The vast universe of podcasting offers the unique ability to match any interest. Whether you’re a fan of the Percy Jackson novels, independent play scripts, or the flamboyant and prematurely halted TV series Lost Girl, the podcast realm has you covered. And while I’m still on the hunt for a podcast dedicated to the 1987 animated show Beverly Hills Teens, the beauty of this medium is that it likely exists somewhere. (So if anyone does stumble upon it, do let me know. It’s my personal quest.)
However, the role of podcasts isn’t merely to cater to our niche interests in pop culture. They’ve also evolved and redefined the very structure of this medium. No longer are culture podcasts restricted to basic film critiques or candid banter between pals. Although such formats persist and have their own charm, there’s been a rise in podcasts that incorporate intricate design and aim to innovate. Whether it’s meticulous editing that brings out the nuances of a melody or tackling a subject like Truck Nutz with a true-crime angle, these podcasts redefine and elevate the conventional understanding of what the medium can achieve.
An outstanding pop-culture podcast should captivate those unfamiliar with its subject, while simultaneously resonating with seasoned fans, offering both validation and fresh insights. The podcasts on this list genuinely cherish their subject matter, seamlessly blending wit with deep dives, ensuring every subscriber feels included in the dialogue. After all, whether discussing elite art or not, such dialogues are, undeniably, worth every second.
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Since its debut in 2010, “Pop Culture Happy Hour” has swiftly carved a niche for itself amongst the podcast aficionados who yearn for amiable yet insightful pop culture dialogues. Distancing itself from NPR’s characteristic structured and journalistic tone, this podcast offers host Linda Holmes the liberty to relax and engage freely with her co-hosts. These aren’t just any co-hosts, though; they include renowned figures from NPR such as Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon, as well as specialized connoisseurs pertaining to the topic at hand.
What sets “Pop Culture Happy Hour” apart is its ambiance. Listeners are seamlessly ushered into an intimate gathering where eminent critics and pop culture pundits treat them as insiders. The atmosphere is light, brimming with humor and the pleasant din of debates. However, what’s admirable is that these discussions, while rigorous, are devoid of the weightiness one might associate with discourses on established cultural paradigms.
In many ways, “Pop Culture Happy Hour” pioneered a format that would later inspire a plethora of subsequent pop culture-centric podcasts. It’s not just a show; it’s an experience, a lesson in striking a balance between depth and accessibility in conversation.
Originating on the comedy platform Maximum Fun before shifting to the esteemed Radiotopia network, “Song Exploder” serves as a magnifying glass on the art of song creation. It takes listeners on a meticulous journey, deconstructing songs layer by layer to unearth the essence of songcraft.
While the podcast’s reigns have been held by Hrishikesh Hirway and, more recently, The Get Down Stay Down & Thao Nguyen of Thao, the spotlight remains firmly on the music and its creators. The final edit is such that the hosts dissolve into the background, making way for a beautiful tapestry of artist interviews, which are artfully intertwined with snippets, demos, or fragments of the song under the microscope. This approach mirrors the ethos of “99% Invisible”, emphasizing that each element of a song, irrespective of its perceived importance, deserves equal attention and admiration.
The magic of “Song Exploder” lies in its ability to maintain an egalitarian stance towards music creation. Lyrics, often the centerpiece of many analyses, are not placed on a pedestal higher than, say, a specific microphone choice that contributes a unique vocal nuance. The podcast democratizes the narrative by valuing input from a vocalist just as much as insights from a writer or a producer.
And here’s the brilliance of “Song Exploder”: Even if a listener is unfamiliar with the dissected song, by the end of an episode, they’re bound to be captivated by the track’s fragmented beauty.
Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood]
“Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood]” is not just another film review podcast. It’s a lively conversation among three actor pals – Jonathan Braylock, Jerah Milligan, and James III, occasionally peppered with insights from guest hosts. The essence of the show revolves around their deep dives into films that feature black actors in pivotal roles, from blockbusters like “Hustlers” to poignant narratives such as “If Beale Street Could Talk”, and even animated gems like “Shark Tale”.
The true charm of this podcast lies in the dynamic between its hosts. With over 200 episodes to their credit, they’ve managed to strike the perfect balance between lighthearted banter and insightful discourse. Their easy-going camaraderie is contagious, making it a refreshing change for listeners who might otherwise shy away from the often unstructured chatter of similar podcasts. Simultaneously, for those who find typical film review shows too rigid or terse, “Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood]” offers a more relaxed, yet deeply informed approach.
Typically running between ninety minutes to two hours, each episode feels neither hurried nor drawn out. The hosts’ discussions are expansive, but always on-point, ensuring listeners are both entertained and enlightened, without being overwhelmed. It’s the perfect blend for cinephiles and casual listeners alike.
Delving deep into the myriad facets of pop culture, The New York Times culture aficionados, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, offer a unique blend of scripted insights and spontaneous conversation in their podcast, “Still Processing.” Each episode is an insightful exploration, crafted with precision and a discerning eye, ensuring listeners walk away not only informed but also enlightened.
While many podcasts revel in shared opinions and casual chit-chat, “Still Processing” stands out. Morris and Wortham don’t simply scratch the surface; they dig deep, raising profound questions about media and its reflection on our contemporary society. Their approach is investigative, searching for the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind pop culture phenomena.
Though they don’t claim to have all the answers, the journey they embark on in their quest for understanding is both intriguing and thought-provoking. It’s not just a discussion; it’s an education, an invitation to critically engage with the world of entertainment and beyond.
Sooo Many White Guys
From the house of WNYC Studios comes an enthralling show steered by the dynamic Phoebe Robinson, a celebrated comedian, writer, and one half of the duo from “2 Dope Queens”, both a live comedy act and podcast. What sets “Sooo Many White Guys” apart is Robinson’s innovative approach to guest selection. As the title cheekily suggests, she aims to interview a spectrum of influential artists, purposely minimizing the representation of white male guests.
Yet, this podcast is more than just a clever title or gimmick. At its heart, Robinson’s interviewing prowess stands out. With her extensive experience in podcasting and innate charisma, she masterfully tailors the atmosphere of each episode. Depending on the guest and the topic, the vibe could be exuberant, relaxed, or occasionally, deeply poignant. What’s truly commendable is her ability to navigate these diverse moods with an ease that belies the skill behind it. She doesn’t merely host; she orchestrates a memorable experience for every listener.
From The Ringer comes “Binge Mode”, a podcast that takes fandom to an unparalleled depth. Spearheaded by the dynamic duo Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion, this podcast fully immerses itself into iconic pop-culture universes. So far, they’ve dissected behemoths like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, with their sights set on the Star Wars galaxy next.
Though only premiering in 2017, “Binge Mode” has swiftly emerged as a pinnacle in the fancast genre – where aficionados revisit and dissect their beloved pop-culture touchstones, celebrating their brilliance while also candidly pointing out their flaws. However, what truly elevates “Binge Mode” above its peers is the profundity of its examination. The hosts don’t just regurgitate plotlines; they delve into the core themes, motifs, and philosophies that underpin each story.
This intricate analysis is buoyed by The Ringer’s characteristic exuberance and a touch of the whimsical, ensuring that every episode, though deeply analytical, is also infectiously vibrant. With “Binge Mode”, it’s not just about revisiting; it’s about rediscovering the layers and intricacies of beloved stories.
In the vast podcast landscape, “Mostly Lit” stands out as a refreshing oasis for literature enthusiasts and culture buffs alike. As the name suggests, it’s primarily about books, but it ventures beyond, into the broader tapestry of culture. Guiding listeners through this journey are the hosts: Alex Reads, Raifa Rafiq, and Derek Owusu, whose laid-back yet deep conversations oscillate between side-splitting humor and contemplative solemnity.
What makes “Mostly Lit” so riveting is its refusal to remain superficial. The hosts are unafraid to grapple with profound literary themes, be it existential angst, societal constructs of gender, the quest for freedom, or the inescapable specter of mortality. Who can forget their impassioned debate on Daisy Buchanan’s complex relationship choices in “The Great Gatsby”?
Yet, it’s not just their insightful inquiries that captivate; it’s their audacious candor. In a world where many are conditioned to revere literary classics without demur, the “Mostly Lit” trio dares to offer unvarnished opinions. Their fresh perspectives, laden with both accolades and sharp critiques, encourage listeners to engage with literature in a more critical and personal manner. With “Mostly Lit”, literature isn’t just to be read; it’s to be deeply felt and fearlessly questioned.
Slate presents “Decoder Ring”, an inventive podcast that dives deep into pop culture phenomena, offering listeners a fresh perspective on familiar topics. With genuine curiosity and without a hint of cynicism, host Willa Paskin dissects the seemingly mundane, asking incisive questions like “Remember the 2016 clown hysteria? What sparked that?” or “The origins and overwhelming popularity of ‘Baby Shark’ – what’s the story?”
What sets “Decoder Ring” apart is its commitment to meticulous research and in-depth investigation, rivaling the rigor typically reserved for hard-hitting journalism. This approach often gives the podcast an ambiance reminiscent of a true-crime series rather than a typical arts and entertainment show.
It’s this blend of inquisitiveness and detailed analysis that enables “Decoder Ring” to unravel the cultural tapestry of our times, shedding light on the mysteries that often go unnoticed in our daily lives. With “Decoder Ring”, pop culture isn’t just entertainment; it’s a puzzle waiting to be solved.
The Good Place: The Podcast
When an aftershow podcast feels like the perfect companion piece to a beloved series, you know it’s special. Enter “The Good Place: The Podcast”. With Marc Evan Jackson at the helm – whose prior podcasting feats include the much-lauded retro-style “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” – it’s clear that this podcast has an ace up its sleeve.
Yet, it manages to surpass even the highest expectations. Diving into the intricacies of “The Good Place”, one of the most ingenious shows of our time, this podcast brings a wholesome, behind-the-scenes experience to fans. The camaraderie in each episode is palpable, and the presence of everyone – from lead actors to writers, from set designers to Mike Schur, the show’s creator – paints a holistic picture of the series.
The cherry on top is Jackson’s signature segment, “What’s good?”, where guests share uplifting snippets from their lives. The genuine appreciation shared among the team and their sheer joy in creating a masterpiece is evident in every episode. In a nutshell? “The Good Place: The Podcast” isn’t just enlightening; it’s heartwarming.
Primetime with Emily VanDerWerff
Fresh to the podcast scene, “Primetime with Emily VanDerWerff” has swiftly earned its spot as a crucial listen for pop culture enthusiasts. Unlike “Binge Mode” which starts with a specific pop culture franchise and delves into its thematic nuances, Vox’s* “Primetime” takes a distinct approach: it begins with a universal theme and delves into how television has portrayed and influenced it over time.
In its debut season, “Primetime” zoomed in on portrayals of the American Presidency, blending both fictional representations and actual depictions. While TV shows, especially those outside the realm of “prestige TV”, have often been undervalued in terms of their societal influence, “Primetime” lays bare how these shows have, time and again, significantly shaped viewers’ perceptions of the world.
Emily VanDerWerff doesn’t merely celebrate television as an art form but emphasizes its cultural and political potency. By bridging the gap between TV entertainment and real-world implications, “Primetime” offers listeners a comprehensive understanding of the power and importance of television.