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.

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

For Tunde Olaniran, art is about big ambitions, bigger ideas and the relentless pursuit of joy and comfort within his own skin. The Flint, Mich., native's bold and wildly dynamic 2015 debut Transgressor announced him as a playful multi-hyphenate provocateur who sings, raps, writes and choreographs from a vast well of creativity.

We don't always delve into music on Pop Culture Happy Hour, but this year's South By Southwest music festival gave us a nice opportunity to spread around a few recommendations. I'm already renowned for never shutting up about the six-hour playlist NPR Music calls The Austin 100 — which, it turns out, you can still stream and download in its entirety until March 31 — but what we've got here is a slightly more digestible discussion of 2018's SXSW highlights.

In the run-up to SXSW 2015, the All Songs Considered team could agree on one pop jam to rule them all: Genevieve's "Colors." Sometimes billed as "Show Your Colors," the song has popped up in commercials and landed the singer at the Tiny Desk, where curmudgeonly pop skeptic Bob Boilen couldn't help but marvel at how thoroughly he'd been won over.

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


Every band needs to refresh and reconsider its sound sooner or later, no matter how sharp it's gotten over the course of a long career. Creative stagnation comes for us all — even The Decemberists, a band whose records have always come bursting with verve and verbosity.

Sampling the thousands of bands playing South By Southwest each year is like trying to take a sip from a tidal wave: It's hard to find an entry point, and you're more than likely going to wind up flattened.

Next week, the annual music festival kicks off in Austin, Texas, so All Things Considered weekend host Michel Martin requested a digestible primer — five songs by artists worth hearing this year.

Last year, NPR Music and NPR member stations across the country launched a new series called Slingshot designed to boost the careers of up-and-coming public radio favorites. Since the beginning of 2018, 22 new Slingshot artists have been announced. Many of them are about to head to Austin, Texas, for next week's South By Southwest Music Festival. To preview the big event, here are a few artist recommendations from the Slingshot series.

Look, it's gonna be a tough week. Maybe you stayed up late watching the Oscars and you're already underslept; maybe there's a lot going on at work right now; and certainly, if nothing else, whatever transpires in the news will accumulate so quickly, you won't believe that only four days have passed by the time we get to Friday.

The Austin 100

Mar 1, 2018

In the middle of every March, the SXSW Music Festival fills Austin, Texas, with thousands of musicians from around the world. It's a marathon so daunting — it's a marathon and a sprint, really — that even longtime SXSW veterans need a hand winnowing the festival's countless discoveries down to digestible doses.

That's where The Austin 100 comes in. Handpicked from thousands of bands playing at this year's festival, these 100 songs highlight the best SXSW 2018 has to offer — songs from around the world, across a broad spectrum of genres, sounds and styles.

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

Haley Heynderickx's songs have a way of sneaking up on you: They start out spare, animated by a lone voice or a subtly snaky guitar line, only to billow out into something strange, beautiful, bracingly intense or some combination thereof.

The trajectory of the night said it all. The 60th Grammy Awards opened Sunday with the promise of an explosive performance by apparent frontrunner Kendrick Lamar, punctuated by superstar cameos (U2, Dave Chappelle) and a heady cocktail of grit and visual imagination. The show closed with the completion of the least exciting possible sweep, as Bruno Mars — a gamely appealing pop star whose funky but lightweight jams peppered radio playlists all year — won Album Of The Year (for 24K Magic), Record Of The Year (for "24K Magic") and Song Of The Year (for "That's What I Like").

The Grammy Awards have many roles to play in the cultural conversation. Above all, they're a music-industry showcase and infomercial, stuffed with three and a half hours of live performances meant to spark social-media conversation — and, by extension, sales, streams and TV ratings. But they also function as a way to crown what you might call ambassadors: marketable standard-bearers the industry sees as its faces and future. Each year, the Grammys provide a window into how the music business wishes to see itself, which in turn makes each telecast a surprisingly useful snapshot.

Every year around this time, many of us on the All Songs Considered team — including Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and me — each dredge through nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in search of great new discoveries. And every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of acts, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

When The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won two Golden Globes a few weekends back — one for Best Musical or Comedy TV Series and one for its star, Rachel Brosnahan — it helped transform a word-of-mouth sleeper hit into a something closer to a phenomenon. So it only made sense to discuss the show in depth.

When The Decemberists release I'll Be Your Girl on March 16, it'll be the band's eighth album — part of a 17-year career that's taken listeners through everything from wry folk to ambitious rock opera. If I'll Be Your Girl's first single is any indication, Colin Meloy and his band have used their new record as an opportunity to try new things and hit a few reset buttons along the way.

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

The last time bandleader Kim Deal, her sister Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson got together to make a record, they recorded The Breeders' 1993 classic Last Splash, a wiry and infectious burst of sly invention and shambling joy. On March 2, at long last, that lineup returns with All Nerve, the first full-length Breeders album with any lineup since 2008.

[Note: In this discussion, I refer to Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2 as the third-highest-grossing movie of 2017, after Beauty And The Beast and Wonder Woman. We recorded this episode before the holidays, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi has since surpassed all three.]

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tom Petty wrote a lot of hits during his more than 40 years making music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN GIRL")

TOM PETTY: (Singing) Well, she was an American girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFUGEE")

We've been recording Tiny Desk concerts for nearly a decade, and in that time, a few artists have come back for encores — folks like Wilco, Chris Thile and the inspiration for the series, Laura Gibson. One band, The Oh Hellos, came back after a year to favor us with a holiday set. But we've never, until now, asked anyone to return later the same day.

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