Turning The Tables: Records That Changed Our Lives What does it mean to make a truly personal canon? Our critics explore that idea via critical essays on life-changing albums.

Turning The Tables: Records That Changed Our Lives

What does it mean to make a truly personal canon?

Paramore's Brand New Eyes and Tracy Chapman's Tracy Chapman are featured in our Records That Changed Our Lives series. Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR/Getty Images hide caption

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Records That Changed Our Lives: Finding hope in Tracy Chapman and 'Brand New Eyes'

What record changed your life? NPR Music's Turning the Tables, which challenges sexism in the pop music canon, asked writers that question. Every week in March, we're diving into their answers.

PJ Harvey's Uh Huh Her and Tiger Trap's Tiger Trap are featured in our Records That Changed Our Lives series. Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR/Getty Images hide caption

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Records That Changed Our Lives: Defying gatekeepers with 'Uh Huh Her' and Tiger Trap

What record changed your life? NPR Music's Turning the Tables, which challenges sexism in the pop music canon, asked writers that question. Every week in March, we're diving into their answers.

bbymutha's Muthaland and Santigold's Santigold are featured in our Records That Changed Our Lives series. Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR/Getty Images hide caption

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Records That Changed Our Lives, Grown Woman Edition: Santigold and 'Muthaland'

What record changed your life? NPR Music's Turning the Tables, which challenges sexism in the pop music canon, asked writers that question. Every week in March, we're diving into their answers.

Beyoncé's 4, Salt-N-Pepa's Blacks' Magic and Fiona Apple's Tidal are featured in our Records That Changed Our Lives series. Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR/Getty Images hide caption

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Records That Changed Our Lives, Teen Edition: 'Tidal,' 'Blacks' Magic,' Beyoncé's '4'

What record changed your life? NPR Music's Turning the Tables, which challenges sexism in the pop music canon, asked writers that question. Every week in March, we're diving into their answers.

Kate Bush's The Dreaming and Yoko Ono's Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band are two of the albums featured in our Records That Changed Our Lives series Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR/Getty Images hide caption

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Records That Changed Our Lives: How Kate Bush and Yoko Ono challenged us

What record changed your life? NPR Music's Turning the Tables, which challenges sexism in the pop music canon, asked writers that question. Every week in March, we're diving into their answers.

Paramore's Brand New Eyes is earnest in its expression, like someone proud of having chosen the right words for what they wanted to say. Photo Illustration by Renee Klahr/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Fueled by Ramen hide caption

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How Paramore's 'Brand New Eyes' Helped Me Envision A Future For Myself

When you're young, the choice between meeting others' expectations and making your own way can feel all-consuming. Along the way, it helps to have a soundtrack that draws equally from rage and wisdom.

Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band is centered on her unique and powerful voice; even decades after its release, it still sounds utterly fearless. Photo Illustration by Renee Klahr/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Apple Records hide caption

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Yoko Ono's 'Plastic Ono Band' Made Me Rethink What It Means To Be An Expert

What does it take to really know a record? To overcome feeling alienated by a challenging album, it sometimes takes abandoning preconceived ideas of expertise and looking for something more personal.

Santigold's self-titled debut combines "look what I can do" attitude with a galvanizing magic. Photo Illustration by Renee Klahr/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Downtown Records hide caption

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How Santigold Helped Me Claim And Keep My New York Dreams

Santigold's debut album captures the New York dream of being a singular sensation above the masses. It inspired writer Dawnie Walton when she first moved there — and again when she needed a new start.

Tracy Chapman's debut album "was the music that I needed at a time when I felt pressure to know everything before it was taught," says writer and scholar Francesca T. Royster. Photo Illustration by Renee Klahr/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Elektra Records hide caption

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Meeting Tracy Chapman In The Spaces Between

After Chapman released her 1988 debut, she was everywhere in pop and always on the mind of writer Francesca T. Royster. Hearing that album, she writes, "helped me say what I hadn't yet said out loud."

The strength with which Salt-N-Pepa delivered messages on Blacks' Magic "gave a lonely Wyoming girl a blueprint for a confidence I didn't inherently possess," writes Julianne Escobedo Shepherd. Photo Illustration by Renee Klahr/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Next Plateau Records hide caption

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How Salt-N-Pepa's 'Blacks' Magic' Gave Me A Blueprint For Feminism

As a kid, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd adored Salt-N-Pepa's music and moves. In revisiting the trio's third album, she realized it also taught her what confidence and collectivity look like in action.

Occasionally, a woman artist will make it her mission to speak as the monster others fear her to be, turning shame into strength. That's the power of Kate Bush's The Dreaming. Renee Klahr/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of EMI Records hide caption

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How Kate Bush's 'The Dreaming' Made My Monsters My Own

There are so many ways that women are made into monsters. On The Dreaming, Bush expresses the pain and explores the potential of monstrous transformation — and teaches us how to do the same.

On Muthaland, bbymutha's songs play out as if she's rebuilding her confidence in real time. Photo Illustration by Renee Klahr, Amna Ijaz/NPR; Courtesy of The Muthaboard hide caption

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Bbymutha's 'Muthaland' Is Teaching Me That Status Isn't Everything

The ambitious rapper's debut album starts with an acid trip and ends with a paean to a rap pantheon. In between, says writer Christina Lee, it offers crucial lessons about playing by your own rules.

When she first heard Fiona Apple's album 1996 Tidal, writer Lindsay Zoladz says the record stood out to her for how it "validated [her] experience of pain." Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Columbia Records hide caption

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Fiona Apple's 'Tidal' Promised Me The Unknown

When writer Lindsay Zoladz first heard 'Tidal' as a teen, it validated her pain in an uncertain time. Returning to the album decades later, it reminds her of how much our past selves can teach us.

On The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the singer provides a re-education in Blackness 101, in which she's both student and teacher. Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Ruffhouse Records hide caption

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How 'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill' Taught Me To Love Blackness

The theory of nigrescence describes the process of developing a Black identity. Namwali Serpell says it's like falling in love — and for her, it began when she first heard Lauryn Hill's 1998 album.

On 4, Beyoncé presented a dynamic, multifaceted expression of womanhood — and took crucial steps toward claiming full artistic control over her work. Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Columbia Records hide caption

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Beyoncé's '4' Taught Me How To Become And Embrace Being An Emotional Woman

The release of 4 found Beyoncé in a pivotal career moment — and set the stage for her as an auteur. For writer LaTesha Harris, the album also served as a much-needed guide to freedom and womanhood.

Hearing Tiger Trap's self-titled debut, released in 1993, was a turning point for writer Maria Sherman. "Tiger Trap's tender pop was punk in a hushed tone," she says. "I was, and remain, hooked." Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR; Courtesy of Michael Galinsky and K Records hide caption

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Twee Your Mind: How Tiger Trap Taught Me That Tenderness Is Punk

Rarely does a life-altering album reveal itself, right away, to alter your life. But for Maria Sherman, Tiger Trap's 1993 album was a swift sonic gateway to reconsidering the power of soft sounds.

PJ Harvey's Uh Huh Her was a powerful force for critic Laura Snapes. "Seeing this woman I so admired derail a linear path to greater success and greater approval – the de facto path as far as teachers were concerned – was revelatory," she writes. Photo Illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR; Getty Images; Courtesy of Island Records hide caption

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How PJ Harvey's 'Uh Huh Her' Taught Me To Carve My Own Path

As a kid discovering music, you assemble a hodgepodge of other people's opinions. But there's a lot of joy to be found when the urge to agree with the critics melts away, writes critic Laura Snapes.