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What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend reading, listening and viewing

Raffiella Chapman as Vesper, a 13-year-old bio-hacker in <em>Vesper</em>.
IFC Films
Raffiella Chapman as Vesper, a 13-year-old bio-hacker in Vesper.

This week, Iceland threw baby puffins off cliffs, we mark one year of Sesame Street having its first full-time Black female puppeteer, and we remember hip-hop icon Coolio.

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

Vesper

I'm intrigued by a small independent sci-fi movie that has a lot of really beautiful work. It's called Vesper, and it's an eco fable about a time when humankind has managed to bioengineer the nature out of nature. It has contributed to a planet where nothing grows anymore.

There's a 13-year-old girl named Vesper who is trying to biohack her way into a sustainable world. I felt as if it was a combination of maybe Hunger Games because she's struggling against the world in that way, and something like Children of Men or, I don't know, The Road. One of those other sort of dystopian futures.

It's just a beautiful picture that has a bunch of practical effects, as they had no budget. Just things that are presumably happening in front of the camera, and then a lot of things that can't be happening in front of the camera that had to have been digitally added.

It's a European production, and it's really, really interesting. And it opens this weekend so everybody else gets a chance to see it, too. — Bob Mondello

Lizzo's collaboration with the Library of Congress

I love the mashup that's going on with the Library of Congress and Lizzo on the Internet this week. The Library of Congress' Carla Hayden tweeted at Lizzo, on her way to Washington, D.C., to perform.

The Library has this incredible collection of historic flutes, and I think there was a security team that went and delivered James Madison's Crystal Flute to Lizzo, which she played on stage this week.

It's just been really funny to see the Library of Congress tweeting Lizzo's lyrics to her and her going to the Library of Congress. It's a bit of a duet I was not expecting, and as a long-time Washingtonian, I just kind of love it. — Bilal Qureshi

Amber Mark Album, Three Dimensions Deep

The Spotify algorithm showed me a really good R&B album probably about two weeks ago, and since I discovered it, I haven't put it down. It's an album that came out in January of this year called Three Dimensions Deep by Amber Mark.

She has this wonderful kind of low R&B, raspy voice in the spirit of Toni Braxton or T-Boz from TLC. And it's paired with these wonderful neo soul throwback, chill, almost ambient R&B sounds. It's so beautiful.

It's one of those albums you can play from the top to the bottom, and it all just works. My favorite track on it is probably the second one, called "What It Is." It is wonderful R&B for a Sunday afternoon, and it's quickly becoming my favorite album of the year after Beyoncé's Renaissance.

This is one of those things that made me say, "Hey, maybe the Spotify algorithm is good, because I would have never discovered Amber Mark without the algorithm." So kudos to Amber Mark and I guess thank you, Spotify. — Sam Sanders

Usher's Thirst Traps

What's making me happy is very, very simple, basic and carnal. Our man Usher has been posting lots of thirst traps, nostalgic thirst traps, because it's the 25th anniversary of the album My Way. He was just a teenager when he made that album, and now he is in his mid-40s.

He's doing these side-by-side pictures of his cover album, and then him in the present day. It looks like he's barely aged a day since he was a teenager, and I've just been enjoying him throwing these in on his Instagram feed. Every time I open my Instagram, I'm like, "Oh, look at Usher. Still looking fine, looking great." I'm so happy for him. He seems to be thriving.

Also, a little plug for our NPR Tiny Desk, which if you somehow haven't watched it yet from this past summer, go watch it because he's great. He's just doing his thing, and I'm happy to see him. Besides Beyoncé, he's one of the few people who's been able to stay super relevant for the last 25+ years. — Aisha Harris

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

There could not be a better week to celebrate Lizzo by watching her Tiny Desk Concert — and yes, she plays her flute.

You may have heard that Trevor Noah announced his impending departure from The Daily Show this week after seven years at the desk. As it happens, I interviewed him back in 2015, about a month after he started (and four days before he had his appendix out), and I found him enormously thoughtful and very, very smart.

Our favorite Florida-based PCHH correspondent, NPR's own Eric Deggans, wrote this week about weather reporters and the fact that perhaps they should be allowed to come inside during storms, for everyone's sake.


NPR's Maison Tran 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 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
Maison Tran