© 2024 Innovation Trail

What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend reading, listening and viewing

Screenshot from gameplay of Stray.
BlueTwelve Studio/ Annapurna Interactive
Screenshot from gameplay of Stray.

This week, the U.K. announced it will host Eurovision 2023, Jeopardy! signed its new official co-hosts, and Beyoncé dropped Renaissance.

Here's what the NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

End It EP, Unpleasant Living

Baltimore hardcore band End It came out with a new EP called Unpleasant Living. It's a very hardcore EP; there's six tracks, and the whole thing is about eight minutes long. It's a kind of vibe that's not really traditional hardcore, as a lot of these bands have been getting praise for implementing different sounds, textures and inspirations.

But this EP is just straight up beatdowns and gang vocals. It feels very classic, but done so well that it's still kind of refreshing. There's one song on it called "Hatekeeper" that I think, from what I can glean from the hardcore vocals that I can only half make out, is almost like a pro-gatekeeper song.

The hardcore scene is going, "You know what? There's a lot of weird Nazi posers in here. We just have to make a stand and say that some people are just not allowed here." I think that's a very defiant stance to take, seeing how open the hardcore scene has been. — Andrew Limbong

J-Hope album, Jack in the Box

J-Hope from BTS is playing at Lollapalooza this weekend and I will not be there, so that's what's making me unhappy. But it is making me happy that he just released his first solo album called Jack in the Box. It's about the myth of Pandora's Box, and it kind of plays on the fact that his stage name is J-Hope. As you know, hope is the last thing in the box.

He's my favorite BTS member, and I actually think — hot take for our BTS listeners — that he is the most criminally underutilized member, especially in the last two years. They've kind of been in their English-language era, and J-Hope is one of the rappers. And since they've gone English, they don't really rap anymore, so he's not really doing anything. But I think he's great.

He's also a fantastic performer and dancer, and that was what really drew me to BTS to begin with. I love dance and media, and he is so lively and a joy to watch. Hopefully there's a livestream this weekend of Lollapalooza, and I will be watching J-Hope make his debut. He's the first Korean artist to headline a major American music festival, and if you want a taste of what he sounds like, my favorite song on his new album is "Arson." — Cyrena Touros


This video game, Stray, kind of blew up on my timeline over the last weekend, so I checked it out. In this game, you are a kitty, and you are trying to get back to your family in this underground city. People are robots, and there's all kinds of clues that help you figure out what the city is about, and what happened to the humans. But maybe save that for your second or third playthrough, because there will be those.

The game is really about being a kitty, climbing up on stuff, getting the zoomies, sneaking past security cameras, rubbing up on some random robot's leg, and knocking cans of paint off shelves to get to the next level... or sometimes just to be a jerk. There's a button you can press to meow. Doesn't serve any purpose. You just meow. That's just your vibe.

It is completely on rails in terms of where you go and how you get there. So it's not a true 3D platformer, thank God, because you don't have to spend time lining up and timing every jump perfectly. And it's not a long game, so you'll get through it in an afternoon.

Look, I'm a dog person, but if you're a cat person, I suspect you're going to get a whole other level of satisfaction from this game. Now available for PlayStation and Windows. — Glen Weldon

Joni Mitchell at the Newport Folk Festival

Imagine being at a festival, and all of a sudden, you have a nice surprise waiting for you. A legend — and I don't use that word lightly — who has not performed a full concert in more than 20 years just pops up and you get to witness it live. It did not happen to me, but I wish it had.

I was on the internet the other day and saw that this past weekend at the Newport Folk Festival, Joni Mitchell did her first full-on concert since 2000 alongside Brandi Carlile, who brought her out to sing. I did not watch the whole thing yet, but I saw the clips and her performance of "Both Sides Now," and man oh man, watch this and try not to weep at the end of it.

First of all, Joni Mitchell looks great. She suffered a brain aneurysm a few years ago and she's been recovering ever since. And here she was on stage with her little beret on. She just looked happy, and the phrasing is still all there in the way she sings. Her voice is deeper and a little richer, and it's really beautiful to see.

Her having that chance on stage made the people with her very emotional. Brandi Carlile looked like she was about to cry. You should definitely check it out, and I'm going to go back and watch the rest of the clips that are online because it moved me so much. I'm happy Joni still gets to have those moments. — Aisha Harris

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

A short version of an ABC promo from 1980 has been circulating this week, but the long version is worth seeking out as an amazing celebrity-spotting exercise. (Find the young Tom Hanks!)

I've really been riveted by the podcast Project Unabom, which (as you might expect) is about the Unabomber case. It has exactly the interviews you would want to hear, making for a well-told story that's both fascinating and very sad.

Sam Sanders isn't just a "friend of the podcast" — he's a "dear friend of the podcast." He has a new show over at Vulture called Into It, and you'd be making a grave mistake to miss out.

NPR's Maison Tran adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" into a digital page. If you like these suggestions, consider signing up for our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aisha Harris
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Andrew Limbong
Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
Cyrena Touros
Glen Weldon
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
Maison Tran