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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.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is about to embark on a West Coast tour. San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles are sold out — though we recently added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Portland on Oct. 19 with our dear pal Audie Cornish.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles are sold out — though we recently added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Portland on Oct. 19 with our dear pal Audie Cornish.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! San Francisco and Los Angeles are already sold out — though we've just added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Seattle on Oct. 17 and Portland on Oct.

[In case you haven't heard, a big announcement: Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! We'll be in Seattle on Oct. 17 (with Audie Cornish), Portland on Oct. 19 (also with Audie Cornish), San Francisco on Oct. 21 (with Mallory Ortberg), and Los Angeles on Oct. 23 (with Kumail Nanjiani). For ticket information, click here — and remember that all four shows go on sale Tuesday, Sept. 6, at noon Pacific Time.

Summer has a way of sending the Pop Culture Happy Hour team hurtling across the country, so this episode required a bit of logistical maneuvering: We actually recorded it several weeks ago, just as Linda Holmes and I were about to jet off on separate West Coast jaunts. Glen Weldon wasn't yet back from Comic-Con, the rest of us aren't in Historic Studio 44... everything's topsy-turvy!

In honor of MTV's 35th birthday Monday, the network has launched MTV Classic, a new channel featuring programming from the '90s and '00s. On the same day, we also wish a happy birthday to NPR Music and Pop Culture Happy Hour's Stephen Thompson, who celebrates with an interview on All Things Considered about how MTV Classic is redefining which popular culture fits into the current environment for nostalgia.

We've reached the part of every summer when the PCHH gang begins to scatter to the four winds. Linda Holmes, for example, recorded this week's episode the day before leaving for the Television Critics Association's two-and-a-half-week Press Tour, while Glen was still home recuperating from the ever-exhausting San Diego Comic-Con. So it only makes sense that this week's panel is itself scattered, albeit to only three winds: Linda and I were in D.C., while our producer emeritus and music director, Mike Katzif, was in a New York studio — and intrepid Margaret H.

It's been a while since Code Switch correspondent Gene Demby and I gathered in a studio to talk sports for the Pop Culture Happy Hour spinoff we call The Giant Foam Finger. But the stars aligned perfectly this week – thanks, in large part, to the Golden State Warriors' July 4 signing of superstar small forward Kevin Durant, which has led to prolific hand-wringing about the short-term future of pro basketball.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pop Culture Happy Hour entered this week juggling a couple of problems. For one, a gigantic blizzard had just dumped roughly two feet of snow on the D.C. area, making transportation virtually impossible and, it turns out, stranding Glen Weldon in a Virginia cabin for much of the week. Getting the gang together would be no easy task.

A few months ago, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby turned to Twitter in an attempt to crowd-source a solution to a problem he'd been having. Gene had begun watching Premier League soccer but couldn't settle on a rooting interest, so he asked the league's fans to convince him to root for one team or another.

Baseball is a game of ritual and routine, and traditions aren't adopted lightly. But in the past 20 or so years, major-league stadiums have adopted a system in which each home-team batter takes the plate to his own theme song — usually a piece of popular music announcing his arrival. It's often something brawny and massive, like "Welcome To The Jungle" or the Game Of Thrones theme or any number of Metallica songs, or swaggering, like Aloe Blacc's "I'm The Man." But sometimes, the players throw... well, curveballs.

When Gene Demby and I were planning this week's sports discussion, we didn't say, "We should sit down Monday to discuss the U.S. Open." We'd planned to discuss Serena Williams, the most dominant player in women's tennis, who was expected to complete a rare Grand Slam in Saturday's final. (To win a Grand Slam, a player must win the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in a single calendar year. The last woman to accomplish the feat was Steffi Graf in 1988, though Williams had technically won all four majors in a row leading up to this year's U.S. Open.)

Last week, when Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and I gathered to talk about the great summer entertainment we'd neglected to discuss on the show, we came to a realization mid-taping: All three of us had been watching, and loving, the USA Network series Mr. Robot, which aired the last episode of its first season Wednesday night. (It's already been renewed for a second season.)

The weekend before last, a pro athlete by the name of James Harrison announced on Instagram that he'd returned the participation trophies his kids had received for playing youth sports, writing, "While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy." This has, in turn, spawned a flurry of defenses and condemnations, including Albert Burneko's

In the first two episodes of The Giant Foam Finger — a new, sports-themed offshoot of Pop Culture Happy Hour — NPR Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I have discussed one play in a decade-old NFL game, and we've tackled the phenomenon of fan hatred.

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.

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.

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.

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.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the gigantic bottle of Marmite we probably shouldn't have ordered on a late-night whim is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on getting your parents into your favorite music.

Erik writes via Facebook: "How do you get your parents to respect the music of today?"

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.

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)

At 34, John Legend has sold millions of records, won nine Grammys, collaborated with many of the biggest stars in music (Jay-Z, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, The Roots, et al), and achieved the kind of statesmanlike musical-ambassador status usually afforded to artists twice his age.

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.

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