It Was A Good Year For Women In Music

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" was huge this year. i

Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" was huge this year. Howard Huang/Courtesy of Universal Motown hide caption

toggle caption Howard Huang/Courtesy of Universal Motown
Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" was huge this year.

Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" was huge this year.

Howard Huang/Courtesy of Universal Motown

Many of the artists getting the most buzz in pop music this year are female! Think Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Adele, Nicki Minaj. There are some less obvious examples too. Three female music journalists spoke to Tell Me More host Allison Keyes about some of the best and most talked about music by women this year. Danyel Smith, the editor of Billboard Magazine, NPR Music editor Frannie Kelley and Jasmine Garsd, co-host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast.


I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up we'll be talking about what new music releases to look forward to next year, but first we're going to continue our conversation about things that rocked this year – like the women who ruled the music charts. Many of the artists getting the most buzz in 2011 are female.


ADELE: (Singing) We could have had it all. I wish you had never met me. Rolling in the deep...

KEYES: Think Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Adele.


ADELE: (Singing) You had my heart inside of your hand. And you played it to the beat. Baby, I have no story to be told.

KEYES: There are some less obvious examples, of course. Joining me now to discuss some of the best and most talked about music by women this year are three female music journalists. We have Danyel Smith. She's editor of Billboard magazine. Also with us is NPR's hip hop expert Frannie Kelley as well as Jasmine Garsd who co-hosts NPR's music ALT.LATINO podcast. Welcome, ladies.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.



KEYES: So we know that Adele, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift are all the rage this year. Danyel, are you surprised? Should there have been other people?

SMITH: I mean, should there have been other people?


SMITH: But, no, it's like a group, I think. I think it's a super talented group, a super diverse group. I think it's – yeah, it's a good group.

KEYES: Obviously Adele is the big story this year. I mean, she's a top-selling artist and plus with the vocal surgery, but one of the biggest female stars I think of this generation is Beyonce.


BEYONCE: (Singing) He's still the one. There's ups and downs in this love. Got a lot to learn and it's love. Through the good and bad still got love. Dedicated to the one I love. Hey. Still love the way he talk.

KEYES: Just released an album called "4" this year and I know there were some people – I am not among them – who were really surprised that it didn't get a few more Grammy nominations. Danyel, do you think this was an amazing album that was overlooked or was it just kind of meh?

SMITH: It's hard for Beyonce to put out a bad album. She's so talented and she's, like, the hardest working lady in show business. But I do think that if you match it up to some of her earlier albums, I don't know. I'm just probably – I'm probably still a Destiny's Child fan so I may not be the girl to ask.


KEYES: Frannie, what do you think?

KELLEY: I actually loved it. I mean, I think she worked with the people that have given her great success before, you know, including The Dream and I think "Countdown" makes up for a lot of failings on "4".


BEYONCE: (Singing) Show 'em how you ride it. Oh, killing me softly. And I'm still falling. Still the one I need.

KEYES: You have a say in the studio, (unintelligible).

KELLEY: I thought it was a great album. I don't think it was the best of all the albums she's ever put out, but it was an album that also took a lot of risks and I think that that's worth a lot.

KEYES: What do you mean by risk?

KELLEY: I think the sounds that she explored and I think, for example, "Countdown" is a great example. The sounds that she was exploring on that song, it just doesn't sound like a lot that's out there right now. At least not on mainstream R&B and pop. So I think that's worth a lot.

KEYES: There's that. Jaz, talk to us about some of the best music by Latinas this year.

GARSD: Well, I think 2011 was a year of comebacks, a lot of it tied into reality television. You had Christina Aguilera cohosting "The Voice" this year and she had a pretty big hit with Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger." And then you had Mexican-American (unintelligible) Norteno icon Jenni Rivera doing the show "I Love Jenni" on Mundos. And this is a very clear crossover attempt for her to go a little bit more pop.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

GARSD: She just got signed on for a second season. And she released a new album. But really without a doubt to me, this was the year of Jennifer Lopez.



JENNIFER LOPEZ: (Singing) Don't stop. Keep it moving. Put your drinks up. Whoo. Pick your body up and drop it on the floor. Let the rhythm change your world on the floor. You know we're running tonight on the floor. Brazil, Morocco, London it Ibiza.

GARSD: J. Lo was inescapable. In fact, before doing today's show somebody told me, oh, don't talk about J. Lo. She's everywhere. I'm sick of her. That's kind of the point. AccuraCast, which is a digital search agency, they just analyzed all these Google searches from 2004 and they named her the biggest comeback act since 2004. Not only was she on "American Idol" she was People's "Most Beautiful Woman of the Year." She had the very publicized split with Marc Anthony.


And then there was that sending the whole stunt double into her neighborhood in the Fiat commercial.


GARSD: Oh, yeah.

KEYS: Which was crazy.

GARSD: The L'Oreal commercial.

KEYS: Right.

GARSD: So she was inescapable, and musically her song "On the Floor" was number 11 in the top 20 best-selling songs of the year. So she really came back in a big way.


PITBULL: (Rapping) L.A., Miami, New York. Say no more. Get on the floor.

LOPEZ: (Singing) La la la la la la la la la la la la la la. Tonight we gon' be it on the floor. La la la la la la la la la la la la la la. Tonight we...

KEYS: And that one of the ongoing jokes is that in the divorce her and husband Marc Anthony got joint custody of rapper Pitbull.


KEYS: That's true.


LOPEZ: (Singing) Tonight we gon' be it on the floor. The floor. The floor.

KEYS: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about what a great year for women in music it has been. With us is the editor of Billboard Magazine, Danyel Smith, as well as NPR Music's hip-hop expert Frannie Kelley and Jasmine Garsd, the co-host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast.

Frannie, how come Janet can make it back? If Janet and J. Lo are doing pretty the same thing. J. Lo's got this great comeback. Why is Janet Jackson not back out there?

KELLEY: I share your concern.


KELLEY: There's no reason she's not on the radio right now. I mean it seems to me she's been keeping her head down since the tragic death of her brother.

KEYS: Yeah.

KELLEY: I mean it seems maybe she's got bigger fish to fry at the moment. And I wonder who she would work with if she got out there again.

KEYS: That would be interesting to see.

SMITH: David Guetta.

KELLEY: That would be great.

SMITH: Let's do that.


KEYS: We've got to talk about some of this year's female rappers. We've got Kreayshawn. We've got Kesha, the Satisfaction. But Nicki Minaj is without doubt the most talked about - or one of the most talked about - artist of the year. Let's hear a clip of her song "Fly" featuring Rihanna.


NICKI MINAJ: (Rapping) I wish today it will rain all day. Maybe that will kind of make the pain go away. Trying to forgive you for abandoning me. Praying but I think I'm still an angel away. Angel away, yeah strange in a way.

KEYS: Frannie, you listen to a whole lot of rap. What you think about Nicki? And what was up with that video with the whole futuristic armies fighting off ninjas thing going on there?


KELLEY: I think she's a great talent. I think that were all really, really excited for the album that she put out at the end of 2010 called "Pink Friday" and it was actually a little bit of a letdown. You know, she blew everybody away with that verse on "Monster" from Kanye's album...

KEYS: Mm-hmm.

KELLEY: ...and there was nothing of that caliber on "Pink Friday" until "Super Bass," which was a bonus track on "Pink Friday," actually.


MINAJ: (Singing) Can't you hear that boom, badoom, boom, boom, badoom, boom, bass. Yeah that's that super bass. Got that super bass boom, badoom, boom, boom, badoom, boom, bass. Yeah that's that super bass. Boom, boom, boom, bom.

KELLEY: And that took over the summer. I mean that was really great. My colleague Ann Powers has written about it a bunch, like much her daughter loves it. My friend's kids love it also.

KEYS: She also wrote that she's sold out and gone Barbie, which I thought was a pretty fabulous way to describe it.

Danyel, what do you think about Nicki?

SMITH: I love her. She was Billboard's Rising Star of the Year this year. And she sat down and she just talks about her career and it was the first time I think I'd actually seen her just sort of sit down and talk and have a sort of regular - if you can call it that - conversation, and she's just a brilliant girl. And she had blonde hair down to her, you know, to the back of her knees. And she looked gorgeous. She sounded super, super smart. And I just, you know, she's probably - I mean I come from the era of Laura Hanlon, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte and all that kind of stuff and I've been waiting and waiting and waiting on a girl I could really get excited about and she is that.

KEYS: Jas, you've been saying, especially in the Latin world, you noticed some women making huge comebacks, probably through the reality television.

GARSD: Mm-hmm.

KEYS: You were talking about...

GARSD: Jenni Rivera.

KEYS: Jenni Rivera. Who else is hot this year?

GARSD: I really would like to mention Jenni Rivera because I think what she's doing is very interesting.


JENNI RIVERA: (Sung in foreign language)

GARSD: She has kind of a plan to go from banda and norteno, which is a very specialized music.

KEYS: I mean for people who don't know what that is, explain.

GARSD: It's regional Mexican music and it mixes a lot of accordion sounds. When you hear it you know. It mixes a lot of accordion sounds with beads and romantic lyrics.


RIVERA: (Sung in foreign language)

GARSD: It's a very specialized subgenre. Not all Hispanics even like that. I'm Hispanic and I kind of - I respect it. You know I mean? But what she's doing, in addition to her music becoming a lot more pop and relatable, she's kind of pushing herself into this reality show, which is talking about her life and how in addition to being this huge banda diva, she has everyday issues. And I think it's a really interesting way to kind of get back into the music scene through a non-musical venue, really. I mean I think to a certain point J. Lo did it, Christina did it. I think I just think it's a different approach.


RIVERA: (Sung in foreign language)

KEYS: It's been an interesting year. Thank you, ladies. Jasmine Garsd, co-host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast was with us right here in our Washington studio. We were also joined by Danyel Smith, editor of Billboard Magazine, and NPR Music's hip-hop expert, Frannie Kelley. They both joined us from New York.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from