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.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

When Jason Molina died in 2013, the 39-year-old singer-songwriter left behind a mountain of works: wrenching solo albums, released under his own name and as Songs: Ohia, as well as louder electric recordings with his band Magnolia Electric Co. In 2007, Molina had amassed such a backlog of unreleased songs that he by

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

Cue the Hamilton quotes: Soon the room where it happens will be your living room! Shout it to the rooftops that the Broadway sensation Hamilton will be available for home viewing this summer! Look around, look around to see how lucky we are to be alive in a world where Hamilton is coming to Disney+ on July 3, more than 15 months ahead of schedule!

We're roughly two months into a collective crisis that's kept us sheltered in place, cut off from friends and fearful for the future of our health, our families and our economic well-being. Our emotions frequently form a thick slurry of anxiety, worry, boredom, rage and desperate desire for threads of normalcy; for moments of mundanity; for the calming comfort of the familiar.

Back in the Before-Times, when Tiny Desk concerts were held in front of gatherings of people — "crowds," we called them — we'd remind everyone in attendance to silence their cell phones. When the music was loud enough, it didn't matter if people followed instructions. But when Daughter of Swords came to grace us with a few hushed folk songs, the music was so eerily still, you could have heard a phone vibrate.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected musicians around the world. Many have had to cancel tours, delay album releases and find new sources of income. But some artists have found inspiration in the virus.

YouTube

Bon Iver's recent music has been intricately crafted enough that it's bound to roll out sparingly: The gaps between all four

In this era of social distancing, few celebrities have carved out a social media presence as appealing as those of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski. They're married, so they get to share their isolation — and they've been filling the time with a kindhearted weekly YouTube show they call Some Good News.

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.

Adam Schlesinger, one of the most prolific and decorated songwriters of his generation, died Wednesday from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 52.

His death was confirmed to NPR by his lawyer, Josh Grier.

YouTube

Conor Oberst has kept busy since the last Bright Eyes rec

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: Born in Colombia and based in L.A., singer-songwriter Andrea Silva records beautiful, bittersweet songs under the name Loyal Lobos. In "Criminals," a tribute to platonic friendship that frequently recalls Phoebe Bridgers, Silva proves enormously adept at dreamy, languid balladry. Even when crisp, gorgeous guitars dominate the mix, it's hard not to hang on her every word.

Hometown: Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: With its gritty riffs and fiery rhetoric — one new single is called "People Don't Protest Enough" — Catholic Action ought to sound deadly serious, even strident. But there's a sense of play to the Scottish band's sound: "One of Us" may churn and grind, but it's also tossing fistfuls of glitter into the mix. Throughout the forthcoming Celebrated by Strangers, aggression and joy coexist comfortably.

Hometown: Perth, Australia

Genre: Folk Pop

Why We're Excited: An Australian singer-songwriter with a gift for deadpan observation and deftly deployed guitar licks, Carla Geneve sneaks up on you: Her songs can feel like overheard conversations, but also she's got a keen instinct for just when and how to crank up the dramatic tension. She's only just released her debut EP, and Geneve has already locked down a pitch-perfect mix of booming peaks and seething near-silences.

Hometown: Diyarbakir, Turkey

Genre: Global

Why We're Excited: A Kurdish musician who's performed at hundreds of weddings in Turkey, Tufan Derince now spreads collaborative and celebratory music from his new home base in the Netherlands. Derince plays a stringed instrument called an elektrobağlama — think of a long-necked, amplified lute — that lends his arrangements a springy sense of playfulness. In "Sultane," a song credited to Derince's bandmate Raman Dari, traditional Kurdish music gets a wild and danceable remix.

Hometown: Santiago, Chile

Genre: Folk

Hometown: Snyder, Texas

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: In 2018, it was Kady Rain. In 2019, Dossey. This year's pure pop find from the great city of Austin is Sydney Wright, whose "You Can Stay" exudes dynamism and drama. With a bit of smartly deployed vocal processing — closer to Gordi than, say, Imogen Heap — Wright crafts a wildly catchy kiss-off anthem that bypasses simple slogans in favor of a more thoughtful awakening.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Hip-Hop

Why We're Excited: L.A. singer-rapper Steven G finds more or less the exact midpoint between sleekly stylish R&B and slyly playful hip-hop, landing on a monster sex-jam earworm in "Handcuffs." An engaging presence with an easy smile and a few million streams to his name — seriously, the chorus to this thing can get stuck in your head for days — Steven G has all the commercial potential in the world.

Hometown: Copenhagen, Denmark

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: Danish singer, songwriter, producer and musician Rasmus Littauer calls himself School of X as a tribute to the experimental 1960s Copenhagen art collective of the same name; he's even assembled a collective of his own in the same city. But Littauer's arty inspirations and aspirations don't drown out his pop sensibilities: "Write My Name" is a shimmering midtempo ballad that's universal in its yearning and regret.

Hometown: Edinburgh, Scotland

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Vistas' "Sucker" is essentially one great big charm offensive, from the wall of buoyant guitars to the "Hey! Hey!" in the choruses to the Scottish-accented lyrics about the way love can make you feel like a hopeless dope. Some bands deepen their impact with abstract examinations of the human psyche, but Vistas' sweet and shiny songs are just irresistible, high-wattage joy dispensers.

Hometown: Cardiff, Wales

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: Affection pours out of the Welsh indie-pop band The School — affection for classic '60s girl-group pop, sunny springtime harmonies and lyrics that yearn with maximum sweetness. (The School's only enemy: search engines.) In "I Will See You Soon," the band breezes in and out in just two minutes, never wasting a second in the process.

Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

Genre: Global

Why We're Excited: Rema is an Afropop superstar with tens of millions of streams, a distinctive sound mixing pop and trap, a Barack Obama endorsement and at least one prominent magazine cover to his name — and he still hasn't yet released his full-length debut album. At 19, he resides at or near the forefront of a Nigerian music scene that's exploded in global stature, and it's no wonder: "Lady" is a twisty and charming, unmistakably youthful, hook-laden banger.

Hometown: Dublin, Ireland

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: The four women in Pillow Queens write queer punk and pop songs with sharp, anxious edges — imagine a gnarlier Cranberries, maybe? — and endearingly thick Irish accents. They're especially good at showcasing their languid and emotive side, as songs like "Brothers" and "Gay Girls" extol the virtues of familial bonds and, well, gay girls, respectively.

Hometown: Puerto Rico

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: Within the Puerto Rican music world, Andrea Cruz is a throwback: She constructs her softly flowing folk songs around acoustic instrumentation and lyrics that reflect on humanity's connection to the natural world. On 2017's Tejido de Laurel and the singles that have trickled out since, Cruz's sound leans hard into a kind of rustic lustrousness, enriched by arrangements that exude both subtlety and sparkle.

The Austin 100

Mar 17, 2020

Among the many large gatherings to be canceled due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus, the SXSW Music Festival has arguably the largest impact on up-and-coming musicians — artists from around the world who'd been scheduled to perform this week around Austin, Texas. The festival has a truly global reach, as more than 1,500 acts were scheduled to perform; they represent a large and daunting world of music that spans many dozens of countries, not to mention countless genres and subgenres.

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.

You can stream this playlist via Spotify or Apple Music.

In just three days — that'd be first thing Monday morning — NPR Music will publish a hotly anticipated Tiny Desk concert by English pop superstar Harry Styles. To tide you over until the big event, we thought we'd share a little pregame entertainment, in which the former One Direction singer hangs out behind the Tiny Desk and talks about his favorite American football team.

YouTube

Short of Lana Del Rey, it's hard to imagine a modern pop star better suited to James Bond themes than Billie Eilish

Pages