NPR’s Audie Cornish talks with NPR Music editor Jacob Ganz about the music news of the week, including the buzz around Beyonce’s twins, Katy Perry’s new album and a 48-year-old songwriting credit for Yoko Ono on John Lennon’s, “Imagine.”
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And now to music news. For the past 48 hours, one topic has dominated social media. And I mean, it’s not technically news. It’s kind of about waiting for news. NPR music senior editor Jacob Ganz is here to bring us up to speed. What’s going on, Jacob?
JACOB GANZ, BYLINE: I mean it could only be Beyonce, right?
GANZ: Things in the music world that’s dominating…
CORNISH: I should have guessed.
GANZ: …Anything. Yeah, and it’s about people waiting for something. Yeah, people know that Beyonce is pregnant. She made a huge announcement earlier this year that she was pregnant with twins. People know that the twins are due around this moment. And everybody’s basically sitting on the edge of their seats on Twitter just ready to turn this moment into GIFs, into memes, into celebration of the emergence of the Knowles-Carter twins into the world.
CORNISH: Now, it seems outrageous to talk about it in this way, but she’s kind of in this moment in her career where she can do no wrong. And then you’re telling me that there is actually a term for this – right – the imperial phase.
GANZ: Yeah, this is a phrase that was actually coined by the Pet Shop Boys, the British pop duo, during the peak of their career. And it’s been written a lot by a writer named Tom Ewing. It’s this moment in a pop star’s career – and it really is a pop star’s career – when they can do nothing wrong, when everything that they put out musically or culturally is just absorbed. They can experiment. They can do new things. They can throw wild things out into the world, and everybody will just greet it with rapture.
CORNISH: OK. And I’m interested in this idea because there is a musician who put out an album recently that is not getting this kind of support who once might’ve, Katy Perry. I’ve printed out some reviews with titles like “Katy Perry Woke Up; She Wants To Tell You About It,” “Katy Perry’s Half-Woke, No Good, Very Bad Album…”
CORNISH: …And my favorite, “Left-Wing Tilt Not A Good Idea – Katy Perry.” (Laughter) That’s from the National Review because this album is a little more political than what she’s done in the past.
GANZ: Well, it’s significantly more political in that it’s political at all. The record is called “Witness.” It came out last week. She promoted it by doing basically a four-day-straight livestream of everything that she did in this house with 41 cameras livestreaming everything that she did, including while she slept.
She did interviews with people. She had this moment where she spoke with the activist DeRay McKesson about moments when she maybe participated in cultural appropriation in ways that were inappropriate that she’s now trying to sort of acknowledge.
CORNISH: Right. He’s a well-known Black Lives Matter activist.
CORNISH: Here’s a clip of how that went down.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KATY PERRY: I’ve made several mistakes even in, like, the “This Is How We Do” video about how I wore my hair and having a hard conversation with one of my empowered angels Cleo about what does it mean. Why can’t I wear my hair that way? Or what is the history behind wearing the hair that way? And she told me about the power in black women’s hair.
CORNISH: Needless to say, Jacob, this is being met with a lot of skepticism. But it makes me wonder who else has, like, tried to get in and out of the imperial phase and struggled.
GANZ: Well, I mean this happens all the time, right? Like, you have this moment when everything that you do is perfect, and then you have the moment when it’s not anymore. Lady Gaga is a recent example of this. She had that moment where she was completely on top of the world. Britney Spears is another example.
Sometimes people come out of it and find other ways of succeeding. Madonna is a great example of this, reinventing herself over and over again but maybe never quite hitting that cultural dominance that she had before. Prince came out of his period of being the white-hot center of the pop world and became something else – very well respected, beloved performer but maybe not sort of the burning center of the universe anymore.
CORNISH: And that brings me to our final point of this chat, which is about an artist with longevity, actually, Yoko Ono, (laughter) who got a very interesting songwriting credit.
GANZ: She did, yeah. Yoko Ono is, according to the National Music Publishers Association, which governs songwriting credits in some ways, going to be credited as a songwriter on John Lennon’s hit “Imagine.” Lennon actually – this is not something that he would have disagreed with – made the argument late in his career that she always should have been credited for the concept and lyrics that she helped him put into the song. And at the time, he was just too blinded by his need for his own credit to give it to her.
CORNISH: Nice. All right, NPR music senior editor Jacob Ganz, thanks so much.
GANZ: You’re welcome.
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