The Greatest Songs By 21st Century Women+

This list is part of Turning the Tables, an ongoing project from NPR Music dedicated to recasting the popular music canon in more inclusive – and accurate – ways. This year, our list, selected by a panel of more than 70 women and non-binary writers, tackles history in the making, celebrating artists whose work is changing this century’s sense of what popular music can be. The songs are by artists whose major musical contributions came on or after Jan. 1, 2000, and have shifted attitudes, defied categories and pushed sound in new directions since then.

Our list includes songs performed by women and non-binary artists. The use of the term “Women+” is part of our engagement in a movement to recognize a wide spectrum of gender identities coming to greater light in the 21st century.

Lori McKenna, “Humble & Kind” (2016)

In 2005, Lori McKenna won the songwriter lottery when Faith Hill recorded three of McKenna’s songs, effectively ushering the New England folk singer into the Nashville country music writing fold. Since then, McKenna has penned dozens of hits, including her magnum opus “Humble & Kind.” Tim McGraw released his version of it in 2016; McKenna recorded her own version for her album The Bird and the Rifle that same year. The song is a list of what McKenna wants to tell each of her five children, with the most important piece of advice at the end of each refrain: “Always stay humble and kind.” The authenticity of her writing rings through the song’s wonderful simplicity, making it one of the best country tunes to come out in the last 18 years. —Cindy Howes (Folk Alley & WYEP)

Rapsody (ft. BJ The Chicago ), “Black & Ugly” (2017)

Rapsody’s sophomore album Laila’s Wisdom, named after the North Carolina MC’s grandmother, houses the type of truths often dispensed in passing from a porch rocking chair or in the midst of cooking Sunday dinner. Standout track “Black & Ugly,” featuring BJ The Chicago , dispenses the type of common sense that society often works so hard to make uncommon: Blackness in any form – light skin or dark, wide or svelte nose – is beautiful. “Talking appearance ain’t no diss to me / No one dissin’ me / I been to hell and back / And came back up here screaming victory,” Rapsody rhymes through her lisp at the tail end of a breath, as a strategic sample from R&B singer Tweet lingers in the background. —Sidney Madden

Demi Lovato, “Cool For The Summer” (2015)

The first few seconds were a tease: a piano riff like a pavement shimmer, a sweetly cajoling verse. But then the growling guitar hook sneaked in, the vocal line revved up, and by the time the chorus hit Demi Lovato had claimed her crown as millennial queen of muscular, self-assured pop. “Cool For The Summer” celebrates the multitudes that sexuality contains: frank yet lighthearted; die-for-you passionate while keeping it casual; steamy but still, well, cool. —Rachel Horn

Missy Mazzoli Is The 21st Century’s Gatecrasher Of New Classical Music

It’s not enough to make list after list. The Turning the Tables project seeks to suggest alternatives to the traditional popular music canon, and to do more than that, too: to stimulate conversation about how hierarchies emerge and endure. This year, Turning the Tables considers how women and non-binary artists are shaping music in our moment, from the pop mainstream to the sinecures of jazz and contemporary classical music. Our list of the 200 Greatest Songs By Women+ offers a soundtrack to a new century. This series of essays takes on another task.

The 25 arguments writers make in these pieces challenge the usual definitions of influence. Some rethink the building legacies of popular artists; others celebrate those who create within subcultures, their innovations rippling outward over time. As always, women forge new pathways in sound; today, they also make waves under the surface of culture by confronting, in their music, the increased fluidity of “woman” itself. What is a woman? It’s a timeless question on the surface, but one deeply engaged with whatever historical moment in which it is asked. Our 25 Most Influential Women Musicians of the 21st Century illuminate its complexities. —Ann Powers

Classical music has a gatekeeping problem, and much of that can be traced through the word “great.”

I don’t mean great as in “that was great,” the kind of thing you’d say as you walk out of the concert and pull out your phone to find somewhere for post-concert cocktails on Yelp. I mean Great as in Great Composers, the set of dead white guys whose Great Works manspread across the programming of most symphony orchestras, opera companies and other classical music-presenting institutions in the country that don’t exclusively focus on new music.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of these works are in the canon because they are actually pretty great. They’ve been fascinating us, pulling our heartstrings and making us hum along for centuries. But if the major selling point of classical music is how objectively Great it is or how Great the composers are, Greatness becomes insidious: effectively meaningless, but unchangeable, almost impossible to fight. Being sold Greatness is now what audiences expect. It belongs only to the past, so it’s antithetical to welcoming or nurturing composers and listeners of the present and future, especially if they don’t buy into that lineage of Greatness.

Missy Mazzoli, 38, is trying to tear down the gates for new composers and listeners. She’s a prominent figure in new music; she has three operas to her name with librettist Royce Vavrek, including the vicious Breaking the Waves — an adaptation of the controversial 1996 Lars von Trier film — and the dry, spooky Proving Up, based on Karen Russell’s ghost story set on the 19th-century prairie. Her work engages with stories about human beings and the oft-fraught relationships between them. None of her main characters is someone you would aspire to be or, conversely, an irredeemable monster (except one, in Proving Up, who actually is a monster). But all are complex and fully realized. In the case of Breaking the Waves, Mazzoli’s act of adapting a story hinging on a woman’s trauma feels especially prescient in a time when it’s still common for such stories to be told by all-male creative teams.

Her resumé also includes a handful of composer residencies with institutions like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the forward-thinking Opera Philadelphia, and two heady recordings with her all-female band Victoire, which she assembled to perform her own music.

“Band” isn’t a word that typically applies to classical ensembles, but it’s really the only accurate descriptor of Victoire, in which Mazzoli plays keyboards. Anything else would be slapping a label on it that doesn’t fit. Its second album of Mazzoli’s music, Vespers for a New Dark Age, turns poems by contemporary poet Matthew Zapruder into searing songs of secular prayer, with propulsive drumming by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche and production by Victoire member and synth wizard Lorna Dune. It feels like it belongs to no genre and many genres at once. It’s been called everything from “ravishing, unsettling…from the chamber-operatic to the electronic and semiabstract” to “an engrossing classical-electronic-vocal epic” to a “suite for singers, chamber ensemble and electronics” — that last clear-cut description nonetheless makes it sound drier and less friendly than it is. When I try to think of what to call it, anything I come up with either sounds too generic or detracts from the simplicity I hear in its core. But it moves; it’s old, new, borrowed and blue. I’d play it for people who would never go to a classical concert.

Airbnb Plans To Remove Listings In Israeli Settlements

Property-renting company Airbnb says it plans to remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin described it as a “disgraceful surrender,” while senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it an “initial positive step.”

Broadly, settlements are viewed as an obstacle to peace by Palestinians and the international community, and the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. Security Council have said settlements on land captured by Israel are illegal under international law.

Airbnb said in a statement that its decision impacts about 200 Airbnb listings. It said it had previously allowed listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank “because we believe that people-to-people travel has considerable value,” adding that it had made the latest decision after weighing the issue over time and speaking to experts.

“We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” the company said. “We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective.”

As of Monday afternoon, listings within settlements still appear to be up on the site. The company told NPR’s Daniel Estrin that it plans to remove them “in the days ahead.”

Levin has stated that the Ministry of Tourism is taking action to “limit the company’s activity throughout the country.” And Gilad Erdan, the minister of strategic affairs, is encouraging people affected by the new policy to file lawsuits against Airbnb.

This comes after pressure from rights groups. Human Rights Watch says it has been urging Airbnb to leave the controversial region for two years.

“In essence they are helping to broker rentals on land stolen from Palestinians, for which those Palestinians themselves … are barred from entering,” Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, tells Estrin. The organization is preparing to release a report on the issue Tuesday, titled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land.”

Airbnb made the announcement in a post titled “Listings in Disputed Regions.” It did not specify any policy changes in other disputed areas but said that each situation should be evaluated with a “case-by-case approach.”

Israelis say they feel singled out, while there are other conflicts going on that haven’t received as much international scrutiny. “The senior management of Airbnb will have to explain why they specifically, and uniquely, chose to implement this political and discriminatory decision in the case of citizens of the state of Israel,” said Erdan.

Eliana Passentin, an Israeli citizen who lives in the settlement of Eli in the West Bank, tells Estrin that she has rented her home several times to tourists. She criticized Airbnb’s decision.

“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” said Passentin. “They’ve become political. … Instead of building bridges they are building fences.”

Businesses with ties to Israeli settlements are coming under increasing scrutiny from the United Nations. A report earlier this year from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights compiled a list of about 200 companies that do business with settlements; as Estrin reported at the time, the U.S. and Israel urged the U.N. not to publish that list.