Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him 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. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)

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 NPR programs such as Weekend Edition, 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 girlfriend, his daughter, their three cats and a room full of vintage arcade machines. (He also has a large adult son who has headed off to college but still calls once in a while.) Thompson's 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 (who returned the favor by making a 22-minute documentary about his life) and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

It's tempting, when assessing great creative works, to funnel all credit to a lone genius — a writer, a singer, a director, an artist, or a name that sits atop a marquee. It's so much easier to be spared the task of teasing out greatness from an interconnected web of contributors, partners, helpers, teachers and organizers. We can accept a songwriting credit that reads "Lennon-McCartney," but our icons — our geniuses, our auteurs — more often stand alone, lest their stars seem diminished.

You can stream this playlist via Spotify or Apple Music.

Every year, NPR's Stephen Thompson compiles The Austin 100 — a playlist of his favorite artist discoveries ahead of the SXSW Music Festival. Though this year's festival was canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus, The Austin 100 will still publish on Monday, the day the music performances were supposed to begin. NPR's Renee Montagne spoke to Stephen Thompson about a few of the artists featured in this year's roundup.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Billie Eilish, at just 18 years old, is already one of the world's biggest pop stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD GUY")

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 35th annual class of inductees, honoring six musical acts — Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G. and T-Rex — as well as veteran rock journalist, producer and artist manager Jon Landau.

The inducted musicians were chosen from a ballot of 16 finalists, which meant fans of Pat Benatar, Dave Matthews Band, Judas Priest, Kraftwerk, MC5, Motörhead, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Todd Rundgren, Soundgarden and Thin Lizzy will have to wait at least another year for Rock Hall validation.

Even though 2019 just ended, we're already looking ahead to the albums scheduled to come out in the first half of 2020. From Moses Sumney's upcoming double album to a folk supergroup starring two of the minds behind Hadestown and Fruit Bats, here are some albums we can't wait to hear in 2020.

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In the fall of 1991, I was volunteering as a college-radio music director at the University of Wisconsin in Madison when I started telling everyone I knew about

It's no longer uncommon for pop songs to experience a slow rise to the top of the pop charts. Just this year, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" followed a long and remix-strewn path to 19 weeks at No. 1, while Lizzo experienced huge hits with songs originally released in 2017 ("Truth Hurts") and 2016 ("Good As Hell").

This week's Saturday Night Live asked a lot of Harry Styles, as it brought the former One Direction star onboard to serve as both its host and its musical guest.

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In 1984, Chaka Khan enjoyed a career-revitalizing smash with "I Feel

Those of us who've dreamed of a Super Bowl halftime show with Lizzo since at least 2017 will just have to wait a while longer. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Thursday that Super Bowl LIV's halftime show will feature Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — an appropriate pairing for a host city, Miami, known for its rich history with and connection to Latin music.

On this early Tuesday morning, we sit facing a yawning precipice: the longest possible stretch of time in which no one is called upon to watch MTV's Video Music Awards. Bask in the sweet, creamy silence of it all. We've earned it!

Note: With hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton away this week, we've got an encore presentation of The Worst Songs Of All Time, from Feb. 2014.


Guitarist, actor, writer (and former Monitor Mix blogger) Carrie Brownstein joins us, along with NPR Music's Stephen Thompson, to do something we don't normally do: Talk about the songs we really, really don't like.

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Lil Nas X's inescapable, genre-obliterating pop/hip-hop/country smash "Old Town Road" has been No.

In 1985, a team of country-music legends formed The Highwaymen, a supergroup combining the talents of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

Last month, Bon Iver released a pair of new songs — "Hey Ma" and "U (Man Like)" — with little context to surround them.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, have you picked your song of the summer?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESPACITO")

LUIS FONSI: (Singing in Spanish)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA GURLS")

KATY PERRY: (Singing) California girls, we're unforgettable...

Radiohead's Thom Yorke released his third official solo album, ANIMA, early Thursday morning, along with a short companion film featuring three tracks from the album.

Most aspiring pop stars dream of one day churning out "the Song of the Summer" — that one inescapable jam that blows up every hot-weather radio playlist, beach party, car stereo and YouTube binge. Some of them may be frothy, seemingly disposable pop confections, but there's a certain permanence to Song of the Summer status; once you've reached that milestone, you're forever embedded in the memories of summertime revelers the world over. (Want proof?

Saturday Night Live's 44th season ended over the weekend with the help of host Paul Rudd and musical guest DJ Khaled, who brought with him an all-star cast that included J Balvin, John Legend and SZA.

If you're going to bring the Korean boy band BTS to the spot where The Beatles conquered American TV back in 1964, you might as well milk it for all it's worth. Welcome to BTSmania, courtesy of Stephen Colbert.

Our shortlist of the best new albums out this week includes a deeply moving celebration of African American culture and history from the singer Jamila Woods, the sparkling, soul-searching guitar rock of Charly Bliss, composer Holly Herndon's brilliant collaboration with the AI known as "Spawn" and more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson as they share their picks for the best new albums out on May 10.

Featured Albums:

  1. Charly Bliss: Young Enough
    Featured Song: "Hard to Believe"

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If you've spent any time with pop radio in recent years, you know that Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber have inundated the world with hits that, for whatever reason, will. Not. Go. Away.

The music of Mountain Man revolves around three gorgeous voices that combine and harmonize in wonderful ways.

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A multilingual K-pop juggernaut, BTS mashes up pop, hip-hop, rock and dance music with huge, infectious energy and kinetic choreography.

When singer Norah Jones dropped her much-beloved debut album Come Away With Me in 2002, she won over legions of fans with her soul-soothing croon and blend of jazzy pop and bluesy folk. In more recent years she's explored a much deeper and sometimes darker sonic landscape. You can hear this remarkable range on her latest album, Begin Again, an inspired and often moody collection of songs she wrote and recorded with a number of collaborators, including Jeff Tweedy and Thomas Bartlett.

We open this week's New Music Friday with a quick spin of Love Keeps Kicking from the self-described queer, straight edge, vegan, anarchist punk band Martha. One of the week's best guitar rock albums, it's bursting with hooky melodies and memorable meditations on (among other things) the end of times.

These days, a six-year gap between albums practically qualifies as a hiatus. In the case of Vampire Weekend, it's been enough time to experience a 2014 Grammy win, a significant departure (Rostam Batmanglij left in 2016), a major-label deal, years of touring and a long, deliberately paced lead-up to Father of the Bride, out May 3.

It's a packed release week with a whole bunch of notable albums to highlight, including the rock guitar heroics on Ex Hex's It's Real, the wistful wisdom of Jenny Lewis, Andrew Bird's "finest work yet," mind-blowing sonics from the genre-bending composers Emily Wells and Lafawndah, the German electronic artist Apparat and much more. Hosts Robin Hilton and Stephen Thompson share their top picks for the best albums out on March 22 on this episode of New Music Friday.

Featured Albums:

John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He's performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music's Tiny Desk Family Hour, a nearly four-hour marathon of concerts in miniature, held at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW on Tuesday night. The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting.

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