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.

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: 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: 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.

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