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What's Making Us Happy: A guide to your weekend reading and listening

ATEEZ performs at the Sahara Tent during the 2024 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., in April.<br/>
Frazer Harrison
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Getty Images for Coachella
ATEEZ performs at the Sahara Tent during the 2024 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., in April.

This week, we girded ourselves for the possibility of bidding “Cheddar, Bye!” to Cheddar Bay. A famous travel destination for poor boys and pilgrims with families enjoyed a moment of grace. And when we asked ourselves: If you can’t antitrust Ticketmaster, who can you antitrust?

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

Books by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott writes domestic-meets-horror-thriller novels. I started with her short story "The Little Men" — it was exceptional and creepy and very vividly rendered. So I moved on to her other books, You Will Know Me, which is about a teen gymnast and some drama that happens to her family. And Give Me Your Hand, which is about two rival post-doc researchers and their shared history. These books are really immersive. They have creepy touches that I did not expect. There’s become sort of a formula to women's thriller writing, and everything I've read so far from Megan Abbott just takes that formula and knocks it on it’s you-know-what. — Roxana Hadadi

"Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers)" by ATEEZ

ATEEZ became the first K-pop boy group to perform at Coachella earlier this year. Aside from the fact that I find them all very pretty, their music is really fun and they're very electric performers. They have this cyberpunk Western aesthetic that relates to the dystopian storyline that they're unspooling -- involving a world government that suppresses people's emotions. But honestly, I think you should enjoy their music without knowing any of this. In the song "Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers)," cheongyang gochu is a type of Korean chili pepper that's known for being way spicier -- so basically they're saying their vibe is a different level of spicy. It's so silly and bombastic and catchy. I love it. — Mallory Yu

"Bird of a Feather" from Billie Eilish's new album, Hit Me Hard and Soft

Hit Me Hard and Soft is the new album by Billie Eilish. It is nice to hear an inventive, creative, ethereal pop record. It does synth pop really well -- you can hear the woozy effervescence of it all. But this record goes a little harder and deeper and gets a little stranger. Songs take hairpin turns partway through and explore different sides of her sound. Billie Eilish is at such an interesting point in her career. She and her brother Finneas are coming off their second Oscar win for “What Was I Made For?” from Barbie. This album uses that song as a jumping off point. It's still exploring that torch-ier side of her voice, but it's taking it in some pop-ier directions at the same time. I'm going to keep coming back to this record all summer. — Stephen Thompson

Valley Heat podcast

/ Valley Heat
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Valley Heat

Valley Heat is a scripted comedy podcast that pretends it is neither one of those things. Do not jump in to the most recent episodes. Start at the beginning because this thing builds. The less you know about it going in, the better. (The premise, a middle-aged white guy making a podcast about his neighborhood initially made me think: meh, maybe not for me.) Just know that it is bone dry, that it builds and builds and builds, that the cast of characters keeps growing and getting weirder. If you know the comedy team of Scharpling & Wurster think of this as a very West Coast version of that. — Glen Weldon

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Glen Weldon

Hazbin Hotel is an adult animated series about a demon who’s trying to reform the souls in Hell because … well, to go into that would take more time than I have in this blurb. There’s plenty of lore underpinning this show, is my point. Other things underpinning it: Showtunes! Queer characters! Stylish design! A great voice cast! And plenty of solid, well-earned, bounce-a-quarter-off ‘em jokes!

The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin is a very, very British historical comedy series about an infamous (in the U.K., at least) highwayman who’s something of a folk hero. Noel Fielding essentially plays himself as Turpin, and as you might imagine, the whole thing lives in that well-carved out liminal English-comedy space where the jokes are very silly but the delivery is very dry.

Brokeback Mountain. The Power of the Dog. Almodovar’s Strange Way of Life. The upcoming National Anthem. Queer cowboys have been around since the very first cowman made … “friends” with a farmer. It’s easy to forget that, so it’s nice that Orville Peck and Willie Nelson teamed up to remind us.


Beth Novey adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" for the Web. 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 2024 NPR

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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.
Roxana Hadadi