Weekly Wrap: "This Or That." It's Friday: Sam's in a material world with NPR correspondent Elise Hu (@elisewho) and Morning Edition host David Greene (@nprgreene). They're talking about North and South Korea, freedom of the press, Twitter, and the Queen of Soul. Tweet @NPRItsBeenaMin with feels or email samsanders@npr.org.
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Weekly Wrap: "This Or That."

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Weekly Wrap: "This Or That."

Weekly Wrap: "This Or That."

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AUNT BETTY: Hey, y'all. This is Sam's Aunt Betty. This week on the show, NPR reporter Elise Hu and Morning Edition host David Greene. All right. Let's start the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SALLY YEH SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL (200 DU)")

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Hey, y'all. From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. I'm so happy to have y'all here - two consummate professionals, the Donny and Marie Osmond of public radio...

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Oh (laughter), wow.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: (Laughter).

SANDERS: David and Elise.

GREENE: I'll take that.

SANDERS: Yes.

GREENE: Consummate professionals I don't know about, but...

SANDERS: David Greene pulling double duty today. He just finished hosting Morning Edition. Now he's here with us. Thank you, sir.

GREENE: Yeah, my pleasure.

SANDERS: And Elise Hu, who is just back in the United States after her stint as an international correspondent in Korea for how long?

HU: Three-plus years.

SANDERS: Oh, wow. Now you're back. You're in LA.

HU: Felt like much longer, though.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HU: A lot's - a lot of stuff happened in Korea.

GREENE: What happened?

SANDERS: We're going to talk about it (laughter).

GREENE: Was there news in the Korean Peninsula?

HU: I don't know. I don't know if you know, but a lot of stuff happened while I was there.

SANDERS: Speaking of over there, I am playing a song that has been stuck in my head all week because of a movie called "Crazy Rich Asians." This song was in there. Let's pump it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL (200 DU)")

SALLY YEH: (Singing in Cantonese).

SANDERS: So this song is a cover of Madonna's classic "Material Girl" by an artist called Sally Yeh that showed up in the soundtrack for "Crazy Rich Asians," which I saw this weekend and loved. And it kind of represents everything that that movie symbolizes to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL (200 DU)")

YEH: (Singing in Cantonese) Two hundred degrees, (singing in Cantonese) when you hold me.

SANDERS: This song speaks to the film because all of the things that you're used to seeing and the way that, like, the West relates to the East are flipped. Like, I'm so used to seeing American movies borrow cultural artifacts from other cultures. But in this movie, Chinese culture, Asian culture borrows American culture. They're covering American songs. There's even a plot point in the movie in which one of the characters is at a disadvantage because of her American roots.

GREENE: Oh, wow.

SANDERS: Like, everything is flipped.

HU: There's so much buzz about it. I can't wait. I'm going to see it this weekend. I've got to, you know, support this film. But I think one of the things that Kat Chow wrote about for Code Switch on this was that hopefully there come - there will come a day where there's not just one Asian film, so it...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HU: ...So it doesn't have to represent everything and...

SANDERS: And have so much pressure on it.

HU: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL (200 DU)")

YEH: (Singing in Cantonese) Two hundred degrees.

SANDERS: I should point out, this cover changed a few of the lyrics. She sings, I get the itches when the temperature rises. The weather situation gets worse and worse, and my body explodes at 200 degrees.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL (200 DU)")

YEH: (Singing) Two hundred degrees.

SANDERS: I have no idea what that means, but I like it.

GREENE: (Laughter).

SANDERS: So yeah - all that to say, Madonna, happy birthday. She turned 60 this week.

GREENE: She did.

SANDERS: And "Crazy Rich Asians," happy box office. Anyway, David and Elise are here with me to look back on the week of news, culture and everything else. We have a lot to talk about, including what's going on with the two Koreas. The North and South may be talking nukes soon. We're also going to talk about why the year 2018 has been a weird if not bad year for pop music.

Also, you Friday listeners, I want to send you back in our feed to our latest Tuesday episode because it's live. And I talked with the actor John Cho and the director Aneesh Chaganty about their new film "Searching," which is a tech thriller unlike any you'll see this year.

OK. Let's get into it. I'm going to start as I always start - by having my guests describe their week of news in only three words. Elise, you know this drill. You've done it before. This is your first time doing it stateside, though.

HU: I know. So I - because there's been a lot of news from my region and I am fresh off the plane from there...

(LAUGHTER)

HU: My stuff is on a boat.

GREENE: Good one.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Yes.

HU: My stuff is in a shipping container. It doesn't get in...

SANDERS: Still - oh, wow. OK.

HU: But I'm fresh off a plane. And so...

SANDERS: From Seoul.

HU: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HU: So my three words would be Korean War ending?

SANDERS: Oh.

HU: This is something that we've been discussing for a long time or for most of this year after the two Koreas had their big Panmunjom Declaration at the first North Korea-South Korea summit.

SANDERS: I want to get this right. So this is - so the Korean War that happened in the '50s...

HU: '50s.

SANDERS: ...Was never officially declared to be over.

HU: That's right. It ended in a truce because South Korea actually did not sign the armistice that stopped the fighting. The U.S., which was involved in the U.N. command - so many different countries, at least a dozen, that fought with the U.S. And North Korea and China were signatories to the armistice. And so South Korea can't really unilaterally, with North Korea, end the fighting. The U.S. has to get involved. And there's a lot of talk right now. We're heading into a September that's going to be full of summits. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is going to go to Pyongyang. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed to Pyongyang again. And then Moon Jae-in for the first time, the South Korean president, is also supposed to go to Pyongyang.

SANDERS: Why are they all going to Pyongyang in September?

HU: So September's a huge month because it celebrates the founding. It's an anniversary. You know North Korea loves anniversaries. So North Korea has a huge anniversary coming up. Tons of media are invited, as well. And then it's also, at the end of that month, the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

SANDERS: OK.

HU: And there's been a lot of talk that Donald Trump, because he's the executive producer of his life...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HU: ...And his presidency, really wants to sign something.

SANDERS: At UNGA.

HU: That's right.

SANDERS: OK.

HU: UNGA? I never want...

SANDERS: U.N. General Assembly.

HU: I know, but I never want it - that sounds...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

GREENE: The greatest name for a major diplomatic gathering - UNGA.

SANDERS: I always want to say cowab-UNGA (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: So he wants a thing to happen at UNGA.

HU: He wants a thing to happen at UNGA, so September is going to be crazy with the summits.

SANDERS: OK.

GREENE: I can't believe how far we've come since you were in Guam.

HU: Right (laughter).

GREENE: ...When we thought, honestly...

HU: Fire and fury, yeah. They were going to, like, bracket Guam.

GREENE: No, you were there. Like, North Korea might attack Guam. Like, that was not this outlandish idea at that point. And...

HU: I know. It's been a lot of whiplash.

SANDERS: I will say I am interested to see how Donald Trump handles the Twitter diplomacy portion of all this stuff next month. He's been on a Twitter kick these last few weeks more than usual.

GREENE: He's angry - even angrier than usual. Yeah.

SANDERS: He's angry. And I'm like, oh, we're about to see fire and fury version 2.0.

HU: Yeah, but mainly about Omarosa, right?

(LAUGHTER)

HU: It has to really touch him directly. I don't think he tweets that much about geopolitics. Well, he does about trade, I suppose.

GREENE: Yeah.

SANDERS: What if Omarosa got a tape of the Korean (unintelligible)...

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Send her there. OK. I love it. David, do you have three words?

GREENE: I have three words. I - my three words are role in democracy.

SANDERS: America.

HU: Wait.

GREENE: And what I mean is the role - I'm sorry.

SANDERS: Oh, I thought meant R-O-L-L.

GREENE: R - yes, I could see that. It's like...

SANDERS: So like...

HU: I thought you were talking about the verb rolling.

GREENE: Does everyone's three words get picked apart...

HU: Rolling democracy.

SANDERS: Like Limp Bizkit.

GREENE: ...Like this?

HU: (Laughter).

GREENE: Does everyone get - does everyone, like, pick three - I don't remember...

SANDERS: I think your three words are great, David.

GREENE: It's a play on words. So it came up to me because we had these editorials this week. The Boston Globe - the editorial board called for newspapers across the country to all band together on the same day and write an editorial saying that we are not the enemy of the people, which is a phrase...

SANDERS: Yes.

GREENE: ...That President Trump had used.

SANDERS: Yeah...

GREENE: I mean, he has attacked the press. He's talked about fake news. All of that we've been hearing for a long time. But these editorial boards - and there were more than 300 publications that came together and did this - all said, we're going to take a stand and...

SANDERS: Issue op-eds in the same day...

GREENE: ...Issue op-eds. And the one that got me was The Topeka Capital-Journal because they actually endorsed Trump in 2016. I went back. It opened up with, he's the best choice at this time to lead our increasingly disillusioned nation into its future. Fast forward to this week, and they are saying the enemy of the people is this dangerous phrase which harkens back to the Soviet Union and its war on dissidents; it goes back to Jews being called the enemy of the state in Germany. I mean, this is serious stuff. And they finish their editorial by saying, we are not the enemy of the people; we are the people.

And this was an incredibly touching week for me, both as a journalist - I'm sure you guys feel the same way - but also as a former newspaper person, to see...

SANDERS: Yeah.

GREENE: You know, it's a struggling industry.

SANDERS: Baltimore Sun shoutout.

GREENE: And to all stand up together - yeah, Baltimore Sun shoutout. And it got me thinking about a lot of things because this is not about Donald Trump. This is not about a Republican or a Democrat. This is about protecting, I mean, journalism.

SANDERS: The fourth estate.

GREENE: ...And its role in democracy.

SANDERS: Yeah.

GREENE: And we are not the enemy of the people.

SANDERS: There was one major paper that said, we're not going to do this op-ed with the rest of you guys this week because of the perception of the entire thing. So the LA Times didn't do this this week.

GREENE: Right.

SANDERS: And Nicholas Goldberg of the Times said, quote, "the LA Times editorial board does not speak for The New York Times or for the Boston Globe or the Chicago Tribune or The Denver Post. We share certain opinions with those newspapers. We disagree on other things. We would not want to leave the impression that we take our lead from others or that we engage in groupthink." They go on to say, why give them ammunition to scream about collusion?

HU: (Laughter).

GREENE: That's a point that some people have made, that, I mean, if - that these editorial boards all coming together play into the hands of a president who is saying that...

SANDERS: They're all tided against me, yeah...

GREENE: ...The entire world of the media's colluded against him. And so, you know, I respect the LA Times. I respect the papers who did these editorials. They gave me chills. So it's just a really interesting moment.

SANDERS: It's an interesting time. I've riffed before on this show about, you know, there needs to be pushback on the enemy-of-the-people narrative. But sometimes I feel the pushback is excessively performative in a way that makes us a story more than we need to be sometimes. With that said, we're not the enemy.

GREENE: We're definitely not the enemy.

SANDERS: You guys, I have three words.

GREENE: Let's hear them.

SANDERS: They are this or that.

GREENE: Ooh.

SANDERS: And I say that because I'm talking about the way that we conceptualize a company that is always in the news or making news - talking about Twitter. So there has been a big shift in the way that Twitter relates to the world.

Their CEO is Jack Dorsey. For the last week, week and a half or so, he's been on a press tour everywhere. And he's doing this because it seems as if Twitter is under the harshest criticism that they faced maybe in years, maybe ever. Everyone on the left and the right is saying that they've got to clean up their platform; they've got to get some of this hate speech off of there; they've got to figure out who's real and who's fake on there.

And this reached a crescendo when Twitter kicked off the "alt-right" provocateur Alex Jones from their platform for seven days, like a seven-day timeout. And so there are these big questions about what Twitter is going to do in the future to regulate the platform.

HU: Wait. So Alex Jones is back?

SANDERS: He has a seven-day...

HU: He didn't get bounced for real?

SANDERS: It's a seven-day timeout. Then he gets to come back.

GREENE: Oh, I didn't realize that. I thought it was - huh.

HU: I feel like, make a decision, right?

SANDERS: Well, this is the thing.

HU: If you're going to bounce him, just bounce him.

SANDERS: Make a decision.

GREENE: This is like detention and...

HU: Right.

SANDERS: Yeah. This speaks to the big problem that Twitter has. They really can't figure out what they want to do. They did tell The Washington Post this week that they're considering things like messing with the feed so you see alternative viewpoints or labeling bots and parody accounts. But my big takeaway and why I say this or that this week is because the existential core of Twitter's problem - and of Facebook's problem - is that we don't really know what these companies are or what we want them to be. We can't decide if they are completely private companies that can do whatever they want or de facto public squares that have a higher moral obligation to serve the public.

GREENE: You want them to be both of those things all at once or neither...

SANDERS: That's hard.

GREENE: ...Like, depending on the time of day.

SANDERS: Yeah, that's hard. And so until we figure out what we want Twitter to be, they're not going to be able to be anything that makes sense to any of us and that makes us happy.

HU: Well, there's always going to be members of the audience that are going to be not happy, right? I think it's up to the private companies to take a position. Make a decision, right? If they're going to be absolutist about it and say, hey, you know what? We are going to back free speech completely and allow Alex Jones and Sandy Hook deniers and all of these sorts of things, and yeah, it's going to be nasty, But this is our position; we're not going to bounce anyone...

SANDERS: Then own it.

HU: Then own it, right? That's your position. But if you are, as a private company, going to selectively - or use your terms of service to get rid of some users...

SANDERS: Yes.

HU: ...Based on whatever policy...

SANDERS: And interpret those terms differently based on the political scene that we find ourselves in, you know?

HU: ...Then you are going to have to bounce people like Alex Jones - right? - because that's the position you took.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HU: So make a decision.

SANDERS: Make a decision. You know, I am obsessed with this issue, and I have been digging deep for the last few months here and there on free speech issues and web platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And in fact, I guest hosted today, this Friday, an episode of Vox's daily news podcast, "Today, Explained." And we spent the whole time going deep on Twitter.

GREENE: Really?

HU: Cool.

SANDERS: ...And this big question of whether or not Twitter is actually public or private. If you want to hear that, wherever you find your podcasts, you can find me in the Friday episode of Vox's "Today, Explained."

GREENE: I want to listen to that.

SANDERS: I mean, you don't have to.

GREENE: I'm going to.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: All right. It's time for a break. Coming up, I speak with NPR's music critic Ann Powers. She's trying to convince me that pop music in 2018 really hasn't been all that bad. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. We'll be right back.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: We are back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR, the show where we catch up on the week that was. I'm Sam Sanders here with two guests - Elise Hu, recovering NPR international correspondent.

HU: I'm going to wear that title for a long time.

GREENE: (Singing) She's back. She's back.

SANDERS: What was the first food you bought when you got back to the states?

HU: Flour tortillas.

SANDERS: Yes.

GREENE: Oh, nice.

HU: Hello, I'm a Texan. Flour tortillas and queso, man.

SANDERS: Also here with David Greene, who pulls double duty every week, hosting two shows for NPR - Up First, the podcast, and Morning Edition. You guys, before we get to our next segment, I have a question for you both. What was your song of the summer this summer?

HU: I'm going give you a K-pop one.

SANDERS: OK.

HU: It's called - it's Red Velvet. The song is called "Bad Boy." And now our producer Brent is going to have to look it up.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HU: It's really good. Red Velvet, hot girl group...

SANDERS: OK.

HU: ...In South Korea - and really all over the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD BOY")

RED VELVET: (Singing in Korean)

HU: This is "Bad Boy."

SANDERS: Oh, ay, ay, ay - it's giving me some Destiny's Child vibes.

HU: It's a little derivative.

SANDERS: Well, that's what pop is.

HU: (Laughter).

SANDERS: So interestingly enough, when I asked you both to name the song of the summer, Elise named a song not from this country, and David just had a big question mark, which speaks to my central thesis that pop music in 2018 hasn't been that great.

GREENE: That's your thesis.

SANDERS: That's my thesis. And so because I can, I cold-emailed Ann Powers, NPR's official music critic. And I said, hey, Ann, is pop in 2018 bad? Am I wrong to feel this way? She wrote back, quote, "though I am an optimist at heart, I have to agree with you."

HU: Oh, validated.

SANDERS: Ann agrees. Ann agrees.

HU: Validated by Ann Powers - that's big.

SANDERS: Yeah. So I asked Ann to tell me why. She did. Here is our chat on why pop music is meh in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: So I'm right. It's lame this year, no?

(LAUGHTER)

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Well, you're right, but, you know, I'm also a critic at heart, so I have to say, you're right and you're wrong. You're kind of - you know, everything has more than one side.

SANDERS: There you go.

POWERS: And so we can talk about that. I mean, I think that pop music right now is - it's in a valley. But it's not the first time.

SANDERS: All right. All right. So I want to talk through some of the reasons that we agree that pop music is in this valley, shall we say? The first reason is a man that I have spoken about on this show many times before. His name rhymes with fake.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I know it's not Drake.

POWERS: Oh, my God. I have to say, we are in the valley of the shadow of Drake.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN MY FEELINGS")

DRAKE: (Singing) Kiki, do you love me? Are you riding? Say you'll never, ever leave from beside me.

SANDERS: He's like the cat came back of pop music. That man will not go away.

POWERS: Oh, Aubrey.

SANDERS: (Laughter) But he has been, like, the biggest pop story of the year. And I think we both can agree that he is part of the explanation for the general tone of pop. How has he contributed to pop feeling a little bit down this year, in your opinion?

POWERS: You know, I've loved some Drake in my time.

SANDERS: OK.

POWERS: And, in general, I like what he brought to hip-hop. You know, I like the emotionality of his songs. I like the singing. At the same time, I think there are certain aspects to Drake's music that are sending a template, and that template is really long albums that are designed to generate play on playlists - on streaming playlists, a lack of focus on hooks because it's really about a voice...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN MY FEELINGS")

DRAKE: (Singing) This shit got me in my feelings.

POWERS: ...That you just want to, like, roll with.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN MY FEELINGS")

DRAKE: (Singing) Got to be real with it. Yup.

SANDERS: Yeah. I mean, like, when I think of Drake and this album and singles like "In My Feelings," which we are hearing now, they are songs and albums that feel almost formless and shapeless. And you're right. Like, I mean, they just feel like background music. And Drake is Drake, so he can pull that off. But I think that, like, that vibe has infused all of pop this year, and I don't feel hooks anymore.

POWERS: I know. I mean, when was the last time Drake had a hook? I mean Kiki, do you love me is sort of a - sort of a hook.

SANDERS: That's a sad hook, though, Ann.

POWERS: It's a sad - it's a meme.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah.

POWERS: I think it was, like, Lindsay Zoladz, the great critic who writes at The Ringer, who compared Drake's music to an Instagram feed.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF JUICE WRLD SONG, "LUCID DREAMS")

SANDERS: And, I mean, it's not just Drake. I think that we both can agree that another element of the soundscape of this year, and the last few years, maybe, is #soundcloudrap. First, define it for us, I guess.

POWERS: SoundCloud rap arose on the platform SoundCloud. That platform became a vector for these very young rappers. Some of the artists that you could name-check - well, I really like this guy Juice WRLD. Maybe we can hear a little Juice WRLD.

SANDERS: Yeah. Let's do it. This song is called "Lucid Dreams."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCID DREAMS")

JUICE WRLD: (Singing) You left me falling and landing inside my grave. I know that you want me dead.

SANDERS: Oh. OK, Juice WRLD. You sound a little down.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Talk me through this, Ann. Please.

POWERS: Juice WRLD is - he's a sad fella, but...

SANDERS: Yeah.

POWERS: You know, there's a side to SoundCloud rap that is about this, like, very emo - really, like, stemming from emo, the style of rock that emerged from punk and sort of blended with grunge, or '90s rock, as you want to call it, and represented young men expressing their emotions, and often expressing their main emotion, which was, like, anger at women, unfortunately. But strangely, or perhaps not strangely given the patriarchy, SoundCloud rap is also very popular with young women. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCID DREAMS")

JUICE WRLD: (Singing) I still see your shadows in my room. Can't take back the love that I gave you. It's to the point where I love and I hate you. And I cannot change you, so I must replace you.

POWERS: You know, Lil Yachty, Trippie Redd, 21 Savage - all these young guys - artists with, you know, interesting, strange names that sound a lot like YouTuber names. And it's all very intertwined - right? - with online life.

SANDERS: Yeah.

POWERS: This is music for kids who are...

SANDERS: Online all the time.

POWERS: Online from the time they're, like, 10. They're making music from the time they're, you know, that age. But it is also characteristic of the generation that also grew up taking psych meds. You know, I mean, there's a SoundCloud rapper called Lil Xan, X-A-N, for Xanax.

SANDERS: Like Xanax?

POWERS: Yeah. But the one thing, Sam, though, is it does - it sounds very much the same if you're not deeply in it.

SANDERS: Well, this is the thing. It's like, I don't hear a hook...

POWERS: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...Which is the same thing I feel about Drake. And they all - all these songs just bleed into each other.

POWERS: Yeah. But I think maybe that's the point because it's like you're rolling...

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: OK.

POWERS: ...In different many ways.

SANDERS: Yeah.

POWERS: And there are things that jump out. You know, there's - there can be forms of hooks, or maybe they're, like, proto-hooks, or, you know, like...

SANDERS: There's "Gucci Gang."

POWERS: ...Lil Pump. Yeah. I was going to say, that's my song. That's my jam. Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang.

SANDERS: We got to crank that tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUCCI GANG")

LIL PUMP: (Singing) Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Spend ten racks on a new chain.

SANDERS: Yes. See? That one has a hook. I wanted more of that in this year of pop.

POWERS: It's from last year.

SANDERS: See? There you go. OK.

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: Come on, Lil Pump. Bring us back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUCCI GANG")

LIL PUMP: (Singing) Gucci gang, Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang.

SANDERS: OK. So we have Drake, who is making ambient albums. We have SoundCloud rap, the ascendant sound in pop. But there's also this phenomenon, I think, of the Internet and technology itself setting the tone of pop. We are knee-deep in the age of streaming. And that itself has also changed the sound of music itself, too.

POWERS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BITCHES BROKEN HEARTS")

BILLIE EILISH: (Singing) You can pretend you don't miss me. You can pretend you don't care. All you want to do is kiss me. Oh, what a shame I'm not there.

SANDERS: This song is called "Bitches Broken Hearts" by Billie Eilish. What's her deal? Where's she from? What's her situation?

POWERS: Born in 2001.

SANDERS: Oh, my Lord.

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: I know. She's from Highland Park, LA. So...

SANDERS: Oh.

POWERS: ...Shoutout...

SANDERS: Shoutout.

POWERS: ...To my old neighborhood.

SANDERS: Yeah.

POWERS: But she also came up on Soundcloud, you know? And I think of her as part of this kind of Lana - post-Lana Del Rey generation of women singer-songwriters. Or you might even say - although, this is making the post so recent - but post-Maggie Rogers - "Alaska." You know, their voices are attractive. The production is lush.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BITCHES BROKEN HEARTS")

EILISH: (Singing) Somebody new is going to comfort you like you want me to.

POWERS: For me, it feels very diaristic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BITCHES BROKEN HEARTS")

EILISH: (Singing) Somebody new is going to comfort me like you never do.

POWERS: Very quiet - don't bug me. Don't talk to me. Come on in. I'll draw you into my world. That seems to be the tone. Now, why does that work these days? Well, the writer Liz Pelly has coined a term that I think is really useful. And it's lean-back listening. Or she talks about lean-back listeners. She wrote about this in The Baffler. And what she says she meant is a listener "who thinks less about the artist and the albums and more associates music with moods and activities." That's a direct quote from Liz.

SANDERS: And that is - I mean, that is a direct outgrowth of, like, the rise of Spotify, where they give you these playlists with the names of moods.

POWERS: Well, I took the Billie Eilish song from one of my favorite lean-back listening experiences on Spotify, which is down in the dumps playlist.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Oh, Ann, cheer up.

POWERS: (Laughter) Sometimes, you just want to be in that space.

SANDERS: Yeah, but this is so weird, though. I mean, like, the way that we listen has changed because of Spotify.

POWERS: Yes.

SANDERS: It's just a constant stream. It is almost as if Spotify has turned pop music for us into what NPR is for a lot of listeners - background noise.

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: Yes. And this is - what's my latest NPR name from one of those memes? This is Floral Cohen (ph) bringing you hook notes.

SANDERS: (Laughter) I love it. I love it.

POWERS: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I will say, I mean, like, I, long ago and far away, was a music composition major in college. And I realized that I like all kinds of music. But the music that I like most has evidence of, like, complex composition. And there is resolution and completion. And there is movement to a point. And there is verse leading to chorus to bridge. And there is, you know, like, a thematic arc to a song.

POWERS: Right. Right.

SANDERS: And a lot of this playlist music has no thematic arc. It is a great note, but it's one note.

POWERS: That gets at the heart of what I'm trying to understand about it because I do believe - and this is the optimist in me or the poptimist in me that there is a story. There's always a story. It's maybe not my story. But something is hooking people in to this music. And if it's not an arc - what - maybe it's a different - maybe we can find a different metaphor. Is it a wave? Is it like a vibrational line?

SANDERS: A wave.

POWERS: Like a soundwave?

SANDERS: It's a sonic wave.

POWERS: Sonic wave...

SANDERS: A Soundcloud.

POWERS: Oh, hey. Has anyone patented that? That's a great phrase.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUCCI GANG")

LIL PUMP: (Rapping) Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang...

SANDERS: That was Ann Powers, music critic for NPR. Thank you, Ann. If you want to hear more of Ann on pop music, she has a whole book all about it. It's out in paperback now. It's called "Good Booty: Love And Sex, Black And White, Body And Soul In American Music."

GREENE: Love it - she's a poptimist.

HU: I can't wait.

GREENE: She's the poptimist.

SANDERS: David, Elise - back in the studio with you guys now - do either of you own any Gucci?

GREENE: No.

SANDERS: Elise does (laughter).

GREENE: Yes, you do.

HU: I'm Asian.

SANDERS: (Laughter). All right. You guys, time for a break. When we come back, we'll play my favorite game, Who Said That.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR, the show where we catch up on the week that was. I'm Sam Sanders here with two guests in studio at NPR West - Elise Hu, former and recovering international correspondent, and David Greene, who pulls double duty every week hosting two shows for NPR - Up First the podcast and Morning Edition, a little show you may hear on your radio some days. I'm glad you both are here.

GREENE: We're glad to be here.

SANDERS: Yeah?

GREENE: All together in the studio - this is fun.

SANDERS: Are you guys ready for the hard part of the show?

GREENE: Can I just say Elise wins and, like, go...

HU: I was about to do the same thing to you. I was about to just abstain.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Now it's time for my favorite game, which I'm making you both play...

GREENE: OK.

SANDERS: ...Who Said That.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA")

KANDI BURRUSS: Who had been saying that?

PORSHA WILLIAMS: Who said that?

KENYA MOORE: Who said that?

SANDERS: This game is so simple. You know how it works. I share a quote from the week. You all have to guess who said that, or at least get close - get the story I'm talking about, get a key word. I'm not a stickler. I'm not Alex Trebek. It ain't "Jeopardy." The rules are real loose.

HU: You should be more like Alex Trebek, though, and overpronounce French.

SANDERS: Wait, like, French words?

HU: Right. Any time there's a French word, he overpronounces it.

SANDERS: You're, like, a super-watcher of "Jeopardy."

HU: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I only watch Black Jeopardy. I only watch Black Jeopardy.

HU: It's the best.

SANDERS: It's the best. All right. Anyways, you guys, ready for the first quote?

GREENE: Yup.

SANDERS: Here it is.

GREENE: Yup.

SANDERS: "That aioli you're so fond of - I hate to break it to you, but that's just mayonnaise." Who said that? This was, like, the talk of Twitter this week.

GREENE: Yeah. Elise, you take that one.

HU: Is this on a cooking show?

SANDERS: No, it was some written words. Where would you expect to find some writing that tackles the hot topic of mayo?

GREENE: Well, it's - I know - there was all - the hot topic was that millennials killed mayo, right?

SANDERS: Yes. That's it.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: We'll give it to you. Yes. That's it.

HU: (Laughter) Woo.

SANDERS: Yes. So - OK. This was a quote from Sandy Hingston. She writes for Philadelphia Magazine. And she had an article this week that touched off an Internet debate. The article was called, quote, "How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise" - I can never say mayonnaise. Mayonazay (ph).

GREENE: You got it. It's fine. I think...

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: I think you're actually saying it the right way. We've, like - we've made it wrong.

SANDERS: Can we stop with the how millennials killed X storyline? Stop it.

GREENE: But they killed mayonnaise, and I'm actually happy about it.

SANDERS: We didn't kill mayonnaise.

HU: Mayonnaise is delicious.

SANDERS: I used to love mayo. Also, everyone eats aioli still. Mayo is fine.

GREENE: Mayo is...

SANDERS: Mayo is fine.

GREENE: ...Disgusting.

SANDERS: Get out of my house.

GREENE: (Laughter).

HU: Hey, what do you do when you go to Amsterdam and you need to dip your fries?

GREENE: A, maybe I don't dip it. And if there's...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

GREENE: And there is nothing you should dip fries in except for a Wendy's frosty, ketchup or vinegar. That's it.

HU: Oh, Wendy's frosty - I'm there all the way. We are doing that the next time we get it.

SANDERS: No, you need that Whataburger ketchup - just a little bit of sweet.

HU: Oh, yeah. That's the best ketchup.

GREENE: Oh, yeah. No. Totally. That's in the ketchup category.

SANDERS: Or some mayo.

GREENE: No.

SANDERS: Anyways, to the point, in the piece, this writer called Mayo the Taylor Swift of condiments, quote, "pale and insipid and not nearly exotic enough for our era of globalization."

HU: Which is so untrue, because mayo is globally popular.

SANDERS: Yes.

HU: There is nothing in Japan without mayo.

SANDERS: Yes.

HU: And then I just brought up northern Europe.

GREENE: All right. David, you have a point.

GREENE: Thank you. Thank you.

SANDERS: No, thank you.

GREENE: I don't feel like I earned it, but...

SANDERS: You earned it. You earned it.

GREENE: ...OK.

SANDERS: Ready for the next quote? All right. Quote, "There's no need to put something so immodest and ugly in such a historic spot."

GREENE: Oh. Oh. Oh. This is the urinals in Paris.

SANDERS: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

HU: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Way to go, David. Way to go, David. Two points for David. You were worried...

HU: David's enthusiasm about this...

SANDERS: I know, right?

HU: ...Is delightful.

GREENE: I get really excited about public urinals.

SANDERS: Yes.

HU: It is delightful.

SANDERS: Yes. So that quote was from Paola Pellizzari. She was interviewed about this new plan of public urinals in Paris on city streets.

GREENE: Which was done, in theory, to take care of the problem of public urination.

SANDERS: Yes.

GREENE: Make sense of that for me. You're concerned about public urination in Paris, so you put up public urinals.

SANDERS: So make it even more public.

GREENE: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah. And these are, like, big, red urinals where you can just sidle up to them and let it go.

GREENE: Yup.

SANDERS: In public.

GREENE: And they're not - they're, like, really conspicuous. These things are bright-red.

HU: (Laughter).

GREENE: They look like bright-red trash cans with...

SANDERS: Yes.

GREENE: ...An opening in the front.

SANDERS: NPR wrote they are completely exposed, eco-friendly urinals. They're not subtle. They're bright-red and in heavily trafficked areas - for example, near the Notre Dame cathedral.

GREENE: Perfect.

SANDERS: You're going to have a red urinal outside of Notre Dame?

GREENE: Perfect. I mean, better than...

HU: Peeing...

GREENE: ...Relieving yourself on Notre Dame.

HU: ...On Notre Dame.

SANDERS: Who are these people peeing on Notre Dame?

HU: Well, just on the side of it.

GREENE: Sounds like a lot of drunk guys. I'm - that's what - I mean, it - honestly, that sounds like part of the problem.

SANDERS: How about this, Paris, you fix your problem by taking away the wine? Do that.

HU: Nobody wants to do that.

GREENE: Nobody wants to do that.

SANDERS: That's true. David, you're up 2-zip.

GREENE: Yeah.

SANDERS: This is the last quote, but I'll say it's worth three points.

HU: OK.

SANDERS: So if Elise gets it, she wins (laughter).

HU: He lost so much faith in me, I'm never going to be invited back. I'm so bad at this game.

GREENE: This is wrong.

HU: I'm so bad at this game.

SANDERS: You ready?

GREENE: Unless I lose.

SANDERS: This is a good quote. It's someone who's been in the news a lot this week. Here's the quote. "You are hardly in a position to determine what separates stars from divas, since you were neither one or an authority on either." Who said that?

GREENE: Well...

SANDERS: What kind of diva would say this kind of thing?

HU: Omarosa?

SANDERS: Who is the diva that we're all celebrating this week?

GREENE: Aretha Franklin.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: Yes, David.

HU: Oh, my God.

SANDERS: That was a quote from Aretha Franklin. She wrote it in 1993 to a New York Post writer who dared critique her outfit. In this '93 article, a writer named Liz Smith wrote about Aretha Franklin wearing a bustier. She said, Aretha Franklin must know she's too bosomy to wear such clothing, but she just doesn't care what we think. And Aretha said, not in my house.

HU: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Today is not the day, and I am not the one. And she wrote back and clapped back, and that is the side of Aretha that I'm celebrating this week after her death. She was always a woman who controlled her narrative, who said what she wanted to say and didn't hold back. So on top of the voice, she had a soul. I'm going to miss her. She was great.

GREENE: We are all going to miss her.

SANDERS: Now, I am playing - to make my second point about Aretha - what some might consider the worst Aretha song. It's still the best Aretha song because she's never made a bad song.

GREENE: True.

SANDERS: This is her 1980s classic duet with George Michael, "Knew You Were Waiting."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING (FOR ME)")

GEORGE MICHAEL AND ARETHA FRANKLIN: I knew you were waiting. I knew you were waiting for me.

SANDERS: It is overdone with '80s pop production, and it's still a jam.

GREENE: I love it.

SANDERS: She can do no wrong.

GREENE: I thought about Detroit, her adopted hometown, because they focus on how she brought respect to women in Detroit, brought respect to the Motor City, which is a city that so deserves respect but doesn't always get it.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

GREENE: And, I mean, it just speaks to her.

SANDERS: And she commanded her own respect. She made everyone until the day she stopped. You had to pay her in cash. She would put the cash in her purse.

HU: I didn't know that.

SANDERS: And the purse would sit on the piano with her as she performed because she wasn't going to get played.

HU: Wow.

GREENE: Which was...

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

GREENE: ...Making a statement about musicians going back...

SANDERS: Exactly.

GREENE: ...Years who never got paid upfront.

SANDERS: Exactly.

GREENE: And that was - she was fighting for them every time she did that...

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

HU: Gosh. That's amazing.

SANDERS: And she threw shade in every decade of her life.

HU: (Laughter).

SANDERS: There's this wonderful, wonderful quote. She was being interviewed by God knows who. But they ask her her thoughts on this current crop of pop stars, and she delivers the truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY: When I say the name Adele, what comes to mind?

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Young singer, good singer.

FARLEY: Alicia Keys?

FRANKLIN: Young performer, good writer, producer.

FARLEY: Taylor Swift?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING (FOR ME)")

MICHAEL AND FRANKLIN: (Singing) ...For me.

FRANKLIN: OK. Great gowns, beautiful gowns.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HU: Oh, my God.

GREENE: Oh, no, you didn't.

SANDERS: Great gowns, beautiful gowns. Aretha, we celebrate you. We honor you. I hope she is singing to the rafters up there right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING (FOR ME)")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) When the valley was low.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) It didn't stop me...

SANDERS: All right. Now it's time to end the show as we do every week. We ask our listeners to share with us the best thing that happened to them all week. We encourage folks to brag. Let's take a listen.

KYLE: Hi, Sam. This is Kyle (ph) from San Francisco. It's my 50th birthday today. And I'm in one of my favorite cities other than San Francisco - Edinburgh, Scotland - to hear the famous One O'Clock Gun. And here's the gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

KYLE: Whee (laughter).

JENNY: Hey, Sam. This is Jenny (ph) from Philadelphia. The best thing to happen to me this week was to be able to make the trip down to Dallas, Texas, for the LeakyCon 2018 "Harry Potter" fan convention.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The best thing that happened to me all week was achieving my goal of getting to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: My husband and I got to move into our first house together.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: After four months of being unemployed, I finally found some work.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: The best thing to happen to me this week is I'm sitting outside of my last MBA class ever. I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

NICK: Hey, Sam. This is Nick (ph). The best thing that happened to me this week was being able to finally watch "Crazy Rich Asians." It's amazing to see so many people that look like me in a movie.

KATE: This is Kate (ph) calling from St. Louis, Mo. The best part of my week was celebrating my birthday by staying up late and watching the Perseid meteor shower. I watch it every year on my birthday because my dad likes to say it was a special sign when I was born.

MONSADO: My name is Monsado (ph). And my highlight of the week was to see that my wife is now officially enrolled as a university student. I'm really, really happy and really proud of her. And that's what I wanted to share.

RICHARD: Hi, Sam. This is Richard (ph) from Thunder Bay, Canada. The best thing that happened to me this week is that I was able to share my late wife's love of travel with my 15-year-old daughter as we ventured to Iceland together. We miss you, V (ph). Thanks, Sam.

MONSADO: Thank you. I love your show.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thanks, and have a great one.

SANDERS: I love it. All of those folks traveling and doing fun stuff, send us pictures, too. I always love to see what I'm hearing. And a shoutout. Happy Birthday, Kyle. It's your 50th. Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. All right. We listen to all of these that come in. We enjoy them every week. Keep them coming. Share with me the best part of your week any week at any time. Just send me the sound of your voice to samsanders@npr.org - samsanders@npr.org. With that, Mama, we made it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Happy birthday to you...

SANDERS: Oh, God.

GREENE: Do you hear "Happy Birthday"?

SANDERS: Yeah, I hear it.

GREENE: Sam, we have a surprise for you.

SANDERS: Oh, God.

GREENE: Elise and I just brought a little bit of...

SANDERS: What?

(SOUNDBITE OF POPPING CORK)

HU: You actually did it. You actually did it. We were so worried we weren't going to be able to pull this off.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Oh, my goodness. What is this?

GREENE: Happy birthday. It's Sam's birthday, everybody.

HU: It's Sam's birthday. Happy birthday, Sam.

SANDERS: Thank you, guys. I didn't want anyone to know.

GREENE: Well...

HU: Oh, stop, Sam.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HU: Come on.

GREENE: Oh, should we keep it a secret?

SANDERS: It's OK.

GREENE: How old are you, Sam?

SANDERS: I'm 34 today.

GREENE: Oh. That's so young...

HU: What a good year, yeah.

SANDERS: As - I'm saying 34, ready for more.

HU: Love it.

SANDERS: Yeah.

GREENE: Well, do you want to drink out of the bottle, or should we get some glasses? That's the only question...

HU: I know.

SANDERS: I will. Is this - is that - what kind is that?

HU: It's a Prosecco.

GREENE: I just want everyone to hear. We should put...

(SOUNDBITE OF POURING WINE)

GREENE: Oh, there we go.

HU: Aw, yeah.

GREENE: Oh, that audio...

HU: We're going to have bubbly.

GREENE: ...Is like...

SANDERS: Thank y'all.

HU: It's so special to be here in person for your birthday...

SANDERS: Aw.

HU: ...And to be able to celebrate it with you in Los Angeles, so...

SANDERS: Thank you, guys.

GREENE: It is - I love working with you every day, Sam Sanders. And I'm glad I get to share your birthday with you, too, here in the studio...

SANDERS: Aw. This is - I'm verklempt. Also, I'm so glad that y'all knew to play the Stevie Wonder version of "Happy Birthday"...

HU: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Because that's a better version.

GREENE: Of course.

SANDERS: All right, you guys. This week, the show was produced by Brent Baughman and Anjuli Sastry, with help from Kumari Devarajan. Steve Nelson is our director of programming. And this week's show was edited by Jeff Rogers and Uri Berliner. Our big boss - signs my paychecks - is NPR's VP of programming, Anya Grundmann.

Listeners, refresh your feed Tuesday morning for my chat with Kari Skogland. She's one of the directors of "The Handmaid's Tale." If you think that show can be hard to watch, imagine trying to direct it. Kari tells me all about her self-care regimen after a long day on that set and what it's like to be a woman director at a time when there still aren't a lot of women directors. It's a good chat. Check for it, Tuesday. All right. Until then, Stevie, thank you.

GREENE: Thank you, Stevie.

SANDERS: Aretha, thank you.

HU: Sam, thank you, and happy birthday.

GREENE: Sam, thank you.

SANDERS: Thank, y'all. Thanks for listening. I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Happy birthday. Happy, happy birthday...

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