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.

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.)

Last Friday, Netflix dropped its latest 13-episode bundle of original programming: the grim and occasionally grisly superhero drama Daredevil, based on the Marvel Comics mainstay of the same name. Starring Charlie Cox and a large supporting cast, the show takes place in a bleak New York City neighborhood that's ruled by a murderous crime syndicate and defended by blind lawyer Matt Murdock, whose other heightened senses make him an oft-overmatched but extremely resourceful crime-fighter.

Stan Freberg, who died Tuesday at 88, was a pioneer in music, comedy and advertising. His resume is peppered with firsts and lasts: He was the last radio-only network variety-show host, the first pop-music satirist (Spike Jones had made song parodies, but Freberg's works commented on the performance styles and the culture surrounding them), and a visionary in the art of incorporating humor into TV and radio commercials.

If you've listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour in the last, say, 12 weeks, you've probably heard me moan about some element of my pre-SXSW workload. So it seemed only fair to indulge in a little discussion of what this year's festival was actually like, complete with scads of music recommendations.

[This piece assumes you've seen the first five seasons of Archer, which contain quite the pileup of plot developments, so: beware.]

Anna Todd recently signed a six-figure book deal with a Simon & Schuster imprint for her One Direction-themed erotic fan fiction. That sentence will have many different meanings for different people, but consider this: The cover of Todd's book After boasts that the online work from which it's drawn has been viewed a billion times via a service called Wattpad.

In terms of sheer commercial heft, the release of Taylor Swift's 1989 is one of the stories of the year in music: Its first-week sales are expected to outstrip those of any album since Swift's last record, Red, in 2012. For the 24-year-old singer-songwriter, 1989 completes her transformation from country stardom to pop stardom; it's full of massively radio-friendly, synth-driven songs that are virtually guaranteed chart-topping ubiquity in the months and years to come.

With Linda Holmes on vacation during this week's taping, we turn to a pair of dear familiar faces in Code Switch's Gene Demby and Kat Chow. As race and culture bloggers for NPR, they've got a few opinions about our first topic this week: the film Dear White People, which satirizes black campus life at a fictional Ivy League university.

About half a second after this episode taped, intrepid Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes commenced a long-awaited, much-ballyhooed vacation. I can't say for sure that her car wasn't warming up in the NPR parking garage the entire time, but I can confirm the presence of a Linda Holmes-shaped vapor trail following the words, "back here next week."

If you've followed the history of Pop Culture Happy Hour live shows, you know that they have a history of selling out quickly. Our last D.C. appearance, at NPR's Studio 1, sold out in two minutes, while our New York debut, at Brooklyn's Bell House, sold out in 10 seconds. I say this not to brag — heaven forfend! — but to acknowledge that we haven't done a great job making our live tapings available to everyone who wishes to attend.

With the ever-intrepid Linda Holmes attending the Toronto International Film Festival — more on that next week — Glen Weldon and I get to welcome our Code Switch pals Kat Chow and Gene Demby to this week's show.

As you no doubt know if you've consulted a media source at any point in the last few weeks, the Fox-owned FXX channel recently completed a 12-day marathon containing every Simpsons episode yet made. Regardless of the marathon's value or newsworthiness — which our panel discusses and debates here — it sparks in us a larger conversation about the repurposing of old content.

In San Diego or its sprawling surrounding area? Come to the East Plaza Gazebo in Seaport Village (between Village Cafe and Ben & Jerry's) on Saturday morning, any time between 9 and noon PT, to hang out with the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang! It's just an informal meet-and-greet — we wanted a chance to hang out with folks in the area who couldn't get tickets to the San Diego Comic-Con that week — but we'd love to see anyone who's able to swing by.

It seems like it's been about 200 weeks since we started hyping the 200th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, and it's finally here. This is the second hour of our June 24 live show in NPR's Studio 1, and it's got a bit of everything — but first, a few announcements.

We haven't even gotten to Episode 200 of Pop Culture Happy Hour — that's running next week, when we present the second part of this June 24 live show — and we've already got a special announcement about our next live appearance. On July 24 at 2 p.m. PT, Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and I will storm the San Diego Comic Con for a live panel discussion with a special guest: my dear mother, Maggie Thompson.

With Glen Weldon tweeting from the various paradises of Barcelona, this week's Pop Culture Happy Hour calls on the services of two familiar Code Switch pals — Kat Chow and Gene Demby — to discuss the eternal recycling of unlikely pop-culture franchises. We use the July return of Sailor Moon as an excuse to talk about everything from Girl Meets World to Hocus Pocus, George of the Jungle, Newsies, Transformers and more.

How intrepid is Pop Culture Happy Hour's intrepid Linda Holmes? So intrepid that, when she goes on vacation in February, she heads to even-colder climes, braving the snow-swept Alcatraz that is northern Minnesota. This, of course, left the rest of us to pick up the pieces — which we did, thanks to the arrival of our dear Code Switch pal Kat Chow.

This isn't our first live episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour: Almost exactly a year earlier, we recorded a show in an abandoned bank during an NPR merchandise sale. But this one, recorded Dec. 10 at NPR's Studio One, is the first live show we've recorded on an official studio soundstage, complete with a seated crowd, food and drink for sale, and tickets that had to be purchased in advance.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At NPR Music, they're wrapping up the year the best way they know how, with their hotly contested list of their 50 favorite albums of 2013. Now, all this week, we'll get a peak of that list from our in-house experts, including NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, whose beat is the ever amorphous indie pop, which - Stephen, what exactly is that these days?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I have absolutely no idea. It used to mean accessible but unpopular.

CORNISH: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

With intrepid host Linda Holmes trapped in the air-conditioned movie theaters of Toronto, the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang was forced to reconstitute itself yet again for this week's episode — this time with our old pal Tanya Ballard Brown, who returns via the power of popular demand. You talk, we listen, people.

As summer was giving way to fall, preseason football was giving way to actual football, and Linda Holmes' week was giving way to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang managed to gather just long enough to look back on a divisive summer full of big, loud, robot-on-robot movies. Our own postmortem can't help but skim past other postmortems — was Man of Steel a hit or a flop?

Just a few weeks ago, when Linda Holmes was out of town, we decided to extend the opportunity for a scrappy newcomer named Audie Cornish to get a bit of much-needed NPR airtime. Today? She's one of the hosts of All Things Considered. (Okay, she was one of the hosts of All Things Considered before we put her on Pop Culture Happy Hour, but stick around. I'm going somewhere with this.)

For one more week, our host and pal Linda Holmes has been roaming the desolate plains of Los Angeles at the Television Critics Association press tour, with only catered lunches and lavishly appointed meet-and-greets to provide sustenance.

So the rest of the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang must soldier on in her absence, with the aid of a scrappy young newcomer who'd been waiting for her big break in front of a microphone: All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish. We predict big things for Audie at NPR!

It's our 150th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — in case you want to visit the "Sesquicentennials" section of your local greeting-card store — and we've celebrated by scattering to the four winds. Host Linda Holmes is still in Los Angeles at the Television Critics Association press tour, while Trey Graham missed this week's taping for daring to visit out-of-town family.

We recorded this week's episode during the brief interregnum between the end of Glen Weldon's trip to the San Diego Comic Con and the beginning of Linda Holmes' two weeks at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles. So it seemed a perfect time to mine the two events for inspiration.

With host Linda Holmes taking the week off to focus on suffering and nose-blowing, we needed only to ask our beloved producer Jess Gitner into the room with us to complete a full Pop Culture Happy Hour lineup. (In historic Studio 44, Jess is usually sealed in an adjacent room, where she watches us through glass the way one might observe a cage of unruly chimps at the zoo.)

Listen to Stephen Thompson's conversation with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered by clicking the audio link.


The South by Southwest music festival kicked off Tuesday with the first of five straight nights of music overload: The clubs, makeshift music venues and front porches of Austin, Texas, were overrun with little-known discoveries-in-waiting and big names alike, as well as tens of thousands of fans who have flocked to the city in search of epiphanies.

With the conclusion of Sunday night's ceremony, Linda Holmes and I have now live-blogged fully one-eleventh of the Grammy Awards' 55 annual incarnations. Below is our original post and an archived live blog of the telecast:

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