From Britney Spears’s manufactured sex appeal to Jim Morrison’s toxic masculinity, NPR music critic Powers (Piece by Piece; Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America) explores the intersection between America’s musical landscape and its overwrought cultural views of sex. She opens with a meditation on the interplay between body and sound crystallized in New Orleans’ Congo Square in the 19th century. Here, confluences of African and European musical styles blended to create the roots of jazz and what would become rock and roll. As a corollary, popular music became an amalgam of racial tension, sexual expression, and gender expectations that continue to reverberate into the new millennia. From Miley Cyrus’s twerking to Beyoncé’s “Formation,” Powers articulates how artists have manipulated or experimented with each of these threads to forge their own musical identity and sound. VERDICT With precision and wit, and across multiple musical genres, Powers contextualizes the complicated interplay of gender, sex, and race inherent in popular music within and against the backdrop of America’s puritanical founding.