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, his girlfriend, their 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.

This is our 300th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — not counting Small Batch editions, which would drive the number significantly higher — so now's as good a time as any to thank everyone who's listened, supported us both within and outside NPR, and/or appeared on the show itself. We're feeling awfully appreciative that we've been allowed to stick around this long.

Haley Bonar's songs marry fizzy arrangements to cuttingly quotable observations about love, disappointment, identity and the curdling of youth. Her new album, Impossible Dream, finds the underrated Minnesotan in top form, mixing darkness and light with a deft touch.

Welcome, friends, to a discussion featuring four of the only people in America to see Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping in theaters last weekend. Though the movie wasn't a box-office hit, to put it lightly, we whip up an extraordinary amount of affection for The Lonely Island's goofy comedy — a lightweight but joke-dense look at "Conner4Real," a vaguely Bieber-esque singer and rapper (Andy Samberg) who used to belong to a boy band called the Style Boyz with Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop visited NPR's offices on what may well be 2016's most beautiful day so far: perfectly warm and sunny, uncharacteristically dry, and perfect for lounging happily on the roof deck just around the corner from the Tiny Desk. Hoop and Beam did just that, hanging out amiably for hours after their show ended, as part of one of the most comfortable and relaxing days in the history of NPR Music.

It's been nearly five years since the charming Portland folk-pop band Blind Pilot released its second and most recent album, We Are The Tide, and that record's roiling title track has only recently begun popping up in beer commercials. Given that the band used to tour up and down the West Coast via bicycle, it should come as no surprise that Blind Pilot is accustomed to taking its time.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

It's easy to forget that The Monkees' original run as a band lasted only from 1965 to 1971, a stretch that included a short-lived but much-loved sitcom and a string of bestselling albums. For later generations — especially the ones who came of age amid endlessly repurposed reruns on MTV and Nickelodeon in the late '80s — The Monkees' music has been reborn in reunion tours and on occasional albums, even as the group itself has dealt with internal strife and the 2012 death of Davy Jones.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Just as the winter holiday season seems to arrive sooner and sooner every year, so goes the season for summer movie blockbusters. When Batman V. Superman came out in late March, it felt like the equivalent of picking out your Halloween costumes at a store that's already hawking tinsel. A few years ago, the first weekend in May became the de facto launch of summer-movie season — itself a move up from Memorial Day Weekend a while back — but this year has been different.

When Linda Holmes and I jumped in to the studio to record this Pop Culture Happy Hour Small Batch on Thursday afternoon, news of Prince Rogers Nelson's death was less than an hour old. So if we seem a little numb in spots, well, there's a reason for that.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Last fall in New York City, NPR Music recorded a blistering concert by Palehound, in which singer, songwriter and guitarist Ellen Kempner presided over a string of tense and evocative songs about overcoming doubt and, when necessary, spitting venom.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Quick announcement, before we get started: During the month of April, Pop Culture Happy Hour will be available a day early, exclusively in the NPR One app. Nothing else will change; the show will otherwise appear in your feeds and on this site first thing Friday morning. But for those who use NPR One, or who've been thinking about trying it, you'll get a little head start.

Charles Bradley took the stage at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, Wednesday night, clad in an amazing, rhinestone-bedecked jacket that made his cuffs and collar sparkle like diamonds. Not for nothing is he known as "the screaming eagle of soul."

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


In concert, Andrew Bird attracts intense adulation — screaming fans, mass sing-alongs, the whole bit — but his records have grown subtler over time. Always a thoughtful songwriter, prone to impeccably chosen words and pristine arrangements, Bird has still found a way to mature and open up in a long career that spans more than a dozen studio albums.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Every year, the SXSW Music Festival features thousands of artists from around the world. And every year, The Austin 100 winnows them down to an even hundred discoveries and highlights across genres. Each song on the list is streamable through NPR Music's gorgeous Austin 100 app until March 31, 2017.

At the end of a grueling Academy Awards race, we at Pop Culture Happy Hour like to unwind with a good, long talk we call our "Oscars Omnibus" — a roundup of our thoughts on all the Best Picture nominees, notable acting nominees, and issues and themes surrounding the prior year in movies. This year gave us plenty to chew on, as you can imagine, and as you can hear for yourself on this page.

Sometime tomorrow, Linda Holmes and I will break down Monday night's Grammys telecast in a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour. And, for a variety of reasons, we're not likely to spend much time on the awards themselves.

Finding a songwriting voice takes time — and then there's the process of pinpointing the best way to send that voice hurtling through speakers. Palehound's Ellen Kempner has long had the words: scathing and evocative, certain even when swimming in an ocean of doubt. And with every live show, she's finding surer and surer footing as the central force in a band that marries rock muscle to bedroom folk's wiry vulnerability.

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