Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he writes the advice column The Good Listener, fusses over the placement of commas and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the weekly NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk.

In 1993, Thompson founded The Onion's entertainment section, The A.V. Club, which he edited until December 2004. In the years since, he has provided music-themed commentaries for the NPR programs Weekend Edition Sunday, All Things Considered and Morning Edition, on which he earned the distinction of becoming the first member of the NPR Music staff ever to sing on an NPR newsmagazine. (Later, the magic of AutoTune transformed him from a 12th-rate David Archuleta into a fourth-rate Cher.) Thompson's entertainment writing has also run in Paste magazine, The Washington Post and The London Guardian.

During his tenure at The Onion, Thompson edited the 2002 book The Tenacity of the Cockroach: Conversations with Entertainment's Most Enduring Outsiders (Crown) and copy-edited six best-selling comedy books. While there, he also coached The Onion's softball team to a sizzling 21-42 record, and was once outscored 72-0 in a span of 10 innings. Later in life, Thompson redeemed himself by teaming up with the small gaggle of fleet-footed twentysomethings who won the 2008 NPR Relay Race, a triumph he documents in a hard-hitting essay for the book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years (Chronicle).

A 1994 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Thompson now lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his two children, four cats and a room full of vintage arcade machines. His hobbies include watching reality television without shame, eating Pringles until his hand has involuntarily twisted itself into a gnarled claw, using the size of his Twitter following to assess his self-worth, touting the immutable moral superiority of the Green Bay Packers and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat August 1, 2015

The Good Listener: How Do I Play DJ Without Embarrassing Myself?

Look, she did such a great job picking music that they don't even need to keep their eyes on the road!
Monkey Business Images iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the brick-sized bale of bills that arrived during our recent vacation is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on how to play DJ from the passenger seat of a friend's car.

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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri July 31, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Music, Movies And Music In Movies

Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick in The Last Five Years.
Thomas Concordia TIFF

Originally published on Mon August 3, 2015 12:35 pm

Our pal Ari Shapiro is in a decent amount of demand these days: He's wrapping up a stint as an NPR international correspondent based in London, he's toured as a guest vocalist with the band Pink Martini, and he's just been named one of the hosts of All Things Considered. But we managed to gobble up one of his rare spare hours for this week's show, in which he, Linda Holmes, NPR film critic Bob Mondello and I talk music, movies and music in movies.

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Monkey See
6:03 am
Mon July 27, 2015

The Giant Foam Finger: Sports Hatred

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers smiles during a game against the New York Knicks on Oct. 30, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jason Miller Getty Images

A couple weeks ago, Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I sat down to reflect on a decade-old sports moment — a single play in a single game — and describe how it affected us as rival fans of the teams involved. In this second episode of the series we're calling The Giant Foam Finger, the two of us tackle a far unwieldier subject: hatred.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat July 18, 2015

The Good Listener: Where Are All The Great Lullabies?

While your kids are still impressionable, you can make them listen to anything.
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the shipment of cat sedatives that have us pondering just how often we order shipments of cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on sedating children (not cats) via music.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Wed July 15, 2015

Review: Ashley Monroe, 'The Blade'

Ashley Monroe's new album, The Blade, comes out July 24.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri July 31, 2015 11:51 am

Not many country singers under 30 could score a chart-topping hit with mainstream mainstay Blake Shelton ("Lonely Tonight"), frequent collaborations with elder statesman Vince Gill and a spot in Jack White's Third Man House Band — which is saying nothing of Ashley Monroe's recurring role in the all-star trio

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Monkey See
6:03 am
Tue July 14, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour On Sports: Introducing 'The Giant Foam Finger'

Oh, shut up, Freddie Mitchell. And what are you smiling about, No. 31?
Doug Pensinger Getty Images

We talk a lot about nostalgia on Pop Culture Happy Hour — about the ways entertainment has shaped our youth and placed our memories in perspective — but in doing so, we've mostly discussed movies, TV shows, music, books, board games, that sort of thing.

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First Listen
5:33 am
Sun July 12, 2015

Review: Tame Impala, 'Currents'

Tame Impala's new album, Currents, comes out July 17.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon July 20, 2015 10:42 am

Tame Impala's Kevin Parker is a relentless tinkerer: His songs have an impeccable, fussed-over quality, to the point where fussy impeccability could easily seem like the sum total of his mission. Sounding great and being great are two vastly different features in the ever-subjective world of rock 'n' roll, after all, and yet the Australian band's best songs have found ways to check both boxes.

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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri July 3, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour No. 250: 'Magic Mike XXL' And 'Catastrophe'

Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike XXL.
Claudette Barius Warner Brothers

Just a little less than five years ago, Linda Holmes and I decided to book a studio after-hours and record what we'd call "an audio experiment" — a roundtable discussion of pop culture with the two of us and our pals Trey Graham and Glen Weldon, produced by the essential Mike Katzif. By the time the first recording was complete, we'd decided to come back every week, even though our budget was zero and we'd never asked our bosses for permission.

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Songs We Love
9:03 am
Wed July 1, 2015

Song Premiere: Mimicking Birds, 'Dead Weight'

Mimicking Birds.
Ben Moon Courtesy of the artist

For years, Nate Lacy's Mimicking Birds project has been linked to his friends and colleagues in Modest Mouse. That band's singer, Isaac Brock, released both of Mimicking Birds' terrific studio albums on his Glacial Pace label, and both groups are scheduled to tour together in August.

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All Songs TV
9:41 am
Tue June 30, 2015

First Watch: Glen Hansard, 'Winning Streak'

Glen Hansard.
Danny Clinch Courtesy of the artist

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All Songs TV
7:35 pm
Fri June 26, 2015

Kacey Musgraves Sings One For Marriage Equality

Kacey Musgraves ends her Tiny Desk Concert with "Follow Your Arrow" in honor of the same-sex marriage ruling.
Lydia Thompson NPR

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 8:54 pm

Country singer Kacey Musgraves opened this Friday's Tiny Desk Concert with four charming songs from her new album, Pageant Material, which we'll post online soon. But she couldn't possibly skip "Follow Your Arrow" on the very day the Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun June 14, 2015

Review: Bully, 'Feels Like'

Bully's new album, Feels Like, comes out June 23.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:04 pm

Alicia Bognanno isn't one for wasted motion: The indefatigable lead singer of Nashville's Bully crafts her songs for maximum impact in minimal time, taking care never to overstay her welcome or overdress her arrangements. Feels Like, the Nashville band's effervescent debut, speeds by in about half an hour, having left behind a trail of two- and three-minute songs that stick in the brain for ages.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat June 13, 2015

The Good Listener: Will We Remember Today's Pop Stars In 50 Years?

Will we remember Taylor Swift in 20 years? Well, we've already remembered her for at least nine...
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the mail-order grapefruits that have us pondering the nature of the mail-order-grapefruit business is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on pop music's staying power.

Steven F. writes via Facebook: "Which current music stars will be remembered 20 or 50 years from now, which will be forgotten, and why?"

There are so many quick-twitch responses to this question — and virtually all of them are, at least on some level, wrong.

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All Songs Considered
12:03 am
Tue June 9, 2015

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach Announces New Album With The Arcs

Dan Auerbach of The Arcs.
Alysse Gafkjen Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 9, 2015 9:36 am

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun June 7, 2015

Review: Walk Off The Earth, 'Sing It All Away'

Walk Off The Earth's new album, Sing It All Away, comes out June 16.
Jiro Schneider Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:11 pm

The Canadian pop band Walk Off The Earth has followed a thoroughly modern path to success, starting with the way it broke through on the strength of adorable YouTube covers ("Somebody That I Used To Know" has 165 million views and counting) and continuing through its approach to its own compositions.

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All Songs TV
9:03 am
Tue June 2, 2015

First Watch: Metric, 'Cascades'

YouTube/Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 12:40 pm

(Note: If you have photosensitive epilepsy, this video features strobe effects.)

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat May 30, 2015

The Good Listener: Why Do Amusement Parks Still Crank Songs From The '80s?

What's a ferris-wheel ride without the sweet sounds of REO Speedwagon?
Uglinica iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the weekly magazine that seems to show up at least four times per week is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on the playlists at amusement parks.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 24, 2015

Review: SOAK, 'Before We Forgot How To Dream'

SOAK's debut album, Before We Forgot How To Dream, comes out June 2.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:25 pm

The first words Bridie Monds-Watson sings on her debut album double as a tidy thesis statement: "A teenage heart is an unguided dart." The Irish singer-songwriter, who records under the name SOAK, made Before We Forgot How To Dream while she was still 18 — some of these songs date back to her early teens — so she knows whereof she speaks.

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Monkey See
12:54 pm
Fri May 22, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: For 'Mad Men' And Letterman, A Week Of Goodbyes

Jon Hamm as Don Draper.
Michael Yarish AMC

This week's taping presented us with a few conundrums: Host Linda Holmes had already begun her vacation, while I know jack-all about the seven accumulated seasons of Mad Men, whose finale we were duty-bound to discuss. Our solution involved a pair of our most beloved guest panelists — Gene Demby and, from a studio in L.A., Barrie Hardymon — and a brief interregnum in poor Linda's vacation. (I stayed home and ate snacks.)

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat May 16, 2015

The Good Listener: Can I Deflate The Beach Balls At Concerts?

One letter-writer's nightmare scenario.
Shaun Lowe iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the package shipped Next Day Air but addressed to the guy who moved out of our house eight years ago is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: deep thoughts on beach balls at concerts.

Margaret H.W. writes via email: "Why do music festivals seem to hand out beach balls to drunk, high 19-year-olds? If I would like to listen to music WITHOUT beach balls, what are my anti-beach-ball options? CAN I DEFLATE THE BEACH BALLS?

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