What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend listening and viewing
Here's what the NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.
I recently revisited one of my favorite documentaries, Spellbound, which came out in 2002. It follows a bunch of kids who are competing in the 1999 National Spelling Bee. We actually have the movie on DVD, because this is a movie that I like to revisit. I was a competitive speller as a child. I now have a kid who is old enough to do spelling bees and just qualified for her first school-wide spelling bee, so we decided to watch it as a family.
And man, this movie is, like, perfect. It's perfectly structured. There's the right amount of tension. It's so emotionally resonant. You really get to know the kids and their families, and you feel the stakes. I notice new things every time I watch it, and it makes me think so much about class in America, and social mobility and race and parenting and what success looks like in America, especially for children of immigrants, which I am. It's got it all. I cried. I laughed. I could watch this movie, I think every week. I never get sick of it.
Black Thought and Danger Mouse's Cheat Codes
I'm a little slow to the game here, but I've been really binging hard on Danger Mouse and Black Thought's album Cheat Codes. It is extraordinary. My son is the one who's really into hip-hop culture, and he knows so much about it. He's really self-taught. He's 16, and where we can really bond, we found, is by listening to his music together. With all the call-outs, all the samples, and all the little Easter eggs that are in these really brilliantly structured songs, he's able to say, "Hey, Dad, what's 'Harlem Nights'? What's 'Billy Bathgate'? What's Cole Porter and Akira Kurosawa?" All of these people are name dropped, so that to me has been extraordinary.
We, together, learned about The Last Poets and The Watts Prophets, because that was sort of name dropped in this album. I was able to look up all these poets, and we read their poetry. We talked about the situation at the end of the '60's that caused a rise of this artistic expression. All of this is based on a brilliant, tight set done by the producer Danger Mouse and Black Thought from The Roots, and it brings me closer to my son. Anything that helps me be more cool and less tedious for my kid is great, and also makes me smarter. It's like we are able to talk about stuff that we're both passionate about. We both expand our worlds a little bit.
— Walter Chaw
This is Pop
This Is Pop is a Canadian series that aired in 2021 on CTV and has since dropped on Netflix. It's this fairly light and sometimes aesthetically inconsistent docuseries about various pop phenomenons. Some episodes have a host narrator, while others don't. There's also some cheesy aesthetic choices, including actors acting out the song "Leader of the Pack" by Shangri-Las, which is like a classic song. The visuals that they added to it were a little cheesy.
Overall, I found it really enjoyable and informative. It takes these various phenomenons and tries to bring a little bit more context and nuance to things that we're all familiar with but maybe haven't thought too much about. Some of my favorite episodes include one on Boyz II Men's influence on the boy band culture of the late '90's. It really breaks down how they were kind of in many ways directly responsible for all of these white boy bands who got even bigger and came after them, including NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. It features interviews with actually three of the Boyz II Men, the remaining members of the group, and I found that really fun and nostalgic. There's also one about auto-tune and T-Pain, which is really interesting. Another favorite of mine is about the Brit pop scene, which is probably one of the episodes I knew the least about going into it, but they really cover this sort of Oasis-Blur moment that was happening in the '90's.
— Aisha Harris
@nounverbed on Twitter
I played a lot of the video game Elden Ring when it came out. I played it a lot, which meant I died a lot. That's the game. You die a lot. That's what the game is known for. It's also known for what happens to you when you die. You see your crumpled body in this amazing fantasy setting, and then these big blood red capital letters with just the words "YOU DIE" come up on the screen. The Twitter account @nounverbed is an exercise in simplicity. It just takes a screenshot of Elden Ring. But instead of "YOU DIE," it takes a random combination of nouns and verbs and puts them in the same blood red, all caps, death font.
It's an algorithm, so it's random. They're not all going to be winners. Don't expect it. "PLURALITY LOCKED." That's nothing. "STANZA HOPED." What does that mean? That's nothing. It's word salad. "CARCERAL STATE JOGGED." You're wasting my time.
But then sometimes, only sometimes, you get something that just has a bit of something. I can't explain why I love it, but like, "NARRATION SUCKED. INTERCOURSE BORED. SPOONS CHEERED. NOODLE LOVED." I can't explain it, but this little jolt of randomness popping up in my feed, I don't know why, but I find it kind of weirdly heartening.
— Glen Weldon
NPR's Teresa Xie 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.
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