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.

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!

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.

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

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.

Hometown: San Francisco, California

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: As Field Medic, singer-songwriter Kevin Patrick Sullivan uses the sparest of ingredients — an acoustic guitar, sparse drum-machine beats, an unadorned voice — to build lo-fi folk songs that crackle with vibrant intimacy. In "henna tattoo," Sullivan's small but vividly poetic details help bring together a tentative and vulnerable song about jealousy, insecurity, doubt and "rolling blackouts in your heart."

Hometown: Christchurch, New Zealand

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: Born in New Mexico and raised in New Zealand, Holly Arrowsmith writes languid, yearning folk songs that frequently draw on the natural world for inspiration. She's toured with fellow New Zealander Tiny Ruins, and her songs vibrate at a similar frequency: They're spare, subtle, approachable and utterly beautiful, anchored by a voice that pulls you close and cancels the noise outside.

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: GIRL SKIN's gentle folk songs benefit enormously from their soft chamber-pop bent, which helps an ambitious, sweeping quality to Sid Simons' softly contemplative lyrics. In "Forever & Always," the strings are truly transporting: They take an otherwise lovely ode to romantic devotion and elevate it to something grandly, elegantly dramatic.

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Folk-Pop

Why We're Excited: Singer-songwriter Nicole Rodriguez, who records under the name Pearla, finds subtle ways to put a twist on gently drifting, introverted, low-key folk-pop ballads. On her first EP, 2019's Quilting & Other Activities, Pearla gives her soft ruminations a sense of sonic adventure and psychedelic swirl, even as her lyrics look inward and stare down her demons.

Hometown: Bristol, England

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: Throughout 2018's On Hold, Fenne Lily's quaveringly intimate voice recalls the early works of Sharon Van Etten, particularly in the way she layers her own voice during choruses that ache and swoon. That almost jarringly beautiful effect jumps out in a minimalist mix that's so stripped down, you can often hear fingers sweeping across guitar strings.

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: London, England

Genre: Jazz

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: 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: Santiago, Chile

Genre: Folk

Hometown: Sacramento, California

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: In the opening moments of "Real You," Tré Burt's sandy, lived-in voice recalls Wilco's Jeff Tweedy at his most ambling and approachable. But the songwriting lineage Burt follows extends considerably farther back, at least through Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and John Prine — Burt is actually signed to Prine's label and will soon join him on tour. Burt's own wryly thoughtful songs roll along with an easy, lo-fi charm that never undercuts their propulsiveness.

Hometown: Dunedin, New Zealand

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: When Nadia Reid moved from New Zealand to the U.S., she felt a deep sense of alienation and isolation — feelings that naturally bled into her beautifully, reverberantly melancholy music. Laura Marling is a fair reference point, but Reid leans harder toward the languid, sweetening the new Out of My Province with powerful, impeccably placed strings.

Hometown: Austin, Texas

Genre: Folk Pop

Why We're Excited: Nobody's Girl takes three hardworking veteran Austin singer-songwriters — BettySoo, Grace Pettis and The Voice alum Rebecca Loebe — and assembles them into a countrified folk-pop supergroup with a knack for choruses that soar. All three have found wide audiences as solo acts, but as a group, they form a harmony-rich Voltron that conjures a potent cocktail of joy, longing and defiance.

Hometown: Accra, Ghana

Genre: Pop

Why We're Excited: Bisa Kdei's spirited and playful highlife music has made him a star in his native Ghana — and marked him for crossover success as West African music gets its hooks into worldwide audiences. On 2018's luminous Highlife Konnect, Kdei collaborates closely with musicians from other African nations, in the hopes of expanding not only his commercial reach, but also his own musical boundaries.

Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

Genre: Pop

Why We're Excited: Nigerian singer-songwriter Yemi Alade has become a major Afropop star in recent years, winning high-profile African music awards and topping 100 million YouTube views for her hit "Johnny." In 2019, her smooth and vibrant music crossed over to U.S. audiences with the help of Beyoncé, who gave Alade a feature in her song "Don't Jealous Me," from the Lion King-inspired companion-to-the-soundtrack The Lion King: The Gift.

Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Genre: Jazz

Why We're Excited: A go-to percussionist who's become a staple of Puerto Rican music — he spent a decade playing with Calle 13 and has popped up in Tiny Desk concerts twice, once with Bio Ritmo and once with Miramar — Hector "Coco" Barez never seems to stop moving. He's an educator, a musical ambassador, a busy session musician and, as of 2017, a solo artist whose joyfully infectious, endlessly varied debut album is titled El Laberinto del Coco.

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

Genre: Classical

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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.

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On Wednesday, Bon Iver was nominated for four Grammy Awards, snagging nods for record of the year (for "Hey, Ma"), as well as album of the year, best alternative music album and best r

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

When Sharon Van Etten made her Tiny Desk debut back in the fall of 2010, her voice exuded fragile, gentle grace. Performing songs from that year's Epic, she huddled around a single acoustic guitar with backup singer Cat Martino to perform a set of tender and evocative folk-pop songs.

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.

The dog days of summer are fully upon us, but new album releases are still coming in hot. Chance The Rapper finally released his sprawling, long-awaited "debut album" — though that technically happened last week, just hours after New Music Friday dropped — while Ty Segall dropped his umpteenth full-length effort and Clairo served up some breezily lo-fi Gen-Z irreverence.

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