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Pop culture Happy Hour hosts share what makes them happy. : NPR

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Still by Kyle Edward Ball Skinamarink

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Still by Kyle Edward Ball Skinamarink

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This week, we got a sneak peek at the Sundance Film Festival, caught another “screenlife” horror movie, and cheered on our favorite pop culture icons.

Here’s what NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour team was keeping an eye on — and what you should check out this weekend.

“Unholy” by Sam Smith and Kim Petras

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This is a song I should have championed three months ago, as that’s when it topped the Billboard charts. It took me a long time to understand, in part because it’s by an artist I’ve always been bored with: Sam Smith. Sam Smith came up with a series of very boring songs, had a huge hit with a song called “Stay With Me” that bored me, and won an Oscar for a James Bond movie that also bored me. So imagine my surprise when I’m listening to the radio and I hear an absolute hit called “Unholy.”

Sam Smith, like many people, has evolved in interesting ways as a pop star. The song is a collaboration between Sam Smith and German pop singer Kim Petras. It ended up setting several huge milestones when it topped the Billboard charts. Sam Smith is openly non-binary. Kim Petras is openly trans. They were the first openly non-binary and openly trans solo artists to hit #1 on the Billboard charts. And what I like about this song is that it kind of conducts. It’s strange and surprising. The video is just one giant queer fantasy, and it’s so fun to watch a singer who I personally have filed away as someone who was just a boring, stationary contemporary pop singer and watch that artist evolve into something that just couldn’t be further from that, while still having that big, booming, springy voice that allowed them to become a huge pop star in the first place.

—Stephen Thompson

Skinamarink

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I went to see Skinamarink in theaters. If you’ve been on Twitter and in film circles, you’ve probably heard of this film, which is, I have to say, an experimental horror film. It is the first feature film directed by Kyle Edward Ball. He used to have a YouTube channel where he would receive submissions of nightmares and then film the recreations of them. This movie Skinamarink it’s essentially a giant version of one of these. I think there’s a quote from him where he said there’s this dream, or rather nightmare, that he had as a kid that he thought a lot of other people had too: you’re a kid, you’re in a house, your parents are gone , and there is something evil that is there.

Skinamarink it doesn’t really have a plot, but it’s essentially like you’re seeing the movie through the eyes of a kid in this dark, spooky house. Doors and windows disappear. There are things that appear. You hear voices and it’s a very visceral experience. Using the word “happy” is a freedom because it really terrified me and made me afraid of the dark for I think for the first time in maybe over a decade. So that was kind of alarming. But what makes me happy is that it’s really experimental. It’s weird and it’s different. I went to see him at an AMC, which is crazy to me. To have a movie like that in theaters that survives only by word of mouth, I think it’s amazing. It’s also very polarizing. I loved it, but my roommates I saw it with thought it was the most boring movie ever. If you really believe in it, and it looks like something terrifying, and you like the experimental horror energy that comes with it, definitely go check it out. Skinamarink.

— Reana Cruz

Listening to music that is not yours


A Peloton rider at home in California in April 2020.

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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In January, I’ve been taking on the challenge of taking a Peloton class every day. One of the things I’ve been doing is doing this program called Discover Your Power Zones. It’s this very particular program that is taught by these very particular instructors who are not necessarily the instructors that I normally take. I usually bring Sam, the ex-monk, or Christine, the hugger (Christine teaches Discover Your Power Zones, but either way, it’s a little different). It’s more of a “gym” type of guy teaching these classes Discover Your Power Zones.

I realized that it’s a great opportunity to listen to music I don’t like and I want to clarify what I mean: in our world where everything is self-organized, how many opportunities do I personally have to listen to music I don’t like? Like? I’m about to name a few bands that people like, and I’m not saying they’re not good – I’m saying they’re not my thing.

I don’t listen to Rage Against the Machine a lot, not because it’s bad, but it’s not my thing. One of the guys who teaches these classes loves to ride Rage Against the Machine. I hear a lot of Helmet? Do not. Maybe the right phrase isn’t bands I don’t like – it’s bands I don’t listen to. So it’s an opportunity to explore what it’s like to be suddenly exposed to a bunch of music you don’t own on playlists you don’t own.

When you’re on the show, they say, “Take this class next.” So you’re not sitting there like, I’m going to take this Broadway class, I’m going to take this Prince class or I’m going to take this ’80s class. You’re going to take the next class in the program, and if it’s Rage against the Machine and Helmet, then this is what you will hear. There’s something to be said for listening to music where you’re like, ‘I don’t know about this, man. It’s not my thing. But I’m glad that kind of fortuitous moment happens to be what I’m experiencing right now.

— Linda Holmes

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

Dan Kois has written an intelligent and thoughtful piece on Slate about authors (like himself) whose books have been affected by the strike at HarperCollins.

Friend of the show Jesse Thorn interviewed an up-and-coming actor named Tom Hanks in Bullseye this week.

If you can’t get enough M3GAN-mania, don’t miss Brittany Luse on It’s been a minutetalking about the movie.

I meant to mention this a few weeks ago, but Chloe Veltman from NPR had a very interesting story about firefighting on TV and film – a topic that will likely remain timely.

Teresa Xie of NPR adapted the pop culture happy hour segment “What’s Making Us Happy” into a digital page. If you like these suggestions, consider by subscribing to our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to the Pop Culture Happy Hour on apple podcasts and Spotify.

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