Return of Vinyl
Not long ago, vinyl records were the domain of hipster fetishists, jazz snobs, and crate-digging DJs. Now it looks like the party's been crashed. Recently, the LP has brushed the dust off its sleeves and made an impressive comeback: Demand for vinyl has increased every year since 2006, and in 2011 consumers bought more wax than any time in the past two decades. (That many releases also come with a digital-download code undoubtedly helps.) Says Daniel Tures, a floor manager at California's beloved Amoeba Music mini-chain: ''It used to be a grouchy-old-man thing, but now it's a younger generation kids under 30. It's the artwork, and the liner notes and text, just the artisan quality of it.'' Jack White agrees: With digital, ''you can fast-forward and skip it with a mouse and click it off,'' he told EW last year. ''You're not reverential toward the music.'' With vinyl, on the other hand, ''there's an inherent romance to it. When you put the needle down, you feel connected.''
Rise of the Female Rapper
As recently as 2010, you could count the number of successful rappers with XX chromosomes on one hand. Then Nicki Minaj dropped her platinum debut, Pink Friday, cracking the genre's glass ceiling and leaving a trail of stuttering male MCs in her wake. Minaj led the charge, but women like gleefully lewd Harlem native Azealia Banks, ''Gucci Gucci'' imp Kreayshawn, Miami's Brianna Perry, and Australian amazon Iggy Azalea have all built buzz in the interim. ''The thing that's cool about the scene right now is that it does feel really diverse,'' says K. Flay (née Kristine Flaherty), a 26-year-old Bay Area rapper/producer/Stanford grad who's already shared the stage with Snoop Dogg and Ludacris. ''Maybe in a previous era the term 'female rapper' connoted a specific style, whereas now it's more like a descriptor.'' All the better for these women to fill in their own adjectives. And why not? That's what they've been honing their skills for all along.
Reality Doesn't Bite
Back when American Idol started in 2002, its ''famous'' judges were an almost-forgotten pop singer, an obscure British music exec, and a session guy best known for gigging with Journey in the '80s. Today, TV talent shows are stacked with hot young stars, many not yet even at the midpoint of their careers and glad to be on the small screen. ''It used to be unofficially against the law to have your music on television,'' explains The Voice mentor and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. ''But the world has changed.'' Indeed. Soon after he joined the show, Maroon 5 hit No. 1 with ''Moves Like Jagger.'' (Jennifer Lopez experienced similar chart success after joining Idol.) Over on Dancing With the Stars, Gavin DeGraw is doing the paso doble while his single ''Not Over You'' enters its 10th month on the charts. And original Idol Kelly Clarkson? A decade after winning, she's still delivering hits and headed for a mentor post on the singing competition Duets this summer.
Producers Are the New Pop Stars
We don't mean to alarm you, but the galaxy of pop music has been shifting. Don't worry, the brightest stars your Adeles, Katys, and Rihannas aren't going away, but the behind-the-scenes maestros they've eclipsed for so long now command their own gravitational pull. It's not hard to find a once-anonymous knob fiddler taking center stage these days: David Guetta went from midlevel European DJ to Hot 100 habitué; Scottish soundsmith Calvin Harris, who brought Rihanna's ''We Found Love'' to the top, is now putting his own tracks on the charts. ''There's been more of an understanding and recognition of the fact that producers, writers, and DJs can often be artists themselves,'' says Dr. Luke, a go-to hitmaker for Britney, Nicki, and Ke$ha, among others. Adds The-Dream, who co-wrote Beyoncé's ''Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)'' and has his own R&B career, ''Artists respect the producers and songwriters in the way fans respect the artist. We are the artists to artists.''