: Stories we missed in 2011 from critic Ann Powers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Ann, always a pleasure to talk with you.

POWERS: Thanks so much Steve and I'll see you in 2012.

INSKEEP: And all this week we'll be talking about the music we missed this year. You can hear more at

This program has a name. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.