The good thing about music podcasts? There are so many of them. The bad thing about music podcasts? There are soooo many of them. But that’s also secretly back to good news, because it means whatever kind of music you’re into, there’s probably a podcast for it.
Pop music is a particularly juicy subject—it’s so reflective of its time, so relevant and telling about culture as a whole, and so open to feisty debates. These 12 podcasts will explain pop charts, deliver you the intimate pop artist interviews you’re craving, and fill you in on the history and context of pop. Add them all to your playlist to become a more informed listener and a better fan.
Switched on Pop
On Switched on Pop, Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding dissect pop songs with a scalpel, examining their historical and cultural context, and shining a light on the musical concepts that make a hit a hit. This isn’t “Nate & Charlie’s Favorite Pop Songs,” but an academic consideration of the songs that are topping the charts, so even when they’re covering something you’re not a fan of, you’ll appreciate their ability to tell the artist or song’s story and explain what a hit bop can tell you about the world we live in. (You might even just become a fan by the end of the episode.) Nate and Charlie bring different things to the table—Nate’s a musicologist and Charlie is a songwriter. Whether they’re focused on a big album drop (like Taylor Swift’s Midnights). diving into an emerging genre (heard any Sapphic music lately?), or investigating a musical mystery (like why so many songs sound the same), you’ll remove your earbuds feeling you like you learned something—and then add a few new songs to your playlist.
Every Single Album
Nora Princiotti and Nathan Hubbard love music, and on Every Single Album, they dive headfirst into the complete discographies of artists like Adele, Harry Styles, and Taylor Swift. It’s a balanced mix of education and chat show—you tune in for the music discussion, and also to spend time with Nora and Nathan. They’re entertaining and opinionated (Nora comes at things from more of the fangirl side, and Nathan—a one-time Nashville recording artist and the former CEO of Ticketmaster—fills in things with industry knowledge). Their enthusiasm is contagious, and the fact that episodes are similarly structured—ranking best collaborators, the tracks that could be dropped, charting an artist’s evolution, and more—makes them go down easy. Each mini-series will leave you with a deeper understanding of a singular artist’s work.
Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs
On Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs, longtime friends, pop culture writers, and veteran podcasters Mark Blankenship and Sarah D. Bunting (one of the co-founders of the revolutionary cultural criticism site Television Without Pity) use individual songs to launch into detailed discussions rife with musical theory, music history, and generally entertaining back-and-forth banter. More recent “seasons” of the show have delved into March madness-style brackets ranking songs in a particular genre, including ‘90s rap and Lilith Fair hits. Fun tangents abound—songs with ‘song’ in the title, ranked; songs you can’t possibly sing along to. Can’t get enough of Mark and Sarah? Check out their book and join their livestream happy hours. Become a Patron and you can even request a song to be analyzed, or a pop chart astrology reading.
The B-Sides is home to the pop-culture obsessed who also care about progressive issues. Each week, Becky, Hannah, and Mimi cover album drops, the power of Christian rock, the history of protest songs, women in country, artist feuds, and some of the most interesting niche topics pop music has to offer. They have their finger on the pulse and talk about big moments in pop with a feminist, liberal twist. Hanging out with these women will deepen your knowledge of all things Taylor Swift, Carly Rae, and Katy Perry, who are being talked about in ways I guarantee you won’t find anywhere else.
Punch Up the Jam
Each week on Punch Up the Jam, Andrew and Evan Gregory and a guest unpack a song, listening to it together second-by-second, jumping in to point out ridiculous lyrics and fun facts, make jokes, and share interesting insights into the music. (Andrew and Evan are famous for their viral musical videos, including the Songify the News series, and the “Bed Intruder Song” that received over 141 million YouTube views and entered the Billboard Hot 100.) At the end, they rewrite the song in order to try to improve it. If that sounds too snooty, know that this is a comedy show, so the punch-ups are focused on being funny rather than artistically perfect. They round out episodes with one of my favorite segments of all time, asking guests to choose their “walk-in song,” i.e. the song they would like to have playing as they enter a room full of people. Earlier episodes, hosted by Miel Bredouw and Demi Adejuyigbe, were also pretty sharp (listen to Amy Miller talk about “Love Shack” or Nicole Byer’s episode about Cher’s “Believe.”)
60 Songs That Explain the ‘90s
If ‘90s music have defined you in any way, 60 Songs That Explain the ‘90s will be both your nostalgic playlist and your new favorite show. Dust off your CD player and listen to tracks from Fiona Apple, Counting Crows, DMX, and others that were inescapable during the decade. Episodes go deep, providing history, context, storytelling, and interesting commentary from host Rob Harvilla about how these songs were products of their time, and why the ‘90s was a pivotal time in music.
Song vs. Song
Todd Nathanson (YouTuber Todd in the Shadows) and Alina Morgan host Song vs. Song, which pits two similar songs of a given musical era against one another. So if you’re into music history and arguing, this one is for you. Todd and Alina pit “Mr. Brightside” against “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” “Fly” takes on “What I Got,” and “Low” challenges “Get Low,” and the hosts determine which one reigns supreme. They might not agree, and you might not, either. But you’ll enjoy Todd and Alina’s chemistry, the interesting way they tie songs together, and the history and context they provide.
Though Unflopped has released its series finale, its celebration of forgotten pop flops will never go out of style. In each episode, pop enthusiasts Stuart and Sean choose a flop single that they think should have been a hit. Judge Joe (a “bona fide musical genius”) analyzes each song, and the subsequent discussion determines whether the song deserves to be officially “unflopped.” Stuart, Sean, and Joe are a fun bunch, and episodes will leave you in a happy mood. Pop-music banter, chart trivia, and segments like “close brackets” and “banger” kept fans coming back for 100 episodes, proving that Unflopped was anything but a flop.
Name 3 Songs
There’s this sexist notion that women are incapable of being true music fans, when in reality, it is often the fangirls who are powering the music industry and forecasting the future of sound. Name 3 Songs sprang from the idea that a woman might be asked the insulting question, “you like music? Name three songs.” On their show, co-hosts Sara Feigin and Jenna Million discuss feminist issues in music and pop culture, taking a critical lens to the music industry, artists’ careers, the media’s contribution to controversy and sexism, and industry’s role in creating and upholding sexist archetypes. It’s a celebration of pop and the women who love it. Filled with interviews and smart commentary about why gay men stan divas to reject the patriarchy, why we love to hate on girl groups, the cultural impact of celebrity abuse cases, and so much more, Sara and Jenna will give you a greater appreciation for the cultural value of pop.
On Billboard’s Pop Shop Podcast, senior director of Billboard charts Keith Caulfield and Billboard executive digital director Katie Atkinson break down the weekly Billboard chart, provide lively coverage of news, and preview (or recap) big musical happenings. Data nerds will enjoy delving into the numbers, and casual pop fans will dig the deep-dive discussions. Stay up to date with the charts and dip back into the archives to see what was trending years ago. Keith and Katie are in the know, and share insider info and personal stories they pick up working at Billboard. Missed the latest Gaga concert? Katie’s review will make you feel like you were there. Pop stars check in every so often too, talking about their hits, collabs, and tours, and giving Keith and Katie the occasional exclusive scoop.
Toxic: The Britney Spears Story
The story of Britney Spears is far more interesting than any podcast that might unpack all of her songs (though we’d listen to that too). Toxic is a limited series hosted by comedians Tess Barker and Babs Gray that outlines the messy story of the late ‘90s/early aughts icon, from her country bumpkin beginnings to her mental breaks and absolutely everything you need to know about Britney’s conservatorship, which put her father Jamie Spears in charge of all of her finances and made her a (working) prisoner in her own mansion. Tess and Babs were the ones who sparked the #FreeBritney movement—their first podcast, Britney’s Gram, was initially a funny look at Britney’s deeply odd Instagram account (where she put on fashion shows, threw everybody off with unhinged videos of herself portrait painting, posted cryptic messages, and alluded to her unhappiness). But when they got an anonymous call from someone on Britneys team that things were darker than they appeared on the surface, Tess and Babs worked tirelessly to #FreeBritney and Toxic is the story of how they did it.
Though not solely focused on pop music, I would be remiss not to mention the most venerable of all music podcasts. Song Exploder covers songs of all genres, including lots of pop. Host Hrishikesh Hirway sits down with artists to dismantle their work note by note, so we can understand a song done to its bones—how it went from a spark in the artist’s mind to a final track. Enormous stars like Madonna (“Hung Up”), Rick Astley (“Never Gonna Give You Up”), and Franz Ferdinand (“Take Me Out”) get vulnerable with Hrishikesh about their tracks and revel never-before-heard details about what inspired them to make their biggest hits, share the highs and lows of being a musician and a person, and share how sometimes they surprise even themselves when a song unexpectedly resonates with listeners. Episodes are beautifully produced, and will reshape you as a consumer of music. Hrishikesh has also started a spinoff, Book Exploder, in which he gives authors the Song Exploder treatment too. (I eagerly await the day he launches Podcast Exploder.)
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