Turning The Tables 2018 Shows The 'Change Within Tradition'

Beyoncé performs on stage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards Inglewood, Calif.
Beyoncé performs on stage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards Inglewood, Calif.
Robyn Beck /Getty Images

Last year, NPR Music introduced Turning the Tables, a list of the greatest albums made by women in the classic album era. Today, the second iteration of the list concentrates on the 200 greatest songs by women and non-binary artists in the new millennium.

"We wanted to look at this moment we're living in and think about how women and non-binary artists are reshaping, re-visioning and pushing music into the future," Ann Powers, NPR Music critic and the co-creator of Turning the Tables, explains.

And while last year's list showcased a canon of significant albums by women, this year's consists of songs as a reflection of how people digest music in the 21st century.

"People now listen to playlists, especially younger people," Powers says. "So we were thinking about, 'How does the song operate in a world where streaming dominates and how has that reconstituted the way we listen and the way artists make music?' I believe that women are at the forefront of using these new technologies and I think this list really proves that."

The 2018 list, compiled from votes cast by more than 70 NPR Music staff members, NPR station affiliate members and music critics, makes an overall argument about how women and non-binary artists are leading music history as it's happening. The sprawl of the top five songs on the list — Alabama Shakes' "Hold On," Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black," Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps" and M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" — shows how women have led the charge in evolving genres and identity constructs within the music world.

"This is what it's all about," Powers says. "Change within tradition. Change that doesn't destroy legacies, but that reveals the truth behind legacies."

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