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 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.



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.



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:

When Linda Holmes announced that she'd miss this week's Pop Culture Happy Hour for a much-needed vacation, we all knew the real reason: She was holing up to read Arnold Schwarzenegger's new memoir, Total Recall, without the petty distractions of day-to-day life.

Half of the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew is scattered to the four winds — if, by "the four winds," you mean "an assortment of movie theaters in Toronto" — but before parting ways, the old gang met up to discuss a question that's been vexing me. What are the tipping points, I vex, that push various forms of entertainment over the line between "long enough" and "too long"?

We've reached that point in the summertime when our usual Pop Culture Happy Hour crew has shrunk to nearly nothing: Host Linda Holmes is still at the Television Critics Association press tour, Trey Graham is attending a journalism convention in Las Vegas, and producer Mike Katzif is gazing down on us a la Simba's dad in The Lion King. This leaves us with a reconstituted but still formidable crew, in which Glen Weldon and I are joined by Tanya Ballard Brown, Matt Thompson and producer Jess Gitner.

Our intrepid host, Linda Holmes, is wrapping up her self-imposed isolation in the mountains of North Carolina, so the rest of the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was forced to soldier on without her for one harrowing episode. And, given that we just did a No Boys Allowed episode two weeks ago, we figured we'd fill the room with dudes — you know, men's men.