There are long reads and then there are long reads. And now that the winter solstice has passed, we have more daylight to read them by. Slate indulges big time with its annual Music Club. Our own Ann Powers is one of the five writers exchanging ideas about the past year in music there, covering topics from Americana to bottle service. Here we offer three smaller bites of music journalism — one video, one year-end essay and one piece of local reporting — all of which say more than their headlines imply.
Armed with only a decibel counter, Washington Post music critic Chris Richards walks around a mall in the D.C. suburbs, taking samples and talking to people shopping and working there. He says studies show that loud retail environments cause more impulse purchases (it's disorienting and overstimulating so people just freak out), and Abercrombie stores take advantage of that by keeping their house music playlists cranked as high as a lawn mower. It's not a pretty picture, but the scenes he sets ambling around Sunglass Huts and Nordstroms are vivid. The people in them are wry, and his piece ends up reminding us that music manipulates our emotions every day. Some use that power for good, others for profit. —Frannie Kelley
This May, Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace made global headlines when she came out as transgender. Since her public admission, Grace has focused on touring with her band and settling into a new normal with her wife and young daughter in Florida. But in this video segment from MTV's revamped House of Style, Grace opens up to supermodel Joan Smalls about her love of clothes (she and her wife often share them), performing in heels, Clinique products and why her summer goal is to fit into a pair of leather short shorts. —Saidah Blount
Philip Sherburne looks around dance music in 2012 and sees a "speculative bubble." In SPIN, he writes that last year dubstep was "dance music's enfant terrible"; now that Muse and Chris Brown have swallowed some of its tells, it's more of a meme. But the closing of that particular hype cycle didn't shut the door on dollars or bodies — festivals, promoters and DJs raked it in and attendance at most events was monstrous. Between the lines you'll read grudges and jealousies, generational conflict and deep distrust. Though Sherburne says licensing deals, pyrotechnics and cheap drugs covered for some popular music not worth writing home about this year, the collaboration, flouting of genre barriers and respect for the past that happened outside the mainstream gives him hope for the next one. —Frannie Kelley