Anyone who follows popular music surely knows the work of journalist Ann Powers. For nearly 30 years Powers has plied her trade, first as a teen at Seattle’s alternative weekly, The Rocket, and then just about everywhere—The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Spin, and most recently National Public Radio. That today’s music critics routinely write about Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Cardi B— and often without a sneer—owes a lot to Powers, whose sunny but incisive criticism has done so much to expand what counts critically. It wasn’t always so. As recently as the early 90s rockist presumptions of musical authenticity...

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