Stephen Thompson

When Leon Russell died last November, the 74-year-old star was recuperating from heart surgery and itching to get back out on the road. So it's no surprise that Russell — whose music fused soul, rock, gospel and country — left behind an impressive batch of songs that hadn't yet seen release. On Friday, 10 months after his death, On a Distant Shore continues a recorded legacy that hasn't dimmed.

Awards shows often mirror current events, from politically pointed acceptance speeches to winners whose subject matter feels especially relevant in the moment. The 69th Emmy Awards, held Sunday night, didn't skimp on either, as The Handmaid's Tale, Saturday Night Live and Veep posted strong — even dominant — showings over the course of the night.

David Simon and George Pelecanos made The Wire and Treme together, among other shows, and now they've teamed up to create The Deuce, a new HBO drama about prostitution and the rise of the porn industry in New York's Times Square. Set in 1971, when prostitution took place out in the open on Times Square's grubby streets, the show stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Franco (as twins!) and a huge cast of character actors who help form an ambitious web of stories. It's a lot to take in, and the first eight-episode season — which premiered Sept.

MTV is the TV network most widely associated with short attention spans. So it makes sense that its Video Music Awards would function as a jarring and disjointed jumble of moments — a howl of protest followed immediately by a singer's tears of joy, or a heartfelt speech by a grieving mother giving way to a performance of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart and DNCE. In such a barrage, it's unfair to expect any one performance, speech or spectacle to rise above the others, especially as the telecast stretched past three hours.

Let's get one issue out of the way up front: MTV is never again going to build its programming around music videos. For that, viewers have YouTube — as well as MTV's lower-stakes spinoff channels — and besides, if you're old enough to remember when MTV's programming revolved around videos, then you're almost certainly too old for MTV to care what you think.

From 1978 to 2006, Cat Stevens was absent from the secular music world, a long-but-temporary retirement motivated by his conversion to Islam. In the decade since his return, he's sounded musically reinvigorated in songs that only magnify the philosophical reflection that's marked his music since the beginning.

Rufus Wainwright has always been keen to tackle the classics — this is, after all, a guy whose most recent album, 2016's Take All My Loves, reinterprets Shakespeare sonnets — and his stylistic palette has remained broad enough to encompass, among many other things, an opera.

Kendrick Lamar's victory lap continues. The rapper closed the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival Sunday night — like most Coachella performers, he'll return at the same time next weekend — with a set that blew through social media thanks to live-streaming and widespread interest in his new material.

Maybe you heard it too: murmurs of a "new Beyoncé song," accompanied by whatever it is that gasping and genuflecting sounds like when transmitted via Twitter and Facebook, then the purr of a song playing through the headphones of the devoted everywhere, begun, as in a round, at slightly different moments.

My Twitter feed is still roiling. As I write this, it's been mere moments since my friends and colleagues (and a few assorted celebrities) started taking a break from praising the 2017 Grammys' most vital and viral performances — A Tribe Called Quest, Beyoncé, The Time, a bonkers Lady Gaga-Metallica mashup — to fume about Adele's sweep of the night's top three prizes.

Like many awards shows, the Grammys are about more than just honoring artistic achievement: They're also about anointing ambassadors for a music industry that's forced to evolve as quickly and constantly as trends and technology mandate. Of course, the awards also attempt to represent dozens of far-flung genres, from traditional pop to EDM to country to jazz to Latin music to classical to rap and beyond.

You'd be forgiven for viewing nominations for the 59th Grammy Awards, announced Tuesday morning, as a battle between two powerhouse singers: Beyoncé, whose Lemonade leads the field with nine, and Adele, whose 25 has been a sales juggernaut since its release late last year.

The twists and turns of the 2016 election — not to mention the characters at the top of each major-party ticket — provide many opportunities for comedy. But it's tough out there for late-night joke-makers, who face more competition than ever, not to mention a social-media landscape in which seemingly every possible quip is being made in real time.

Since 1984, MTV has given out awards to honor achievements in the world of music videos.

In honor of MTV's 35th birthday Monday, the network has launched MTV Classic, a new channel featuring programming from the '90s and '00s. On the same day, we also wish a happy birthday to NPR Music and Pop Culture Happy Hour's Stephen Thompson, who celebrates with an interview on All Things Considered about how MTV Classic is redefining which popular culture fits into the current environment for nostalgia.

Over on cable TV and streaming services, summertime doesn't mean an end to critically heralded programming, as evidenced by the recent return of Mr. Robot (on the USA Network) and the launch of Stranger Things (on Netflix). But over on the major networks, lighter fare still dominates, which brings us to ABC's recently launched reboot of the vintage game shows $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game.

If you've listened to NPR or stepped outside in the last week or so, then you've probably already heard about Pokemon GO, a new "Augmented Reality" app in which players encounter and "catch" Pokemon characters the game has (virtually) situated around their own neighborhoods.

This is our 300th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — not counting Small Batch editions, which would drive the number significantly higher — so now's as good a time as any to thank everyone who's listened, supported us both within and outside NPR, and/or appeared on the show itself. We're feeling awfully appreciative that we've been allowed to stick around this long.

When Linda Holmes and I jumped in to the studio to record this Pop Culture Happy Hour Small Batch on Thursday afternoon, news of Prince Rogers Nelson's death was less than an hour old. So if we seem a little numb in spots, well, there's a reason for that.

At the end of a grueling Academy Awards race, we at Pop Culture Happy Hour like to unwind with a good, long talk we call our "Oscars Omnibus" — a roundup of our thoughts on all the Best Picture nominees, notable acting nominees, and issues and themes surrounding the prior year in movies. This year gave us plenty to chew on, as you can imagine, and as you can hear for yourself on this page.

Sometime tomorrow, Linda Holmes and I will break down Monday night's Grammys telecast in a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour. And, for a variety of reasons, we're not likely to spend much time on the awards themselves.

Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago this past Saturday, which at NPR can mean only one thing: an opportunity to talk to the biggest Sinatra superfan we know, business reporter Sonari Glinton, about the singer's formidable legacy.

[You can hear Stephen Thompson and Linda Holmes chat about the VMAs on a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour by hitting the play button at the top of this post.]

The weekend before last, a pro athlete by the name of James Harrison announced on Instagram that he'd returned the participation trophies his kids had received for playing youth sports, writing, "While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy." This has, in turn, spawned a flurry of defenses and condemnations, including Albert Burneko's

Linda Holmes is finally back from two and a half weeks cooped up in an L.A. hotel for the Television Critics Association's press tour, but her return coincides with Glen Weldon's vacation, so Linda and I are joined by two guest panelists this week: All Things Considered cohost Audie Cornish and Code Switch blogger Gene Demby.

Country singer Kacey Musgraves opened this Friday's Tiny Desk Concert with four charming songs from her new album, Pageant Material, which we'll post online soon. But she couldn't possibly skip "Follow Your Arrow" on the very day the Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the mail-order grapefruits that have us pondering the nature of the mail-order-grapefruit business is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on pop music's staying power.

Steven F. writes via Facebook: "Which current music stars will be remembered 20 or 50 years from now, which will be forgotten, and why?"

There are so many quick-twitch responses to this question — and virtually all of them are, at least on some level, wrong.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the weekly magazine that seems to show up at least four times per week is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on the playlists at amusement parks.

Pages