Pop Culture Happy Hour: 2016 Favorites And Unfinished Business

Dec 21, 2016
Originally published on December 23, 2016 6:38 pm

[If you're looking for the audio of this week's show, it's in a slightly different place than usual for boring technical reasons — it's over on the right or right above you, depending on how you're viewing this page.]

You know Sam Sanders as the host of the NPR Politics Podcast — a project from which he's about to move on to new and exciting stuff. But you also know him as one of Pop Culture Happy Hour's new fourth chairs of 2016, so who better to join us to talk about some of our favorite things from this year?

There is so much good stuff in this show — music from old and new artists, television and film scoring, indie films, documentaries, my favorite food writer, oodles of wonderfully idiosyncratic television — that the best way to show it all to you is to just show you my notes.

After we get through our favorites, we'll catch you up on how some past shows played out, including our summer movie preview and our fall TV pool. And as always, we close with what's making us happy this week — which is also at the bottom of those same notes.

Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: me, Stephen, Glen, Sam, producer Jessica, producer Iman, and executive producer and music director Mike. And thanks to those of you who are supporting your local station — and thus supporting us. Tell 'em we sent you.

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


And we're wrapping up the year with our pop culture favorites from 2016. We're going to listen in on the folks who know best, our experts at the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. The panel this week - NPR's Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, Sam Sanders and, of course, the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour, Linda Holmes.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: We wanted to take a couple of trips around the table. Thompson, do you have anything for the people from 2016?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Favorite song of 2016, a wonderful kind of young singer-songwriter named Mitski Miyawaki who goes by the name Mitski. She put out this terrific record called "Puberty 2" and the song at the center of it is this absolute powerhouse called "Your Best American Girl." It kind of does that quiet to loud thing that so many songs do. And as it's building, she's painting these very intimate details of her relationships and addressing her partner as, like, her big spoon and that's kind of this sweet thing.


MITSKI: (Singing) If I could, I'd be your little spoon and kiss your fingers forever more. But, big spoon, you have so much to do and I have nothing ahead of me.

THOMPSON: It builds into this gargantuan wall of guitars that you cannot help but just turn up and up and up.


MITSKI: (Singing) And you're an all-American boy. I guess I couldn't help trying to be your best American girl.

THOMPSON: And when you pick apart the words in the chorus, it's all about how her boyfriend's expectations for her collide with her expectations for herself and just her identity and where she fits into not only this relationship but the culture at large. It's a beautiful song but it also just rules. It's just a great rock 'n' roll song, "Your Best American Girl" by Mitski.

HOLMES: And how do we spell Mitski?


HOLMES: Very good. Thank you very much, Stephen Thompson, for that favorite song. Glen Weldon, you have a favorite for 2016?

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Yeah. It just occurs to me just now that my favorite television show and my favorite film of the year both feature Olivia Colman, the British actress, in supporting roles. My favorite show is "Fleabag," a six-episode British series that's streaming on Amazon here in the States. It's about a young woman living in London who kind of throws herself into a series of sexual encounters and her relationship with her family. She constantly turns to the camera and confides in us. But as the series progresses over its very tight six-episode structure, we come to realize that she's not just confiding in us as she would a friend. She is confessing to us in a way.


WELDON: So that's "Fleabag." The film is "The Lobster" starring Colin Farrell and Olivia Colman. It is so absurdly dry and dryly absurd. It is a film by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. He did a film that I loved called "Dogtooth." This film is set in a world in which everybody must be in a couple and if they are not in a couple, they are sent to a hotel where after a certain period of time if they don't find somebody else to couple with, they will be turned into an animal.


OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Hotel Manager) Now have you thought of what animal you'd like to be if you end up alone?

COLIN FARRELL: (As David) Yes, a lobster.

COLMAN: (As Hotel Manager) Why a lobster?

FARRELL: (As David) Because lobsters live for over 100 years, are blue-blooders (ph) like aristocrats and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much. I waterski and swim quite well since I was a teenager.

COLMAN: (As Hotel Manager) I must congratulate you, the first thing most people think of is a dog.

HOLMES: This thing has this wonderful affectless tone without which it would completely collapse. That's "The Lobster" by Yorgos Lanthimos.

WELDON: So two Olivia Colman joints.


HOLMES: Thank you, Glen. Sam Sanders, give me a favorite.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: I have two favorite songs.


SANDERS: And I like them a lot because the words the person is singing don't matter, it's just about how the sound of their voice fits in with the rest of - it's hard to explain, kind of puts you in a trance. Anyway, first one is by an Australian producer and DJ called Flume featuring Beck, who's been around for a while. This is the last song on his album, features Beck, it's called "Tiny Cities." And I have a snippet to play for you now. And I want you to hear it because Beck is singing a lot of words, but the words he's singing don't matter.


BECK: Oh, she is following me in my head, but I am all alone. Thinking of her every time, I want to try to let her go. But it's never easy when you think you have it control. Somehow you get caught up in the moment and you never know.

SANDERS: He's just kind of part of it.


SANDERS: So this is a genre of music called future bass. It is descendent from a lot of heavy, bassy (ph) EDM styles of music - trap, dubstep, et cetera. But it's all about heavy, heavy bass, slower tempo and kind of this reflective melancholy. And I love the song for that. It also made me marvel at Beck in his career. He's managed to remain relevant...


SANDERS: ...For what, like, 20, 30 years now?

THOMPSON: Twenty-plus years.

SANDERS: Yeah, it's really awesome, yeah.


SANDERS: The other is a moment from the new Frank Ocean album "Blonde," like the final minute and a half of this song called "Self Control" where his voice, layered over itself, becomes the same kind of wall of sound with the guitars around him. That whole album had a lot of production help from John Brian, who is a wonderful, amazing genius who does these really lush, layered instrumentations.

THOMPSON: Yeah. He's done a lot of, like, Fiona Apple records.

SANDERS: Yeah, he does a ton of stuff with Kanye, but the layers on that Frank Ocean album were amazing when they really popped. And this moment at the end of that song did it for me.


FRANK OCEAN: (Singing) I know you got someone coming. You're spitting game, oh, you got it. Yeah. I - I - I know you got to leave, leave, leave. Take down some summer time. Give up, just tonight, night, night. I - I - I know you got someone coming.

HOLMES: Wonderful. Thank you very much, Sam Sanders. The first thing I am going to mention, the one veterans show that I think had a really wonderful year that we haven't talked about too much is "Veep." The fifth season of "Veep," which is weirdly current in certain ways, at certain moments. There is a quality of that show that is so, so funny, so over-the-top funny but also profoundly sad in a way that I find both very affecting and hilarious in a way that's - it's not just cringey (ph). It's human. And they had the creator of the show leave and I think a lot of people sort of thought, well, are they still going to be able to do this show? They had a great season.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus just continues to be one of those people where you can't even be mad at her for winning a thousand times because she deserves everything she's ever won. I love that show. That's one that I just wanted to make mention of because that's sort of one of my favorite veteran shows in terms of rallying, particularly to a very high-profile departure of the season. And that does it for our year-end wrap up at Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thanks to all of you guys for being here.

SANDERS: Thank you.

WELDON: Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

HOLMES: And thanks to all of you for listening.


SHAPIRO: That's Linda Holmes, host of our Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast with panelists Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon and Sam Sanders. You can hear more of their favorite things of 2016 at pop.dot.npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.