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What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend viewing

Still from Kyle Edward Ball's <em>Skinamarink</em>
SHUDDER
Still from Kyle Edward Ball's Skinamarink

This week, we snuck a peek at Sundance Film Festival, watched another "screenlife" horror movie, and got behind our favorite pop culture icons.

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

"Unholy" by Sam Smith and Kim Petras

This is a song that I should have been championing three months ago, given that that's when it topped the Billboard charts. I was very slow to pick up on it, in part because it is by an artist who has always bored me: 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 senseless and won an Oscar for a James Bond film that also bored me senseless. So imagine my surprise when I'm listening to the radio, and I hear an absolute banger 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 the 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 artist to hit number one on the Billboard charts. And what I like about this song is that it just kind of rules. It's weird and surprising. The video is just a gigantic queer fantasia, and it's just been so fun to watch a singer that I had personally filed away as somebody who was just a boring standstill contemporary pop singer and see that artist evolve into something that just could not be further from that, while still having that big, booming, elastic voice that allowed them to become a big pop star in the first place.

— Stephen Thompson

Skinamarink

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

Skinamarink doesn't really have a plot, but it's essentially like you're seeing the movie through the eyes of a child in this scary, dark house. Doors and windows go missing. There are things that appear. You hear voices, and it's a very visceral experience. Using the word "happy" is a liberty, because it really terrified me and made me afraid of the dark for I think, the first time in maybe over a decade. So that was kind of alarming. But what does make me happy about it is that it truly is experimental. It's weird, and it's different. I went to see it at an AMC, which is a crazy thing to me. Having a movie like that in theaters that is kind of surviving solely by word of mouth, I think is incredible. It's also very polarizing. I loved it, but my roommates who I saw it with thought it was the most boring movie of all time. If you truly buy into it, and it sounds like something that's terrifying, and you like the experimental horror energy that comes with it, definitely go see Skinamarink.

— Reanna Cruz

Listening to not-your-music

A Peloton rider at home in California in April 2020.
Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A Peloton rider at home in California in April 2020.

This January, I have been doing a challenge to take a Peloton class every day. One of the things that I have been doing is taking 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 I normally take. I normally take Sam, the former monk, or Christine, the hugger (Christine does teach Discover Your Power Zones classes, but anyway, it's a little bit different). It's more "gym bro" kind of dudes teaching these Discover Your Power Zones classes.

I realized that it is a great opportunity to hear music I don't like, and I want to clarify what I mean: In our world where everything is self curated, how many opportunities do I personally have to hear music that I don't like? I'm about to name some bands that people like, and I am not saying they are not good — I'm saying they're not my thing.

I don't listen to a lot of Rage Against the Machine, not because they're bad, but it's not my thing. One of the guys who teaches these classes loves to pedal the bike to Rage Against the Machine. Do I listen to a lot of Helmet? No. Maybe the right phrase is not bands I don't like — it's bands I don't listen to. So it is an opportunity to explore what it feels like to suddenly be exposed to a bunch of not-your-music on not-your-playlists.

When you're on the program, they tell you, "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 just going to take the next class in the program, and if that's Rage against the Machine and Helmet, then that is what you are going to listen to. There is 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 am glad for those sort of serendipitous moments that this happens to be the one that I'm experiencing right now.

— Linda Holmes

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

Dan Kois wrote a smart and thoughtful piece at 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 over at Bullseye this week.

If you can't get enough of M3GAN-mania, don't miss Brittany Luse over at It's Been a Minute, talking about the film.

I meant to mention this a couple of weeks ago, but NPR's Chloe Veltman had a really interesting story about firefighting in TV and film — a topic that's probably going to remain timely.


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.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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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.)
Reanna Cruz
Reanna Cruz is a news assistant for NPR Music's Alt.Latino.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Teresa Xie
Teresa Xie is a reporter who specializes in media and culture writing. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied political science and cinema. Outside of NPR, her work can be found in Pitchfork, Vox, Teen Vogue, Bloomberg, Stereogum and other outlets.